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References: do’s and don’ts from the pros

As expert recruiters we regularly receive questions from candidates about including referees in a resume. Here’s our list of do’s and don’ts for the most common questions we’re asked.

Q1. Should I include referees on my resume?

DO include suitable referees if the job application states you must do so. Provide the number of referees asked for. If not specified, list two.

DO consider these options if the job application doesn’t specify to include referees:

  1. Simply state ‘Referees provided on request.’
  2. Supply one written reference with your application and state ‘Additional referees provided on request.’

We believe referees are an important part of the job-seeking process. Some recruiters say don’t bother including them until you’re short-listed. We say it’s good to be proactive.

Q2. Who should I include as referees?

DO include people you’re confident will provide a favourable assessment of your work skills and soft skills.

DO include the most recent person you reported to, if possible. Former managers are best at talking first-hand about your strengths.

DO NOT include your most recent manager if you’ve left your job under difficult circumstances.

DO NOT include your current employer if they’re not aware you’re looking for other career possibilities.

Q3. What information do I include in my resume for my referees?

DO include these essentials:

  • full name, title, organisation
  • contact details—organisation address, work and mobile numbers, email address
  • summary of relationship—number of years you worked for the referee and in what capacity.

DO check out face2face’s free reference check templates for a guide on structuring your referee information. We have one for a general role and one for a management role. It can be powerful to send a completed favourable reference check as an attachment with your resume. This isn’t compulsory, however.

Q4. Do I let my referees know I’ve included them?

DO ask the referees (by phone or email) for their permission before you include them. This is essential. The last thing you want is a referee being contacted off-guard.

Q5. What information do I provide my referees about the job I’m applying for?

DO provide these essentials:

  1. job title
  2. organisation
  3. short description of the position OR the job description
  4. information on who may contact them (a recruitment agency and/or the person listed on the job posting).

Q6. Should I suggest what I want my referees to say about me?

DO NOT dictate what you want your referees to say but feel free to list a few dot points reminding them of achievements you think could be relevant. Send these as suggestions or to indicate that they are important points for the position.

Q7. What if my current employer doesn’t know I’m looking for other work? How do I handle this in my resume?

DO NOT include your current employer as a referee but DO state in your resume that your employer is not yet aware you’re applying for other positions. Your recruitment agency and/or prospective employer will protect your confidentiality (they’re required to do so by law).

Q8. My last boss and I didn’t get along and I don’t want to include them as a referee. What do I do?

If the job application asks you to include a referee you must do so or this will ring warning bells. If you feel you can’t use your last boss, try to use a senior colleague, a previous manager in the company or perhaps a client you worked with.

Q9. Who contacts my referees?

DO be aware that if you’re using a recruitment agency, they’ll likely be the one to conduct the initial referee check. They’ll then summarise results for the prospective employer.

If you’re not using a recruitment agency, someone from the prospective employer will contact your referees.

Q10. What if I’ve been out of the workforce for a long time and don’t have a recent referee?

DO provide a printed copy of a reference from your last employer if you have one.

DO think about including a client or former colleague who will vouch for you.

DO NOT include personal friends or family members as referees. They’re biased in your favour and have no first-hand knowledge of your direct work ethic or skills.

Q11. Do I tell my referees if I got the position?

DO take the time to thank your referees. This is a good time to let them know if you got the job or not. You can phone, email or send a thank you note. Showing your gratitude is important and will motivate the referee to be called on again if required.

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