How Many References Should You Have?

references on resumeToday, when applying for a job, you will most likely be asked to provide several things: 1. A resume 2. A cover letter 3. Work samples 4. And a list of references. In this article, we hope to answer at least some of them including how many references your application should have.And while the first three are quite self-explanatory, when it comes to references on a resume, applicants often have a lot of questions.

What is a job reference?

A job reference is someone who can attest to your professional skills and expertise. This can be a professional in the industry, a former colleague, previous supervisor, a professor at your university — and so on.

A hiring manager will usually ask for references at some stage of your application process. References provide a helpful insight into your professional life and can help the HR manager to make a more informed decision.

Why do employers want references?

As we’ve mentioned above, references offer a useful insight into your professional personality. There are a number of reasons why a hiring manager may ask you to provide references:

  • It may be part of the company policy when it comes to any hiring process
  • They may want to fact check some of the information on your resume
  • They may want to get more details about some of the projects you’ve worked on
  • They may also want to learn more about your team playing capabilities and be personal qualities to deterring whether you will be a good fit for their team

If the HR manager asks you for references, it’s nothing to be alarmed about. It doesn’t mean they find you suspicious or don’t believe what you’ve told them. The truth is, today, an employer asking for references is almost just as common as them asking for a resume and cover letter. In fact, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 87% of employers do reference checks simply as part of their hiring process.

How many references should you have?

The number of references you should provide can vary depending on the company and position you are applying for.

In most cases, you should include at least three references in your reference list. However, if you are applying for a senior position or a position in, say, a government institution, you may be asked to provide up to seven references with your application.

Who to pick to be your reference on a resume?

So, how do you decide who gets to be your reference on a resume?

There are several factors you may want to consider here:

  • The person’s “weight” and reputation in your industry
  • How long they’ve known you
  • The quality of your professional relationship
  • Whether they will be eager to provide you with a good reference and more.

The best reference candidate is someone who knows you very well professionally and will be able to build a comprehensive picture of your abilities when talking to your new employer.

Here are some ideas for who you may want to consider for a reference

  • Supervisor or manager. Someone who was working directly above you will be able to give your new employer an idea of how well you follow instructions, your work attitude and ethics. They may also attest to your ability to work independently and take initiative on projects.
  • Colleague. If you use a former colleague as a reference, they may be able tell your new employer about your personal and team playing qualities. They can share their experience of working with you closely on a daily basis, handling everyday work challenges.
  • Professor. If you don’t yet have much work experience, consider using your university or college professor as a reference. They will be able share their view of your professional potential, learning ability, dependability and more.
  • Academic advisor. An academic advisor or counselor can offer very useful insights about your skills, professional capabilities and potential in a particular sphere. They will also be able to take about your passion for the chosen career, personal qualities and relevant academic achievements.
  • Mentor. A mentor is someone who inspires and motivates you. They may be the reason you’ve chosen this particular profession or the ones who have provided you with guidance throughout your career. Your manager, boss, colleague or any industry expert can be a mentor. Using a mentor as a reference is a good strategy when you want to highlight your interest, passion and commitment for the work you do.

When selecting people to add to your list of references on a resume, it may be a good idea to choose individuals who have worked with you on different levels. For instance, a manager, a colleague and a subordinate. Together, they will be able to create a comprehensive picture of who you are professionally when taking to your new employer.

Learn how to ask someone to be a reference.

What if I don’t have any references?

If you are new to the job market, you may think that you don’t have any references to add to your application. However, this may not be the case.

As we’ve mentioned above, you can use your college professor, academic advisor to be your reference on a resume. If you worked somewhere as an intern, your supervisor would make a good reference as well.

You can also ask someone outside of your industry to provide you with a reference. It’s best to avoid using friends and family as work references on a resume, but you can use an acquaintance who knows you well enough to talk about your personal qualities. Note that when you include personal references instead of professional ones, it’s best to include more than three.

Be honest with your hiring manager and explain that you have limited work experience but are able to provide references from other spheres of your life that can attest to your professional potential.

Do employers check all references?

A lot of applicants think that providing references on a resume is just a formality. It can also be quite comforting to think that no one is going to call all the numbers you’ve listed on your reference list.

However, statistical data shows that most employers will indeed check all or most of your references.

This means that it is wise to approach your reference selection with seriousness and not leave it till the last moment.

Read more about how to list references on a resume.

It also means that you should never fake references or use incorrect contact details. Using fake references in a job application process is illegal and can lead to serious consequences. Not only will you lose your chance of ever getting a job from this particular employer, you may also tarnish your reputation in the industry. Moreover, you may also have legal trouble.

Can you get a job without references?

In theory, it’s absolutely possible to get a job without references. While the majority of employees do ask for a reference at some stage of the application process, some don’t. Your ability to get a job without professional references also depends on the industry you work in, the company you are applying to and the position you are being considered for.

With that said, taking the time to prepare professional references is a much more effective strategy. Even if you are not asked for references, you may volunteer to provide them and this could tip the scale in your favor with the hiring manager.

How many references should you have: summing it up

Here are some important takeaways from all of the above:

  • When applying for a new job, there is a high chance that you will be asked to provide references.
  • It’s best to prepare references in advance: it may take you some time to find the right people, reach out to them and get their response on whether they can be your references.
  • When selecting candidates for professional references, consider your former supervisor, manager, colleague, professional, academic advisor, etc.
  • If you don’t have any professional references, you can use references who can attest to your personal qualities that will be relevant to the job you are applying for.
  • Most employees will check the references you’ve provided. This is why you should never lie on your resume or fake references. This has serious professional and legal consequences.

We hope that all of the above has been useful and you will now be able to build a solid strategy for selecting references on a resume.

Learn more about how to write a resume.

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