How to Format a List of Professional References
How to Format a List of Professional References

How to Format a List of Professional References

You have interviewed successfully for your ideal job and now your prospective employer has asked you for a list of professional references.

What does that mean?

A professional reference is a statement of your performance in a work environment. It may be provided by an ex-manager, a current colleague or a mentor.

A list of professional references provides details of two or three of your work contacts who have agreed to provide a professional reference on your behalf.

You should prepare your list of professional references with the same care as the rest of your application documents to increase your chances of a job offer.

What Is the Difference Between a Professional Reference and a Character Reference?

Whereas a professional reference is requested for proof of your performance in a work environment, the purpose of a character reference is to demonstrate who you are on a personal basis.

A character reference could be provided by a friend, neighbor or teacher.

This is more often used where an individual is applying for their first job, they have limited work experience or in certain industries where personal honesty and integrity are paramount.

Should You Include Your References on Your Resume?

Do not include your references on your resume or on your CV. It is unnecessary because it is unlikely that the employer will ask for references at the application stage.

Equally, do not include the phrase, 'References available on request'.

By leaving your references off your resume, you can utilize the space it would take up for other sections, such as your qualifications, skills or work experience.

For more information on when to use a CV or a resume, read CV vs Resume: What’s the Difference?

When and Why Will an Employer Ask for Your Reference List?

An employer will ask for references once they are interested in hiring you. Your application has demonstrated that you have the correct skills and qualifications. You have interviewed well and shown that you could be a good fit for the job and the company.

The next stage is for the employer to check that you have the experience and qualifications you claim to possess. This is where professional references are useful.

Generally, you will be asked for your list of professional references once the interview has taken place. They will often be accompanied by other background checks.

How to Format a List of Professional References
How to Format a List of Professional References

When Should You Prepare a List of Professional References?

Collating a list of professional references should not be the last step in your job search.

You should already have an up-to-date list of contacts ready to provide you with a professional reference before you apply for a job.

Having a ready-prepared list of professional references to hand means that you are ready to provide them at any stage of the job search process.

Who Can You Put on Your Reference List?

Professional references may be provided by:

  • Managers and supervisors
  • Colleagues
  • Those who you have managed or supervised
  • Mentors
  • Past clients

Keep your list of reference contacts up-to-date. People change jobs and employers. Some may retire. Others may feel that they no longer want to provide you with a reference.

You may only be asked to provide two or three references, but you must have more than three references available to you so that you can choose reference providers to suit the job you are applying for.

For example, say you apply for two jobs. The first is a marketing assistant. The second is a copywriter role.

For the marketing assistant vacancy, you use your three most recent references to demonstrate how your marketing skills have progressed with each position.

For the copywriter role, you use your two most recent references, both from your employment in marketing roles, and a separate reference from a client for whom you carried out freelance copywriting work.

Some employers may mention the mix of professional references they are interested in. For example, for a managerial role, they may ask for references from past managers, past/current colleagues and past/current employees whom you have managed or supervised.

Make sure your list of professional references adheres to the requirements specified by the employer.

You should always ask for permission to include work contacts on your list of professional references. This avoids the possibility of a refused reference or a reduced quality reference from a disgruntled work contact.

Before you provide the list to a prospective employer, inform your contacts that they may be approached for a reference.

It may be that they do not want to be included in the list this time and you must find a replacement. Even if they are happy to provide a reference, it is polite to let them know beforehand.

It might be helpful to let them know what position you are applying for so that they can prepare the reference in advance and tailor it to suit the job. You may also wish to discuss certain aspects of your skills and work experience that you would like them to focus on.

Contacting your reference providers before including them on a list can also be a useful way to ensure that their details are up-to-date; for instance, whether they have moved to a different employer or hold a more senior position.

Where this is your first job or you have little work experience, you may wish to include your past teachers or professors. Alternatively, you could offer to provide a list of character references.

How to Format Your Reference List

Your list of professional references should match your resume and cover letter, using the same font, font size, spacing and so on. This ‘branding’ will lend a professional feel to your documents.

Your reference list should include:

  • Your name, written in the same way as across the rest of your application (for example, ‘Susan Matcheon’ on both and not ‘Sue Matcheon’ on your letter and ‘Susan Matcheon’ on your resume)
  • Your phone number
  • Your email address

For each reference:

  • Name
  • Position
  • Company
  • Company address
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Any other information that the prospective employer stipulates (for example, company website)
  • Details of when you worked together, your working relationship and any other relevant information

Do not include the home contact details for your reference providers. Their work address, phone number and email address will suffice.

If they have a preferred method of contact, such as phone over email, note that on your list.

Be sure to check your list for errors before forwarding it to the employer. Ensure you use the means of communication stipulated by them, whether email, printed list sent in the post or online process.

You may find it useful to set up a template for future use to keep all your lists of professional references consistent.

Example List of Professional References

List of Professional References for Susan Matcheon

Susan Matcheon
(555) 123-4567

Robert Hanaman, Marketing Director

Hallerston Industries
48 Milton Street
Allston, MA 12435
(555) 234-5678

Robert Hanaman is the marketing director for my previous employer, Hallerston Industries.

Janice Smithe, Marketing Manager

Arlington PR & Promotions
1001 Route 20, Suite 110
Arlington, CA 55112
(555) 234-6789

Janice Smithe managed the marketing team I worked in at Arlington PR & Promotions.

Sam Greene, Marketing Manager

Watson Enterprises
Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 11111
(555) 345-6789

Sam Greene was my colleague at Arlington PR & Promotions.

Final Thoughts

Like any other aspect of your job application, a list of professional references should be prepared and presented professionally:

  • Prepare your list of professional references before you apply for any job so that you are well prepared to provide that list when requested.

  • Match your list of references to your cover letter and resume.

  • Make sure that your list answers the employer’s requirements, such as the number of professional references, type of professional references, email or printed, a separate document or part of an online process, etc.

  • Use reference providers who are suitable for the job you are applying for, instead of using the same references for every job application.

  • Only include a contact on your reference list once you have received an agreement from them to be a reference provider at this time.

  • Inform your contacts if you are including them as a reference for a job application and give them sufficient warning so that they can consider what they will include in the reference.

  • Discuss the job you are applying for with your reference providers and let them know what areas you would like them to mention in the reference.

  • Keep your list of professional references up-to-date to avoid failed reference requests.

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Or explore the Application Advice / Job Applications sections.