Have you been told not to add resume referees? Here’s why that is bad advice and how they can give you an edge over your competition.
There are many reasons why people don’t include details of their referees on their resumes. Some stem from their own fears and others from advice gained from articles they have found from Google searches.
Unfortunately, there is one big problem.
Many of these writers are not actually recruiters and therefore they are not up to date with what is really needed today.
After weighing up the pros and cons, the general consensus is that there is no place for referees on a resume.
As a global resume writer and recruiter who always ensures referees are included in resumes, I strongly disagree.
This is not because I want to be contentious and go against the tide to gain some ‘click bait’ type attention.
It’s because I know what works in the current market.
Whilst adding resume referees will not guarantee you a job, the truth is that there are many valid reasons for including them that will certainly be to your advantage.
Popular reasons for not adding resume referees
Let’s take a look at the most common reasons given and debunk a few of these myths.
"Resume referees take up valuable space which should be used to promote your skills and achievements."
It is absolutely true that your resume has just one job – and that is to get you an interview. Therefore, it follows that every part of it should be geared towards this aim.
What is not true though is that it can and should only be 1 or 2 pages maximum in length.
Most job applications will be processed through Applicant Tracking Systems that will extract important information from your resume to store it in an applicant database.
Then it will grade you against certain criteria and give you a score of suitability.
The ATS does not care whether your resume is 1 or 4 pages long.
All it cares about is getting the information it is looking for.
Your referees will be one of those sections it will be looking to populate – fact not fiction.
If you concentrate on the quality of your content rather than obsessing about the length of your resume, there is certainly enough room to add a few lines detailing your referees at the end.
"Resume referees are unnecessary to add because they are only needed after an interview."
Technically and traditionally, this is true in that recruiters and HR have normally wanted to take up your references once you have gone through the whole interview process and they are seriously considering hiring you.
However, times and methods are changing, and references aren’t always used as the last step before a job offer.
If you’re working in an environment with high staff turnover and a focus on lower-skilled, entry-level jobs, employers may want to conduct references as part of the application process to cope with volume onboarding.
Conversely, in higher skilled more specialist roles that require multiple interviews and assessment, employers may want to take up your references after the first round of in-person interviews before they invest significant manager, director and exec time in further interviews.
"I don’t want my boss to know I am looking for a new job."
Totally understandable but there is an easy solution for this one.
If you are not going to name your boss as a referee through the fear of jeopardising your current position, just give alternative referees from previous roles or colleagues within your current company instead of this immediate boss.
"Recruiters will use the contact details of resume referees for prospecting purposes."
Again, some truth in this but really it is a worry of the past.
Recruitment is a sales-based process and certainly there was a time that a list of people and their contact details would be used to try to drum up new business.
Referees would typically be in a position of authority which made them perfect to contact to see if you could help them fill job openings within their organisations.
But that was pre-LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
There are now far easier ways to find and contact people rather than manually leafing through candidates’ resume referees.
"My referees will get annoyed because I am applying for so many jobs."
In reality, the likelihood of your referees needing to give a full reference will not happen often. There are likely to be some pre-screening calls as mentioned above plus some conducted at the end of your interviews, but the number will not be that high.
But this brings up a very important point.
If your referees are easily frustrated, then they should not be your referees in the first place.
I discuss this below in 'how to choose the right resume referees.'
Let’s now look at the positives when you decide to include your resume referees rather than saying 'available upon request.'
4 Reasons why you should always add resume referees
Recruiters want them there from the beginning.
They are deadline driven and time poor.
They do not have time to chase you for information.
Unless you are an in demand specialist, they might move on to the next candidate who has submitted a complete application ie with referees.
Referees are one of the basic fields of information they will be looking to populate.
Some will input you without them whilst others will reject you.
Do you really want to take that chance?
ATS - again!
Their job is to firstly input complete applications, as explained above, but then they screen resumes against certain criteria for jobs.
They are programmed to search for set criteria which can be basic things such as key words, phrases, technical terms or qualifications. All the things you would expect.
But it can also be anything else – such as specific company names that they would like future employees to come from - ie the sort of thing you find in your referees. The more these words are repeated, the higher your score.
So, your resume says you are great but there is nothing better than other people saying you are.
Why pass up on an opportunity to get your own fan club cheering for you?
Ending your resume with a good set of referees not only validates all you have said about yourself but it also proves that you are a professional that others trust and respect enough to offer support.
How to choose the right resume referees
Your referees should be people with a position of authority in companies you have worked for.
They should be people you trust and no, as discussed, they don’t have to be from your current company if you are worried about confidentiality.
Try to spread them out and don’t have all four from just one company.
Now this bit is crucial.
Always keep in regular contact with your referees for 4 reasons.
Verification of contact information
People frequently move house, state, jobs, e-mails and telephone numbers.
If it is a close thing between you and another candidate, and your competitor makes reference taking easier by providing the correct details you might lose out just because of this.
Remember, recruiters and people within HR are time poor, deadline driven, bombarded with applications and intolerant of candidates that can’t be bothered to be organised.
Have a chat with your referees. Make sure they are still worthy of this position you are giving them.
Will they be professional if telephoned?
Do they really know you well enough to comment positively?
Were there any moments from your past working relationship that you are worried they may bring up?
If you have any concerns at all, move on to another contact.
Let them see your current resume
You are probably thinking ‘why do I need to do that when they already know what I can do?’
Here is why.
You want them to speak the same language as your current resume.
You want them to sell you, and the words on your resume do this, so it is essentially a guide on what you want them to say about you.
They might have forgotten what you did or never really known in the first place.
If a recruiter or HR Manager hears any hesitation on the telephone, Zoom, Teams or, worse still, face to face, they may interpret this as a negative.
It can come across as “oh no, how do I word this because I can’t say anything good’.
You want your referees to answer confidently in a time appropriate manner.
They can’t do this if they don’t see your resume to clarify your skills and achievements.
They may have a position or know of a position that you would be perfect for.
You may be thinking they would tell you if they had so what’s the point?
Possibly you are right to think this but what if you are wrong?
What if they are so busy that they forgot?
What if they don’t know you would be suitable because they don’t really know all that you can do?
What if they don’t know you are actively looking?
Don’t leave anything to chance, stack everything in your favour when you are looking for work.
How many resume referees should you include?
Always try to give 4 good quality referees with full contact details
By this I mean from your most recent roles, with their names, job titles, company names, mobiles and email addresses.
Sometimes referees are hard to contact so if you give four and they only manage to get through to three then that is fine to verify your skills and experience.
If you only give two and they can’t get through to the second one then that is not enough
How to list resume referees
Finally, ensure you never put your resume referees in a box.
In fact, never put any information in boxes on your resume because then there is a good chance that it will not be read by ATS.
It is never a good idea to write 'references available upon request.'
Always include resume referees unless explicitly asked not to or you can’t for genuine security reasons.
If you have been asked not to include them, why write this phrase?
If it is a security issue, write a different phrase.
If you feel you can’t trust a referee, don’t use them. Whether they are contacted earlier in the recruitment process or right at the end, a bad referee can cost you an opportunity.
Take care in your choice and build your ongoing relationship with them.
Help them by supporting their career and they will be more likely to do the same for you.