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
  • Submitting References
  • Information to Include
  • Reference List Examples

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.

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.

Common Reference Sources

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.

Your future employer wants to talk with the following people, in order of importance (depending on your role):

  1. Your current manager or supervisor
  2. Your prior managers or supervisors
  3. Your current colleagues or clients (if you’re interviewing for a client-facing role)
  4. Your prior colleagues or clients
  5. Academic instructors (past or present)
It's not recommended to include relatives as professional references unless you have significant experience working for or with one.

Keep in mind that the primary reason why potential employers want to check your references is because they want a third party to vouch for your on-the-job performance and character. You can tout your greatness all day long in the interview, but it truly gels for decision makers when others tout it for you.

Submitting References

As you’re applying to jobs, you may be wondering about the best way to submit your references. Should you put them on your initial application materials? And how would you even list references on a resume? The answer is, you don’t. Here's why:

Listing your references on a resume that should be one page (or maybe two pages) is a waste of valuable space. A hiring manager or recruiter doesn’t have the ability to contact references for everyone who applies to an open position or even everyone they bring in for an interview. So save that resume room for detailing your skills, achievements, and qualifications.

What about writing, “references available upon request,” on your resume? Avoid this too. Here's why:

There’s no need to state anything about references on your resume. It is assumed that you’ll share the information when requested. After all, you wouldn’t write, “Available for interviews upon request,” would you?

Keeping references off your resume is not only the standard now, it’s also more thoughtful toward the people you’ve asked to speak on your behalf. By only submitting their names and contact information when asked directly (usually at the end of the hiring process), you’ll know when a prospective new employer is actually going to contact them—and you can give them a heads up, pass on any important information about the job or company you’re applying for, and thank them for their help.

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.

On your reference sheet, you should list each reference with the following information:

  • Name*
  • Current Job/Position
  • Company
  • Phone Number with Area Code
  • Email Address
  • Reference Description (optional): Write one sentence explaining how you know or have worked with this person, where, when, and for how long.
There’s no need to include your reference’s home or work address—companies aren’t going to be mailing them anything. And if a reference expresses a strong preference for a certain method of contact, it’s OK to put “(preferred contact)” next to that line on your reference list.

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

Formatting Examples

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.
Some hiring processes require reference information to be input into the application. Have a formatted reference document ready to share or use to input information into an online job application.


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