Should I include references in my CV?

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How important are references?

Should I include them in my CV?

And if so… what is the best way to do it?

You are not the first. I hear these kinds of questions from time to time.

Not that strange. Everyone seems to have a different opinion these days…

The worst part?

Most ‘expert’ opinions are hopelessly outdated…

In this post, I will tell you EXACTLY how you should handle references and WHY you should do so. Without the BS.

To start with the first question: references are important.

Having good references’ are in the top 5 most important factors among recruiters…

“So I should include references in my CV?”

The short answer is…

No, you don’t.

Reference vs Referee

First, let’s make the difference between a reference and a referee crystal clear.

You don’t want to include a reference in your CV because the recruiter asked for a referee. Let’s make it the recruiter not THAT easy shall we?

It’s simple. A reference is a recommendation of a referee.

References are usually given by phone but can also be written down in the form of a letter or email: the reference or recommendation letter.

A reference letter describes your professional relationship, your job role and how well you did it. Above all, it reveals how you were to work with.

A character reference letter contains a more personal review and describes what your character traits are. It states how the referee knows you, the qualities you possess and why you would make a good employee.

NEVER send reference letters when not requested.

ARE you asked to send references? Don’t include them in your CV but send the references in a separate letter.

The only thing you could consider to include in your CV is the referees’ name and their function… WITHOUT contact information. I’ll come to that.

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Why you should NOT include a referee list in your CV

YES, having 2 referees in your CV used to be the norm… 30 YEARS AGO.
The digital age changed everything.

Referees are almost always withheld nowadays. And so should you.

The purpose of your CV is to get the job interview. AFTER the interview recruiters need your referees to make their choice.

Don’t waste your precious CV space with referees when they are not of an added value at the start of the hiring process!

You see…

Everyone has to give a referee/reference at some point. Providing them immediately won’t be that big of an advantage.

Not only that. It could potentially even HURT your position.

Include referees in your CV and you won’t have any control left.

Withhold referees and give yourself a STRATEGIC ADVANTAGE.

Wait till after the first job interview.

After the interview, you will know what the company is exactly looking for.


You can select your best referees depending on their wishes!

Finally, it is a BIG question mark when you cannot include the name of your last employer.

Why would you risk a rejection based on CV referees?

Including referees in your CV seems to be a never-ending discussion.

The preference differs per recruiter so there is not a definite YES or NO.

For 95% of the jobs, just leave them out of your CV unless employees request them. The potential disadvantages are just too big.

One exception might be interim or contract roles. But only with referees that are EXACTLY aligned with the desired job position.

But what if…

Why you should include referees in your CV

Have you included EVERYTHING that could possibly add value to your CV?
Do you have nothing better to show and do you STILL have whitespace left?

Add even more details! Just kidding.

If this is your situation you could consider including 2 referees. It shows the recruiter that you deliver good work. People are willing to act as a referee.

But always LEAVE OUT the contact information!

You don’t want the recruiter contacting them behind your back. Especially not BEFORE the job interview.

Use the referees’ full name, job title and company as information.


There is also another option that prevents the negative aspects of including referees… While taking up less space.

Just include the sentence ‘referees available upon request’ and you are set.

The recruiter knows you can provide them. It doesn’t take too much space. AND you can switch referees according to their needs.

There is only one MAJOR exception.

Sometimes employers list referees as a requirement in the job description.
If so, definitely include them in your CV or on a separate page.

I would go for the separate page to keep my CV clean.

If the application doesn’t request a number, go for three as this is the typical number that employers want.

Make sure to have permission from the referee and tell the referee that company X might call.

The contact information should be a professional email address and business phone number.

Only use a personal telephone number with explicit permission!

How to choose the right referee

A good referee is clear and well-spoken, friendly, engaging, authoritative and professional. Keep in mind that the referee often tells a lot about yourself!

If the referee is shy or chaotic, it will certainly give a wrong impression to the prospective employer.

And try to add your current or former employer as one of the referees.

Just to avoid questions or assumptions.

Otherwise, the recruiter might think that you didn’t deliver good work.

The second and third referee can be any professional or academic acquaintance who knows you well and thinks highly of you.

Choose colleagues that worked closely with you! They know you the best.

Select them with care and think about what they are going to say about you. Where did they admire you for? Is that quality beneficial for your next job?

Some (general) referees may act as a reference for several years. Others might be a more optimal fit for a certain position.

Oh, and NEVER include family members. It has happened before…

Yes, they might be qualified referees. But it won’t get you the job.

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How many referees should I have?

Always try to have a flexible set of 5-6 referees you can rely on. Have different options you can choose from depending on the job.

As a starter, it is perfectly fine to have just 1-2 referees. Think about a college professor or a student.

In general, it is expected to have 3 referees ready after the job interview.

Choose the referees that are most beneficial to the job position.

Have at least one referee ready in the following categories:

  • A professional referee that will confirm your knowledge and skills.
  • A personal referee that knows you well and can tell about your personality.

How to arrange the perfect referee

Getting great referees is not that hard. Look for them in the following area’s:

  • Former employer

  • Current employer

  • Manager/supervisor
  • Coach/Mentor

  • Teacher/Lecturer (academic)

Start by contacting your professional, academic and personal network. Call suitable candidates and ask if he/she would be willing to act as a referee.

Explain your situation, your career path (what type of work you are doing/looking for) and state in general how they could help you out.

If the person is willing, make sure to verify the current job title, company and accurate contact information.

Explain the role of the referee (either professional, academic or personal) so that they know what to say in general.

Before applying, send him/her a copy of your CV!

Really no one does this.

Send the referee your CV and he will know immediately what type of work you are going to apply for.

He will know what motivates you to get the job, what you have done recently and what qualities you have developed in time.

Especially if you know the referee for a long time this is very important.

Moreover, the referee might think of open (intern) functions in their company upon seeing your CV.

He or she could introduce you to HR and even help you towards your next job! Instead of a referee you now have a warm introduction.

Make sure that before the job interview, the referee knows at least…

  1. What you have been doing.
  2. Exactly what achievements you have realized.
  3. What their referee-role is (either professional, academic or personal).
  4. What you are looking for. In other words, what they should say about you to help you out.

No doubt, your referee will have a story ready that is much more aligned with the desired job.

At least you prevent the awkward situation where they have to remember who you exactly where, what you did, what your best characteristics were etc.

Referees are usually called after the first interview. Let the referee know that they might be called!

Got the job? Congratulations.

Make the referee aware that you got the job.

Really thank them!

Send them flowers, chocolate and/or a personal thank-you letter.

Say that they can count on your help when they are in need or a reference.

This gives you two future advantages.

  1. They will know what you are doing right now. So they will remember you if they have another job opportunity in that direction.
  2. They are more willing to function again as a referee once required!

That’s how you get long-term referees that will have your back when needed.

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My Mission? Helping 1 Million People Get Their Dream Job.

Today, recruiters play it very safe. It is not the candidate with the best qualifications that get the job, but the one with the best CV.

I think that’s simply wrong. How much better would the world be when everyone was in the job position where he or she could make the most impact?

How about applying only for the jobs you really want instead of every job application that seems decent? I actually recommend this as it will increase your chance of success when used with my powerful strategies.

With my psychological marketer background, I offer a unique & highly effective perspective. It would be a privilege to guide you through this journey and empower you to get the job of your life!

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