If you’re wondering how to list references on a resume, the short answer is: don’t do it. Putting references directly on your resume is an outdated practice from a time when resumes weren’t published online. Today, doing so risks giving millions of people access to your former coworker’s contact information, and sharing private information is never a good look in the tech industry.
But that doesn’t mean references aren’t important. Amongst Pathrise fellows, about nine out of 10 employers ask for references. References make all the difference in helping hiring managers get a better sense of how you might perform in the new role. By providing references in the right way and at the right time, you’ll give yourself a better chance of getting your dream job.
Let’s review some of the essential dos and don’ts of sharing references during your job search, along with a template for a reference list to help you get started.
Compile a list of references before you apply
Choose your references before you start interviewing. You’ll avoid stress later on if you’re not scrambling to find references when a hiring manager asks. Plus, providing references as soon as they are requested demonstrates professionalism and communication skills — two traits that every employer values in a potential new hire.
“Hiring managers use references to validate the information provided by the candidate on their resume and during the job interview process,” explains Abhishek Shah, founder of Testlify, a talent assessment platform. “References can provide insights into a candidate’s work ethic, communication skills, and teamwork abilities. This information helps the hiring manager determine if the candidate is the right fit for the role and the company culture.”
Most hiring managers will ask for three to four references. However, it’s always best to have multiple options to choose from so you can tailor your references to the role, particularly if they’re looking for certain skills or experience. Aim to have at least five references on hand so you can pick and choose for each job application.
When selecting your references, it’s best to make your choices based on the types of questions you believe the reference would be asked. These fall into three broad categories:
- Logistical questions, like “What is your professional relationship to the candidate?” and “How long did you work with the candidate?”
- Ranking questions, like “Out of everyone you’ve worked with at a similar level/role, where would this candidate rank out of 10 in that group?” and “Would you put this candidate in the top 1%, 5%, 10%, of 50% of the direct reports/coworkers you’ve had?”
- Cultural value questions, like “We value [communication, work ethic, initiative, or another value] a lot at our company. Could you please tell me about how this candidate demonstrated this quality or lack thereof in their work with you?”
“Ideally, you’re asking a diverse set of people from your educational and professional experiences to support you as a reference,” says Becca Kronenbitter, a career mentor at Pathrise who has placed fellows at Google, Meta, Amazon, and other top tech companies. “These should be people you believe would speak highly of your character and skills.”
Don’t add a references section to your resume
The space on your resume is valuable real estate, so it’s crucial to use it wisely. Instead of adding a list of references or even the phrase “References available upon request,” use that space to highlight your skills, relevant certifications, or other accomplishments.
Hiring managers typically assume you can provide references when they ask for them, so there’s no need to take up precious resume space with this information. As Becca puts it, “It’s a great sign when employers ask for references because they typically will only email or call references for finalist candidates.”
The only time you should consider including a list of references with your application is if the job posting explicitly requires it. Otherwise, keep your resume focused on showcasing your experience and qualifications to increase your chances of securing your desired job.
Instead of putting references on your resume, we recommend compiling a list in a document you can easily share with recruiters. At a minimum, include a phone number and email address for each person.
If the job listing asks for references along with your application, include your reference list with your resume and cover letter. If there isn’t an option to attach it as a separate document, you can add it as a reference page at the end of your resume.
Ask permission to list someone as a reference
In the tech industry, people are often particularly concerned with privacy because they handle intellectual property or are bound by contracts like nondisclosure agreements. Always ask for permission before using someone as a reference. They’ll appreciate the professional courtesy, and it will give them time to prepare for the call.
“Consider asking former colleagues, supervisors, professors, or mentors to be a reference,” suggests Becca. “Once they agree to support you in this way, share your resume and a brief summary of your job search goals, like your target job titles, industries, or regions.”
Here’s a template you can use when emailing potential references:
Hi [reference name],
I hope you are doing well! I have been [share an update or two about what you’ve been up to]. Ready for new challenges in [target industries/positions] roles, I am launching a job search for opportunities [remotely] / in the [city/region/country] area.
Would you be willing and available to serve as a reference for me during my search over the next few months? I will completely understand if you don’t have the bandwidth for this, but if you do, I’d be grateful. If this works for you, could you share the best email and phone number I can share with employers? I’ve attached my resume for additional context.
Thank you so much for considering this!
Providing additional context about your job search will give your references a better idea of the skills, projects, and achievements they should highlight if a hiring manager contacts them.
Don’t forget to thank your references
If you end up getting the job, be sure to update your references and thank them for their support. Expressing gratitude to your references is essential for maintaining professional relationships and practicing your networking skills. A simple thank-you note or message goes a long way in showing appreciation and could even open doors to mentorship or future collaborations.
As a bonus, keeping your references informed about your job search goals can help strengthen these relationships. By demonstrating that you trust and value their input, you’ll be nurturing your professional network and potentially uncovering new job opportunities in the future.
So, don’t overlook the power of a sincere thank-you — it could be the key to unlocking your next big opportunity in the tech industry.
Pick the references that best fit the role
Once you have your list of references, think strategically about which ones you’ll use for specific job applications. Consider the requirements of the role you’re applying for and which references would offer the best insight into your qualifications.
For example, if you’re applying for a management role, you wouldn’t want to use your supervisor from your first entry-level job as a reference. This person won’t be able to talk about how your leadership skills make you the best candidate for the job. A better choice would be a current or former coworker, like a fellow manager, who can describe how you lead a team.
You may want to consider:
- Former employers, managers, or direct supervisors
- Direct reports
- Professors or academic advisors
- Project collaborators
- Business partners
“You can ask your skip level manager or even executive leadership for references too, depending on how frequently you interacted with them and whether their reference may provide a stronger weight,” adds Michelle Zhang, a Resume Specialist at Pathrise.
When applying for jobs in the tech industry, it’s important to remember that hiring managers usually want to validate technical qualifications, like proficiency with programming languages, agile methodologies, or artificial intelligence. If you are applying for a highly specialized role, like software developer or data scientist, provide at least one reference who has seen your technical skills in action. That way, they can speak to the depth of your expertise and your ability to apply your skills in the real world, which may increase your chances of being hired.
Don’t share irrelevant references
Hiring managers want to get meaningful feedback from professional references. Using irrelevant references can create the impression that you haven’t carefully considered who can best speak to your qualifications for the role you are seeking.
Examples of irrelevant references include:
- Friends, family members, or other personal connections you don’t have a working relationship with
- References who can’t speak to your transferable skills
- Colleagues from unrelated industries
- People who never observed you use the skills listed in the job description
Hiring managers often look for specific technical skills and experience, and references who can verify your expertise can help to differentiate you from other job seekers. A candidate who says they can use Python, C++, Java, SQL, and React is even more impressive if they have a reference who can back that up.
That’s why it’s helpful to curate a list of several references so you aren’t limited to the bare minimum, which can force you to share references that are less relevant to the role.
If you don’t have much work experience, you likely don’t have many supervisors or mentors from previous employers to ask to be your references. But your former manager isn’t your only option.
“It’s okay to have references that are folks from your upskilling experiences, like instructors or professors,” explains Becca. “You can also list peers or former colleagues who can speak to your character and your skillset.”
On occasion, a potential employer may specifically request personal references in addition to professional ones. Be sure you’re clear on which type of references they want.
Reference list template
Once you’ve gotten permission to share your references’ contact information, create a reference list as a PDF that you can quickly share with prospective employers.
We’ve created a reference list template to help you get started. If you want to create your own, we recommend using the same header as your resume. Then include the following information for each reference:
- Current title
- Company name (with a link to their website)
- Email (as a clickable link)
- Phone number
Some hiring managers may prefer that you provide references in plain text via email or an online form. Keep an editable copy on file so you can copy/paste as needed.
Take your job search to the next level with Pathrise
Because the tech industry is so competitive, chances are you’ll be competing with other talented candidates. Good references will provide valuable insight into your accomplishments and work style to help you stand out from the crowd. Plus, hiring managers often use references to assess how you fit within the company culture, which will help you land at a job that better meets your experience and career goals.
If you need help identifying potential references or learning how to network to find future references, you might benefit from personalized career mentorship. Pathrise is an online program for tech professionals that offers 1-on-1 career training to help you find your dream job in tech in any field, from software engineering to finance to product and anywhere in between. Our fellows work with experienced career coaches from industry-leading companies who have a deep understanding of the hiring process in the tech world.
To get started on the next part of your career journey, apply to Pathrise today!