A reference is a person who is willing to talk to potential employers about your job skills, abilities, background, and general character—hopefully in a positive light. Potential employers usually contact references by phone or email.

How many do I need?

Employers usually ask for three to five references. Examples of ideal references are former employers, internship supervisors, professors and volunteer supervisors. Always ask permission before listing an individual as a reference, give him/her a copy of your resume, and explain what type of job you are seeking.

What questions will they be asked?

Your references will usually be asked two types of questions:

  • Fact-based questions including length of employment, job title, punctuality or job duties.
  • Professional performance questions about your reliability, integrity and productivity in the workplace.

Remember that misrepresenting any information, especially factual information that it is easily verified, is a breach of professional ethics and can cause you to lose a job offer.

How do I obtain a reference?

The best way to ensure a good reference is to prepare the people who have agreed to serve as your references. Contact them each time you give their names out at an interview. Let them know what position you are seeking and who will be calling them. It is also helpful to inform them what the employer is looking for and how your background and qualifications fit the employer’s needs. Be specific, and be sure to thank them in advance. In addition, provide your references with an updated copy of your resume.

Employers may want to speak with your current employer, so if he/she does not know you are searching, be sure to inform your prospective employer of the situation. Prospective employers will often wait until an offer is extended to speak with your current employer. If you do not have a good relationship with your immediate supervisor or feel that he/she would give you a bad reference, select someone else from the organization who will speak positively about your work.

How do I create a reference list?

A reference list is a separate document from your resume. Your reference list should include the following:

  • Your name, address, and phone number on the top
  • A list of your references, including their names, titles, organization names, work addresses, phone numbers (including extensions), and email addresses

Print your reference list on the same high-quality paper you are using for your resume and any other job search correspondence. Include this supplement to your application materials only when asked for it.