Why You Should Not Include References on Your Resume

writing references

While some guides to resume writing suggest listing your references, the consensus opinion today is that you should not list them.

Why not?

The purpose of the resume is to get you in the door; not to give someone a reason to eliminate you from consideration.

Let Your Resume do its Job

When you send out a resume, you are applying for a job, whether it is a job you know exists or one you hope does (or will in the future). You want to get in the door for an interview so you can sell the potential employer on hiring you.

The potential employer sees the resume as a way to eliminate people from contention. In other words, most employers do not review resumes just to find the person; they are also trying to narrow the list of applicants so as to interview a reasonable number.

Another way to think about is that every time a position open a company expects a certain number of applicants to apply. Each one of those applicants is a potential hire. What is on or isn’t on each applicant’s resume can eliminate them from consideration.

Aren’t Reference You’ve Vetted Good to Share?

If you list your references on the resume, you run the risk that one (or more) of the people screening the resume doesn’t like or respect your reference. They may feel you listed friend, even if they were colleagues, as opposed to non-biased supervisors.

You also run the risk that the employer will call the references before speaking to you, and will not be impressed with what they have to say. If your resume makes it past the immediate reject pile, you want the employer’s next step to be to call you, not to call someone else and possibly eliminate you from contention without ever speaking to you.

Tailor the References to the Job

Instead of including reference on your resume, take a separate list of references with you to any job interview so that you can give them to the interviewer, if asked. You may have different lists, depending on the job or your gut feeling after the interview. Holding the references until specifically asked for them gives you the ability to tailor the list to the job.

However, while vetting your references, you do not want to bother your references more than is necessary.

Responding to requests for references is a nuisance; however it is a nuisance with a purpose and your references know it. Nevertheless, out of courtesy to them, you want to limit the number of times they are contacted.

Also, after talking to the fourth our fifth person who is just working their way through a checklist, your reference’s remarks could end up truncated and unenthusiastic. Do the best you can to assure that if an employer contacts a reference, that employer is seriously considering you for the job.

You do not Want Your References to Become Your Competitors

Who are your references? Are they people from your industry? Are they people who might like a job just like the one you are seeking? If you give the potential employer the names and contact information for these people, you may find that the contact for a reference becomes an impromptu informal job interview of your reference.

While this can happen any time references are contacted, you want the contact to happen after you have had a chance to sell yourself via the job interview, not before.

People do not hire you because of your references, but your references can eliminate you from contention. Make sure your references help you.

Think about who you wish to list as a reference, and why –

  • What good things can that person say about you?
  • Does this person make a good impression over the phone?
  • Is she or he accessible by phone?
  • Have you asked permission to use this person as a reference?

If you are afraid to ask permission, perhaps you should be afraid of what this person might say if called.

In Summary

There are many bad things that can happen if references are disclosed prematurely, and few, if any, advantages for the job seeker in doing so. Have a reference list (or even several versions of a reference list) available when you go to an interview, but do not put references on your resume.

And, vet your references, but don’t harass them. Remember that from their perspective, helping a friend or protege a couple of times with their job hunt is an honor, but getting contacting a dozen times becomes a hassle.

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