Great Resumes Fast » Resume Writing Tips » Why Professional References Are Important and How to Ask for Them

In today’s job market, professional references are more important than ever before. Prospective employers want to know your past work performance as well as your work habits from those who have seen you in action on a day-to-day basis. Every section of your resume is important, but strong professional references provide the proof and real-world evidence of your value as an employee and can help you stand out as a candidate.

So how do you choose the best professional references? And how do you use them effectively on your resume? Here are some tips to ensure you get the best references possible to help you land an interview and get the position you really want, even when you aren’t leaving a job on the best terms.

Why References Rock

One of the major reasons good references are so crucial to your job search success is that they substantiate your experience and provide a valid third party who will vouch for your credibility. Any job applicant can sound smart and professional on a resume. To ensure your work ethic matches the needs and culture of the company where you are applying, a hiring manager will want to talk to your current or past employers and colleagues. A good reference can be the difference between you and another applicant with a similar resume.

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Avoid “Provided Upon Request”

Should you put references directly on your resume? YES. I hear this question a lot, and the answer is yes. Rather than printing out your references, you may be tempted to save resume space and paper by putting “References provided upon request” on your resume. This is a no-no because it indicates to hiring managers that you are hesitant to provide such information. When you write a resume, you should always include a list of professional references’ names and contact information when applying for a new position as it shows confidence and comfort in your previous work record.

The hiring process is also often long and tedious—if a hiring manager is going through hundreds of resumes, don’t make them take an extra step to reach out to you for more information. If they are already teetering on the edge of whether you are a candidate to move forward with, they just might opt not to reach out to you.

However, if an employer asks for a reference letter or written recommendation from your references, of course provide those instead of putting contact information for your references on your resume.

Additionally, on a modern resume you can also consider including brief quotes from your references as blurbs on your resume itself. If you opt for this route, still include your references’ contact information on the resume so that an employer can call to follow up and ask more questions and hear more great things about your achievements!

And remember that references don’t always have to go at the end of your resume. If you have particularly impressive references to show off, consider arranging your resume layout so their names are immediately visible to the person reading your resume, as in the Health & Fitness Leader resume on our resume samples page (

Get Your References Right

Before you ask someone to act as a professional reference on your behalf—and yes, you need to ask in advance—consider the context in which they know you. Do you have a strong professional relationship with them? Will the person you are asking be able to speak to the quality of your work, the depth of your responsibilities, your character, and the breadth of your career accomplishments?

Consider asking a wide breadth of professionals from across your work experience who know you well and who you trust to be able to adequately answer any tough questions a potential employer might ask about you as an employee. Choose people who are capable of speaking to different aspects of your abilities and skills. For example, you may ask a colleague you have worked with closely on a project, someone from a professional association who is knowledgeable of your work, and an associate with whom you worked to solve a problem in an emergency situation. You could also employ a faculty member you have worked with closely, as well as an immediate supervisor with whom you meshed well.

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Choose Those Who Speak Well

Though someone may have agreed to serve as one of your references, will they speak well of you, and are they able to do so? I have had people ask me to act as a reference for them when they have not performed well for me or I am unfamiliar with their work. Be sure that the people you add to your list of references can discuss your work, abilities, and personality with thoughtful confidence in a positive way to help your cause.

In addition, stay in contact with your references. Keep them apprised of your job search, what positions you are seeking, and the type of work you wish to do. This will allow them to best speak on your behalf to help you achieve your career goals. A recommendation from someone you haven’t spoken to in seven years except to ask them to be a professional reference for you isn’t going to be as effective as one from someone who knows your current professional situation and has a clear memory of your qualifications, strengths, and value to an employer. Plus, it’s just good professional courtesy to stay in touch this way!

How to Ask

The best way to ask someone to be your reference is to start with giving them information about your career search. Share with this person the type of position you’re pursuing, and tell them why you’re a good fit. Then, ask them if they’d be willing to provide a positive reference for you or a referral to someone they know who is hiring for a position that fits.

Breaking Down Barriers

In the event that you are leaving your current position on less than perfect terms, you can still get good references. In addition to direct supervisors, and managers, co-workers and colleagues can also speak to your experience. References don’t always have to come from the company Human Resources department or your supervisor. A good recommendation can come from anyone with whom you have a solid professional relationship who can speak strongly, knowledgeably, and positively about you and your work.

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How Many Professional References Do You Need?

The average job seeker should have three to four solid references on their professional resume. I advise my clients seeking senior positions to consider listing more references with five to seven. Always list your strongest reference first as potential employers are most likely to start checking references at the top of your list.

You can also have a roster of professional references ready to go, and only put the most relevant on a particular resume. The most effective resumes are always tailored to the specific job or company you are applying to, and you should consider targeting your references in the same way you look at your work history, achievements, skills, strengths, etc.

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References Bolster You

Not only can great references bolster your ability to get the position you want, but they can help you feel better about yourself, promoting a winning attitude. In addition, by asking a past employer, supervisor, or colleague for a reference, you are helping to maintain a positive and trusting relationship with them.

I believe you deserve a career that brings you joy, fulfillment, and the ability to live your best life. If you’re having a hard time writing your resume or your current resume isn’t generating the response you’d hoped it would, consider hiring a professional resume writer to help you out. Investing in a professionally written resume is an investment in your future.

At Great Resumes Fast, our team of resume writers is a group of HR professionals and certified resume writers with industry experience. Writing a resume is difficult, no matter who you are and no matter what stage of your career you are at. The professional resume writers at Great Resumes Fast want to help you succeed, and we take the time to get your resume right. We start with a phone consultation—no long survey for you to fill out—and provide you with a personalized professional resume that comes with a guarantee.

To learn more about our team, head over to our About Page. To see resume samples and get a feel for our work (or some inspiration for writing your resume yourself) head over to our sample resumes page.

Are you tired of your resume being rejected by applicant tracking systems? I know how frustrating it is to submit your resume and receive no response. I hate seeing qualified people never breakthrough the screening process. It shouldn’t be that way. That’s why I created this guide and I encourage you to download the FREE PDF so you can start seeing better resume response rates!

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About the author

Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast

Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.

What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.

You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!

I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!


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