Preparing a Reference List Webster University I Career Planning & Development Center


  • Getting Started: What are References and Why are they Important?
  • 5 Considerations for Selecting a Reference
  • Strategies for Preparing a Reference List
  • Common Reference Sources
  • Information to Include
  • Reference List Example

Getting Started

What are References?

During a job, internship, and graduate school application process, providing a list of references will often be asked of the candidate. Potential employers may request a prepared list of references on a stand-alone document, or you may be asked to include this information as part of the application process.

Why are References Important?

Your references have the opportunity to vouch for your work and to provide the employer with further insight about you as a candidate.

5 Considerations for Selecting References:

  1. How well does this person know you and how well can they speak to your strengths?
  2. Have your experiences with this individual been generally positive?
  3. What was the professional nature of your past interactions?
  4. How much weight might this reference’s opinion hold to a potential employer?
  5. What kinds of interactions have you had that can let the reference speak to your ability to perform the responsibilities of the position?


Identify a Pool of Potential References

It's important to think about the instances in which a list of references may be requested. For employment positions, you may identify former colleagues and supervisors who can account for the skills you've honed through your work activities. For academic areas, faculty who you have worked closely with and who can attest to the technical skills developed through your studies, should be considered for your list.

Provide 3-5 Quality References per Application

You will want to include 3-5 quality references, or enough to provide a selection to choose from, but not so many that the employer is inundated with names.

Request Permission

Before finalizing a list of references for a specific opportunity, connect with each potential reference, communicating your employment or academic goal and if they're willing to be included on a reference list during your search.

Communicate Your Goal to Current Colleagues

If you're planning to ask current colleagues or a supervisor to be a reference, make sure they're aware of your intentions to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Update your References Throughout the Hiring Process

The hiring process can be lengthy. If you know there is a chance that your references may be contacted for a specific opportunity, share information about the opportunity with your references including the position description and application materials used to apply.

Communicate the Outcome of your Search

Close the loop of your search by informing your references that you have accepted an opportunity or have closed your search. Express appreciation to those who served as a reference and the outcome of your search.

Who Should I Ask?

Your references should be individuals with whom you have had a professional, working relationship. These individuals should be able to describe aspects of your work in a positive manner and speak to your viability as an ideal candidate for the position.

Examples of Common Reference Sources Include:

  • Former supervisors who can vouch for your work performance and skills
  • Academic instructors who can reinforce the knowledge areas honed through the coursework in your degree program
  • Professional colleagues who can attest to your demonstrated competencies through specific examples

Information to Include

If a list of references is requested by an employer, use the same header/contact information that is included at the top of your resume. This formatting will show consistency in the overall look of your complete application.

Include the contact information below for each of your references:

  • First and Last Name*
  • Job Title
  • Company/Organization
  • Complete Mailing Address
  • Telephone Number, Including Area Code
  • E-mail Address
  • Optionally, include a brief description of your professional relationship

*if you include a reference’s honorific (Dr., Mr., Mrs., Rev., etc.) you should maintain consistency and include an honorific for all references.

Reference List Example

For additional application material resources, please explore our guides and sample documents through the Career Planning & Development Center's website.


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