References Available Upon Request

I see this line, “References Available Upon Request”,  on about 10-20% of all the resumes that I review. I used it myself years ago. But almost every resume writer or HR professional I speak to today agrees that it’s not needed on your resume anymore.

If you’re still using “References Available Upon Request” on your resume or cover letter, it probably indicates one of two things to me: 1) you’ve not researched how resumes are written today or 2) you’re getting some bad (or some very out-of-date) advice on how to write a resume…or both! Leave it off, but have your references ready.

References Required

Imagine a time when consumers didn’t have easy access to mobile phones, instant messaging, e-mail, LinkedIn, faxes, the Internet, FedEx or any form of the “quick” communications we have today except for written documentation, face-to-face meetings and maybe an occasional “land-line” phone (if you could afford one). This was not as long ago as many of you might think. Up through the mid 1900s, with the exception of the popular growth of the telephone and Interstate Highways, we remained mostly locally-oriented in our communities and we limited our business dealings to those people and firms within walking distance or a short commute.

In my Father’s or Grandfather’s day, people were born, grew up, worked, and retired within mere miles of the same place.  My Grandfather was a tailor in his father’s tailor business in Baltimore. My Uncle worked in the steel mill just a mile down the road, my Great-Uncle ran a restaurant and bar two blocks from my Grandfather’s tailor shop.

In that day and time, your family and community were very close. When it was time for you to start a career, your relatives would help you locate a job or a prospective employer would most likely know your family because of the close-knit community. And you were often hired based on their reputations or their recommendations (not necessarily on your talents). It was common to carry a “letter of recommendation” from a family member or a well-known business associate that essentially said “You know me, so take a chance on this fellow because I recommend him.”

References Offered

As we developed a more mobile society in the mid-1900s, we often found ourselves outside of our “local” business and family circles pursuing new job opportunities. Yet many of the hiring managers were of the “old school” where a personal recommendation or familiarity with a job seeker’s family was the best way to get a job offer from them. Even people with a sterling job history and a resume that showed them in the best possible light might not get an offer because they were simply an “unknown” resource. It was necessary to have a letter of recommendation (or something similar) from someone that the prospective employer might know or could contact to obtain that sense of familiarity or comfort. Thus, it became common to put “References Available Upon Request” on applications, resumes or cover letters to give that sense of assurance to the prospective manager that someone else thought highly of your talent.

Today we’re well beyond the “I knew your Father, so I’ll give you a chance” point in our methods of hiring. In some cases, large firms don’t want to have references (or restrict them to strictly professional sources) because of various possibilities of lawsuits. Nevertheless, the key point to remember is…yes, you WILL have references available. It’s not a question of “do you have them”, but rather how will they be made available to others. The Job Search protocol has past the point of you offering them…it’s now expected that you have them and that you will provide them upon demand. So the “References Available Upon Request” is both archaic and a waste of space.

References Available

Now that we’ve cleared that up…what references should you have, what should your references do for you, and how do you present them?

So first, the easy answer. You should have 3-5 professional references and 2-3 personal references. The professional references are ideally your former managers, your former peers, or a former client. These people should also be spread across your last 2-3 jobs (current job history only, please, no ancient references!) and the people should be able to talk specifically about your tasks, your successes and your perceived benefit to the job. Oh…and these people need to have agreed to be a reference and you need to keep them informed of anytime you share their names and contact information via references.

Your references should be aware of your job search, they should be acquainted with the section of your resume that is relevant to them, and you should make sure they know WHY you chose them for a reference. Brief them about the areas where you’ve worked together and how that work experience is relevant to your new career pursuit. Don’t give them a script, just help them focus on your strengths that they’ve witnessed. Ask them to have 1-2 “stories” to tell where you functioned well at the job. It sometimes helps to send them the job posting or the position description beforehand so they can envision you in that role when trying to be a good reference for you.

Your Reference page needs to be separate from your resume and your cover letter. It needs to have the same look-and-feel (headers, fonts, margins, etc.) and it should provide, on a single page, everything the hiring manager might want to know about your references. Start with your standard contact information on the top of the page (just like your resume…your name, your phone, etc.), followed by a large section header that says “Professional References”. Then list the reference’s name, contact information and “connect the dots” for the reader. Something like the following:

Professional References

Mr. Robin Q. Smythe
Director of Information Technology
ACME Technology Products
[Street address is optional]
Somecity, Texas [ZIP is optional]
Office: 1 (999) 555-1234
— My manager for 3 years — he can address questions about the VLP Campaign listed in my resume.

Note that I provided Rob’s current title, his location, two ways to contact him that Rob has recommended I use (clarify if these are business or personal), and I provided a great opening for the hiring manager to ask Rob about my work on a particular item I highlighted from my resume. This gets the conversation going easily and provides a favorable point for Rob and the recruiter to focus on.  Now add 2-4 more references to this document and provide these references to the recruiter only when requested — preferably after the interview, not before. (Personal references go on a separate page and are provided only if specifically requested.)

Bottom Line: Yes, references are still needed in many cases, but you don’t need to say “References Available Upon Request” on your resume. In today’s job search world, professional (and sometimes personal) references are always expected to be provided if requested. Make sure you let your references know they are being listed and may be contacted. And don’t forget to remind your references of your strengths by pointing out places on your resume that they might want to be prepared to discuss.

(Updated 10/3/13)


See the Index of all the Job Hunter articles on my Backlog tab.

One Response to References Available Upon Request

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