Years ago, almost every resume I saw had the words “references available upon request” at the bottom, but few professional resume writers include this phrase today. Nonetheless, I receive many questions about references from clients.

Professional references are essential even if we say nothing about them on our resumes. Virtually every job application I’ve seen online or on paper has spaces for three or more references, and some job announcements ask for a reference list to be sent with our resume. References will be checked before you are hired. Chances are, you will not be hired if you get a “bad” reference, or if you cannot provide references with current contact information.

Select References that can Answer Questions about Your Work.

Occasionally, I receive calls from hiring managers that are checking references for former co-workers. This is always a great learning experience for me because I find out what employers ask about job candidates through these calls. Among other things, I’m usually asked:

  • In what capacity did I work with the candidate,
  • What was the job candidate’s role when we worked together,
  • How long did we work together or how long did I know the job candidate,
  • What do I think the candidate is good at, and
  • Would I hire this job candidate again, if I were a hiring manager?

The people you select as references should be people that can answer these, or similar, work related questions about you. Some job-seekers ask friends, neighbors, job counselors, social service workers, or close family members to be references, but they may not be able to answer work related questions about you. Many employers exclude close family members as potential references.

Check-in with the people you use as references periodically to make sure they are still available. The best way to do this is through a phone call or personal meeting, but touching base via email, text, or social media may be sufficient if the person knows you well enough.

In other words, choose people that can answer the most common questions, are willing to respond, and that can be contacted readily.

Have More than Three References.

Job applications usually ask us to provide contact information for three professional references, but I recommend that job-seekers select more than three references. There are two reasons for this. First, more than one potential employer may call at about the same time for a reference check. Your potential reference may not want to answer the same questions repeatedly from different people. Second, a reference may not be available at the time an employer calls. One of the professors I used as a reference for a prestigious summer internship was unavailable, I later learned, because he was “out of the country negotiating on behalf of the State department,” so he could not return the reference checker’s call. This may be the reason I was not selected for the internship.

Additional Strategies

Job-seekers use a variety strategies to make sure they have references. Many, for example, secure reference letters in advance, and bring the letters to the interview. This can help tilt the scales in their favor, I believe, but employers will still want to follow-up with their own questions.

Another recent strategy is to request LinkedIn recommendations. LinkedIn recommendations are preferable to LinkedIn “endorsements,” in my opinion, but they still do not carry the power of personal contact between your potential new employer and someone that knows your work well. A related strategy is to include “testimonials” on your resume, but this has the same limitation.

Concluding Comments

It is essential to have references—people that know our work well—to vouch for us, even though it is no longer common practice to include this information on your resume. Employers almost always call references and ask very specific questions.

Please share your comments and experiences with finding references, having your references checked, or serving as a reference for others either here, or at our Resumes that Shine Facebook page

About Frank Grossman

Frank Grossman has extensive experience as a career advisor, resume writer, and workforce development specialist in New York City and Philadelphia. He has helped thousands of candidates create resumes that make them shine. You may contact Frank at or view his Website at for additional information.

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