Sobhan Mohmand, Career Expert 27 April 2023
It used to be the case that candidates and professional CV writers would automatically include the names of two referees on CVs. This practice has become less common over the years, with most career experts now recommending not to include references on a CV, and simply state, ‘References available on request’.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule:
Use the guide and examples below to find out more about CV references and how to write them on your CV – let’s begin!
Your references are people, called referees, who know you well, have worked with you before and can vouch for you to the prospective employer. They can testify about your character, personal qualities, skills and abilities to prospective employers.
You could consider your referees as your personal advocates or ambassadors.
As part of the recruitment process, it is standard practice for the employer to contact your referees, either by phone or in writing, to get more information about you before they make you a formal job offer.
Employers don’t just take your word for it, they want someone independent to provide an unbiased opinion on your work, skills, attitude, commitment and disposition.
For example, you may have said on your CV that you have ‘excellent communication skills’ or ‘willing to take responsibility’, so the employer would like to check the credibility of these claims by getting your referees’ perspectives on these matters.
Standard questions that employers may ask your referees are:
Now that you know the type of questions your referees will likely get asked, you can address some of these things in your conversations with your references to refresh their memory and recall your good points and strengths. For example, you could say “You remember when I did ‘x’ and you said it was good because…” etc.
Normally an employer will only approach your referees after the job interview when they are about the offer you the job, not before it.
Employers receive hundreds of applications per vacancy and shortlist around a dozen or more for job interviews; so it doesn’t make sense for them to take up references of candidates who are not going to get a job offer anyway.
You are required to provide two references; one being your current or former employer (if you have one) and the other someone who knows you well such as your former teacher. The number of references may vary, however, depending on the circumstances of the applicant. For example, it’s fine for school leavers to only include one reference, and for college students without work experience to include two academic staff (teacher, tutor or lecturer) instead of one academic and one professional reference.
No, you are not required to write your references on your CV. In most cases, it is a waste of valuable space as employers typically don’t require your references until the later stages of the requirement process, i.e. after the job interview. You can simply write “References are available on request” at the end of your CV.
Furthermore, research conducted by John Lees, one of the UK’s best-known career coaches and authors, showed that less than a third of employers prefer to see references on a CV. The remaining 70% of recruiters either didn’t mind the inclusion of it or didn’t want candidates to waste valuable space of their CVs with this information. (Why You? CV Messages To Win Jobs, pg. 21).
In some cases, it could be required or beneficial to add references on your CV; for example, when specifically requested by the employer, to impress the recruiter with the fame/status of your referees, to speed things up with your application, to give your CV a bit more credibility and to fill up blank space at the end of the CV.
Some employers may request that you provide your references, supporting documents and/or recommendation letters as part of the first stages of the job application process (i.e. before being invited for a job interview). They usually do this to ensure that only the most suitable candidates are shortlisted for an interview.
If this is the case, you must provide your references to the employer, either through their job application form or by including them on your CV.
Most employers, however, will not ask for this information until the later stages of the selection process. Check the job advertisement for any instructions. If references are not requested, it is commonly accepted practice to note on your CV, ‘References are available on request.’
Your referee may be a respectable or well-known person or dignitary whose fame and status in society may impress the employer; for example, a local MP, dean of a university, director of a famous company, police commissioner, councillor or someone who has received an honorary award (e.g. MBE).
Note: This strategy may not always work. Impressive referees usually don’t know the candidate too well so their responses are usually very brief and vague – not helping the cause of the candidate!
Including references on your CV could speed up your application and also make life easier for employers who may want to speak to your references before the interview stage or just after the interview.
By providing this information beforehand, they can instantly ‘check you out’ at any stage of the selection process without any delays. Remember, recruiters are under no obligation only to contact your referees after the job interview stage.
Psychologically speaking, adding references gives your CV a little more ‘weight’ and credibility because it demonstrates that you are confident of your own track record and that you have people who will vouch for your suitability for the job whenever required.
Not all applicants can provide credible references.
It also gives the impression that you have nothing to hide; for example, a bad track record, having no referees at all or having been fired from your previous job.
If you are a student or lack relevant work experience, employers usually would like to see the name and contact details of a lecturer/tutor/teacher on your CV – it could give your CV that little bit more credibility.
After including all the essential information on your CV, you may end up with some blank space at the end of it, especially if you are a school leaver, college student, recent graduate or someone without any work experience.
A CV should be presented in full pages, with no space left at the end of the page.
Given the aforementioned benefits of adding references on your CV, and to improve the overall presentation of your CV, you could include references on your CV to fill up the blank space and make your CV look “complete.”
Note: If you have more valuable information by which you can fill up the blank space, for example, additional qualifications or work experience, that takes priority!
Related: Length of a CV.
The general rule is not to include references on a CV, especially for candidates with a lot of relevant work experience and such as senior officers, managers and executives.
Rachel Bishop-Firth, an experienced recruiter and personnel manager, writes in The Ultimate CV (pg.97): “Don’t use up valuable space on your CV with details of your references, as the employer doesn’t need this information until the final stages of the selection process. Simply state, ‘References available on request’.”
It is recommended to provide two references on your CV; one professional and one personal. The professional reference should come from your current or former employer, while the personal reference could come from any person who knows you well and can vouch for you, such as your personal tutor, teacher or supervisor.
You have to be very careful with who you put down as your references because not everyone who knows you well or who would like to vouch for you may be able to do so effectively and professionally.
Your referees should be:
Only select referees who will aid and not hamper your chances of securing a job.
Employers want to get an independent opinion on your character, abilities and experience from your reference, something which can only be provided by someone who knows you well. Ideally, your referees should know you for at least a year before you list them on your CV – the longer the more credible.
The answer is: no, you can’t use a friend or family member as a reference.
The purpose of providing references is for the employer to get a professional and unbiased opinion about you and your abilities. Having friends or family members as your references creates a “conflict of interest” (bias) and defeat the whole purpose of trying to get an honest and unbiased view from an independent source.
Warning: Employers always try to establish first who the referee is before they take up a reference. Don’t be tempted to ask a friend to take on a fictitious role and speak highly of you to the employer; you will get caught!
Exception: This rule does not apply if you’re working in a family-owned business and your boss just happens to be a family member, in which case it’s fine to list them as a reference.
Employers expect your professional reference to be your current or former manager/employer. If this is not possible, for whatever reason, you may use another person in the same organisation with a similar level of seniority such as a co-worker, colleague or even a longstanding client who knows you well.
The way you approach a potential referee depends on the relationship that you have with them and whether they are aware that you are applying for a job or not.
If your line manager sits next to you and you chat regularly together, an informal verbal request will be fine. If the common communication method between you is via email, however, you should send an email instead with a copy of your CV attached.
To ask a co-worker, say something like:
“John, I’m currently looking for a job. Do you feel you know me well enough to be my reference to comment on my skills and abilities?”
Most people will be happy to help you.
Yes, you should always ask permission before using someone as your reference and never assume that they can/will provide you with a reference. The last thing you would want to have is a referee who is unhappy with you for not asking their permission before sharing their personal details with random employers!
Imagine what would happen to your chances of a job offer if an employer phones them up and they give any of the following responses…
That’s why it’s essential that you ask permission before putting people down as your references and also brief them on your current career ambitions so that they are aware and can give appropriate – and positive – responses about you.
Use the template below to fill in the details of your referees on your CV:
Note: You can use various headings to label this section; ‘References’, ‘Referees’, ‘Supporting references’ or ‘Professional references’ are all acceptable.
Guidelines for listing references on a CV:
Strictly speaking, even this is not necessary because it is implied that you have references available when you apply for a job. Sinead English, a career consultant and author, writes in CV & Interview 101: How to apply and interview for jobs (pg.43): “There is no need to put “referees available on request” on the CV. It is a waste of space – employers know they can get them from you if they want them.”
However, it is usually preferred to include this phrase as it only takes up one line, is common practice and rounds off your CV nicely.
Just remember to never take out or remove something important or fundamental for the inclusion of adding “references are available upon request” to your CV!
Never attach written testimonials or reference letters – ‘To whom it may concern’ – to your CV. Employers often view them to be either fake, composed by the candidates themselves or close friends or consist of disingenuous praise by the referee. A referee is not likely to give the candidate a critical testimonial letter to pass on to employers!
It will also make you seem desperate (which is never a good thing in recruitment).
Your references section can be written in several different formats.
Below you will find two good examples of how to present your CV references section and one bad example to illustrate some mistakes to avoid.
What makes this example good?
What makes this example good?
What makes this example bad?
References are people who know you well and who can talk about your work experience, skills, work habits and characteristics to prospective employers when applying for a job. Employers use this information to determine your overall employability prospects and suitability for the job.
Opinion is divided on whether to include references on a CV or not.
Most career experts consider it now a waste of valuable space that could be utilised for more important information, such as your qualifications, experience and skills. Most employers do not take up references until after the job interview, anyway.
You should only include references on your CV if the employer explicitly requests this information, if you are a student applying for your first job or if you have a blank space at the end of your CV that needs to be filled up to make your CV ‘complete’.
If you decide not to write your references on your CV, you should add a simple statement at the end of your CV saying “References are available on request.”
Good luck with your job search!