Many job hopefuls spend a lot of time researching prospective employers and polishing their CVs and cover letters. However, many tend to neglect one very important aspect of the job search process, asking people to be their professional resume references.

When you’re on the hunt for a job and has passed several applications, a very common requests among employers is for you to provide resume references. Once you get your chance to be interviewed, your resume references can be a crucial factor that will determine whether you get the job or not. You want to get it right since you don’t want to look like a fool when a potential employer contacts the names that you have listed.

So who should you have as your resume references?

For this article, we’ll discuss which persons should (and shouldn’t) be listed in your references.


Who Should You List In Your Resume References?


If you are lost as to which persons to include as references, here are some guidelines to help you out.

1. Current Or Former Employers

Perhaps the most obvious person that should be listed in your references is your current or former boss.


Your supervisors make good references because they are very knowledgeable about your professional abilities and work ethic. They know what your responsibilities are at your previous job and how well you handled them. In an ideal world, they will be willing to discuss specific instances about how you excelled in your role or how you added value to the company.

If they are able to put out a good word for you, your chances of getting hired are increased significantly.


On the other hand, if you left your previous job on bad terms, then it’s for the best that you skip on using your supervisors from that company for references. You just don’t want to take that chance of your previous employer talking about your work performance or you as a person in a negative light.

In addition, please don’t list your current employer as a reference unless that you have informed the company beforehand.


A call from a potential employer isn’t exactly a subtle way of revealing that you’re about to jump ship. This also protects your current job from going down the drain in case you haven’t made significant progress in your job hunt.


In this regard, try to think of a person who can offer a positive, or at least neutral, comments about you.

2. Colleagues

References don’t have to be someone who took you under their employment. Someone whom you have worked alongside with can be an excellent reference.


If you have a good relationship with your colleague or co-worker, you can list his or her as one of your references. By working with you on a daily basis, your former co-workers can attest to your strengths as a team player and are likely familiar with you on a personal level. They can provide examples where you worked together and achieved something as a team.


When it comes to soft skills, many employers are all about that teamwork, so anyone who can vouch for your capability to work with a team is crucial.

3. Clients Or Customers

Think back to just about any project where you did an excellent job and has made a client or customer very happy.


Your past clients and customers can personally attest to your expertise and skills. Sometimes, they may even have the advantage of being knowledgeable about some details of your work performance that your direct supervisor may not even be aware of.


So ask some customers or clients during your time working in a related role if they can be listed as one of your references. This is especially helpful if you’re applying for a job in the service sector or any other roles where you directly face a client. This helps highlight your communication and customer service skills.

4. Teacher Or Adviser

Any person who has mentored you can provide a really strong reference, especially if they taught you a course or lesson that’s related to your major. They will not only provide the interviewer with details about the skills you’ve picked up during your education, they can vouch for your personal character as well.


However, this depends on the amount of time that you have spent with the mentor.


You can list a teacher or adviser as a reference if he or she were able to get to know you really well during your time as a student. They can talk about your journey and how you’ve grown into the professional that you are today.

5. Subordinates

If you are applying for a position that will have people reporting to you, it might not be a bad idea to include former subordinates as a reference.


A subordinate can provide a unique insight into your day-to-day performance and work ethic – and such a perspective can be useful for potential employers.


However, there are several pros and cons of using subordinates as references. There’s the undue pressure to provide a positive feedback or the subordinate may feel hesitant to give an honest appraisal. While listing them provides multiple perspectives, make sure that your resume references are not all composed by your direct subordinates.


Persons You Should Not Use As References

Below are some of the persons that you should never have in your list of references.

1. Family Members

According to Timothy Trudeau, CEO of Syntax Creative, “We’ve all seen a family member slide their way onto an applicant’s reference section, but the absolute funniest reference I have ever received was someone’s biological parent.”


In general, hiring managers will just assume that your parents and family members are not capable of providing an objective view of your professional skills and work ethic. Almost always, they will likely say that you’re pretty great.


Employers are interested in your previous work experiences, moral character, and work ethic. The opinion of your family will always be biased.

2. A Person You Haven’t Had Contact With In Years

Hiring managers want to know details about your recent work experience.


So, it’s best to use the persons who can discuss the great work you’ve done recently and relate if you have up-to-date knowledge of the industry. If you’re going to use someone who isn’t familiar with your recent work experience, the hiring manager may think that you’ve got something to hide.


In addition, you really don’t want to list a person who may not remember the great work that you’ve done or perhaps not even remember you at all. If there’s someone from your past who you think would greatly benefit you despite the distance, you should work on reconnecting with that person in a meaningful way which would increase your chances of getting a good feedback.

3. A Person You Don’t Really Know

It can be tempting to ask a friend of a friend of a friend who is working at your prospective company to give you a good reference.


Let us outright say that it’s a bad idea.


Even if they agree, they don’t really know you. Therefore, anything that they will say will just be a wild guess and not one sane person would be willing to lie just for a stranger.


If you really want to take advantage of this loose connection, you can do it right by asking for an introduction and relating information about yourself and why you’re an ideal candidate for the job.


Of course, this needs to be done in the most gracious, non-obnoxious manner possible.

4. A Person With A Bad Reputation

This goes without saying that you shouldn’t use a person with a bad reputation as a reference.


This about your reference’s possible relationship with the company where you are applying and how their name will be perceived by the hiring manager. This is especially important if your reference is already employed by your prospective employer.


As the saying goes, we are judged by the company that we keep. Just don’t use a reference that will reflect poorly on you.

5. A Person Who Fired You

This one doesn’t have to be explained by there are surprisingly many job seekers who are asking, “How to handle a situation where one of my references fired me?”


The worst situation that you can be in as an interviewee is to have a potential employer inquire about a past employer whom you had a poor relationship with. Sometimes, that just can’t be avoided.


However, you will not be doing yourself any favor by serving that information on a silver platter using a document you control.

Final Thoughts

Compiling your list of resume references can be tricky but it’s not that complicated.

If you’ve managed to build genuine professional relationships, it’s just the matter of choosing the right person from your network. Just make sure to let them know in advance and provide them a copy of your resume and job description.

Don’t forget to send them a thank-you note and return the favor if possible.

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