To offer up references, or not to offer up references? This is a very common resume-writing dilemma.
Many job seekers decide to include resume references and their contact information (with their permission, of course!) at the bottom of the document, or a line that says, “References available upon request.” They often do this in anticipation of the hiring manager asking for the names of professional colleagues or acquaintances who can speak to their character and/or skills. It can also be your subtle way of saying, “I promise I’m as great as I claim to be! These people can back up everything and anything I wrote on this resume!”
But the truth is, it’s not always necessary to include reference information in your resume. In fact, sometimes it’s a bad idea to include resume references. Here’s how to figure out when you should or shouldn’t do it.
When to Include References in Your Resume
As a rule of thumb, you don’t need to include this information in your resume. The truth is, every inch of your resume is valuable real estate, so you’d be better off using that space to highlight your skills or achievements. However, if the employer explicitly says within the job listing that they’ll want to speak with your references, it would be appropriate to include them on your resume.
You don’t have to—you can include a supplemental document or email with the names and contact information of your references—but if you think they’d prefer for it to be in a very easy-to-find place, including it directly on your resume isn’t a bad idea. Another situation in which you may include resume references: when highlighting testimonials.
In certain types of jobs or industries, it is common for applicants to include testimonials from past clients or employers in their resume. If you fall into that group, it makes sense to include the name (and contact information) under each one for verification and credibility.
Finally, if you have references who are very well-known, respected thought leaders or executives, by whom the hiring manager might be impressed, you may consider including their names under a “References” section on your resume. You don’t want to come off as a name-dropper, though, so be careful and strategic!
When to Exclude References in Your Resume
Again, you typically won’t want to include resume references, aside from the few scenarios above. But there are a few situations in which you’ll definitely want to exclude them.
As we mentioned earlier, you’ll want to use every inch of your resume wisely. If you’re already tight on space or it feels too long, you absolutely should not waste another centimeter on this information. Also, if the employer explicitly says they don’t need resume references, don’t include them. Seriously! Ignoring that information by adding references to your resume will make the hiring manager think you can’t follow simple instructions, or that you didn’t read the job posting closely.
Finally, if you included that supplemental document or email with your references, or mentioned that they’re available upon your request in your cover letter, or elsewhere in the application, there is no need to be redundant and include them in your resume.
References are a good way for others to vouch for your credibility, competency, and professionalism. Hiring managers want to hear how you work with other people and if you’re recommended for the job. However, due to the lack of detail they provide, references have limited value in terms of your resume. In general, unless asked, don’t put references on your resume.
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How to Mention a Referral in Your Cover Letter
A referral can help you stand out from the crowd when you are applying for a job. Hiring managers and recruiters are more likely to take a closer look at candidates with whom they share a mutual contact, and for good reason: studies have shown that hiring through employee referral is faster, cheaper, and more effective than relying on job sites. Referral hires also tend to get up to speed more quickly, fit in better, and stay at the company longer.
A referral cover letter can make the difference in helping your application get noticed by prospective employers. It also gives the hiring manager some context for your work and provides additional information about you.
What Is a Referral Cover Letter?
A referral cover letter is used to mention a mutual connection when applying for a job. You might be referred by a colleague, a friend, an employee at the company you’re interested in, or even your college career office. Having a referral to mention in your cover letter helps the hiring manager relate your experience to the open position, and can provide some insight into how well you might fit in at the company.
Your cover letter is your opportunity to highlight your education, skills, and qualifications for the job. In addition to your referral, you will have the chance to mention a few specific examples of why you are the best candidate for the position, and give more detail than you can on your resume.
How to Get a Referral
The referral doesn't have to be a business connection. You can ask anyone you know at the company or who has a contact at the company if they would recommend you for a job.
Just be sure to check with the individual in advance and ask if they are willing to give you a referral. Even if you’re certain they’d vouch for you, giving a potential referral a heads-up ensures that they’ll be able to offer the best possible recommendation, given the job requirements.
You can send a letter or email asking for a referral, which will give the person the time and opportunity to think through what they can do for you, and how to proceed.
How to Mention a Referral in a Cover Letter
When you use a referral in your cover letter, you should mention it in the first paragraph. Include the individual by name and describe your connection with them as well. Give a brief account of how you know the person, in what context, and for how long you have been acquainted.
In addition, if the person recommended that you apply for this particular position, take the opportunity to mention why they are endorsing you. What qualities of yours made them think that you would be a good fit for the company?
My colleague Amy Smith recommended that I contact you directly about this position. Amy and I have worked closely in the industry for many years, and she thought that ABC Inc. would be a good fit for my style and experience in sales. She pointed out that as a successful, award-winning salesperson I would be an excellent addition to the sales team at ABC Inc.
Referral Cover Letter Tips
Name-dropping does not come easily to some people, especially if you're already struggling with how to write about your accomplishments and sell yourself to a hiring manager.
For this reason, it is often helpful to look at examples of cover letters. Be sure to tailor your letter to fit your personal and professional circumstances.
You should include a brief mention of the recommendation right away in the letter. This strategy puts the referral in the front of the reader's mind, giving them context for what follows.
This leaves you plenty of space to expand on your strengths and why you're the best candidate for the job. Your cover letter is your chance to make a strong first impression, since it is likely the first thing a hiring manager will see, possibly even before your resume. Take the opportunity to impress them with your contact and their recommendation, and then go on to show examples of your successes in the workplace to prove that you are the most qualified person for the job.
As with all your business correspondence, make sure that you proofread your cover letter for correct spelling and grammar, and check that the information matches on all the documents you submit.