Q&A: should you include references on a CV? (With example)

Updated 16 May 2023

During the application process, an employer might ask for you to provide a curriculum vitae that summarises your academic and professional achievements. You can further validate your competencies by including a list of reputable references to vouch for you. Learning when it's appropriate to add these references can help you make a more cohesive CV and improve your chances of getting contacted for an interview. In this article, we discuss what a CV is, explore when you should and should not include references on a CV and review steps on how to include them, including a helpful template and example.

Related: What are personal references and why do you need them?

Should you include your references on a CV?

If you include references on a CV, make certain to select professionals who can vouch for your skills, character and work performance. If you know three to five individuals who can provide relevant information about your persona, you may choose to include them in a reference list on your CV to make your qualifications stand out from other candidates. However, whether you include references can depend on the type of job you're applying for, the industry and what the employer requests within your application.

When adding references to your CV, include individuals who have an unbiased opinion of your work ethic. Additionally, make certain to mention your prior working relationship with the people you include as references. Your references should be verifiable, meaning that you can provide contact information that allows the employer to consult with them directly if necessary. Here are several individuals who would make good references for your CV:

  • Previous and current employers

  • Managers and team leaders

  • Colleagues and business partners

  • Coaches and trainers

  • Professors and teachers

  • Academic supervisors

What is a curriculum vitae?

The curriculum vitae, abbreviated as CV, is a professional document that illustrates your academic accomplishments and work experience. A CV is usually longer than a resume and more comprehensive in the information that it provides. You may include details like your previous job history, educational degrees, awards, scholarships, grants, affiliations, publications, research contributions and applicable coursework. In contrast to a resume, the CV places more emphasis on your academic and collegiate training and any projects associated with those areas of focus.

Related: What is a CV? Curriculum vitae definition and examples

When is it appropriate to include references on your CV?

While including a list of references isn't an absolute requirement unless specified otherwise by the employer, it can help to improve your standing as a probable candidate. It can also boost the credibility of your expertise and qualifications as well.

Here are a few reasons when it's appropriate to add references to a CV:

The hiring manager or employer requests them

It's very important that you include a reference list in your CV if the employer, recruiter or hiring manager asks you to do so. For instance, an employer may request a reference list for leadership positions, highly technical roles (like an IT technician) and jobs where professional references may be necessary. These references help to provide additional information about your work ethic, such as for human resources positions or managerial roles.

Related: 8 additional information application examples (With tips)

The job description calls for you to provide them

If the job description provides explicit instructions to send your CV and references, it's essential that you include them. In this scenario, create a list of references with short details about each individual's relationship with you. It's generally common practise to add these details at the end of your CV. However, depending on the layout of your CV, you might place them on the left side of the document. The job description might also ask that you provide a specific amount of references. If you don't have enough professional references, you may include supplementary references like a mentor.

If your references have given you special accolades

If you received recognition for a job well done, such as a promotion at work or a superior assignment grade in college, this can be the perfect opportunity to use the professional who gave you the award as a reference. You can also include professional references for situations like participating in a research project with an instructor or supervisor, co-authoring a publication with a colleague or achieving another recognisable accomplishment that you want to highlight in your job application.

Including professionals who are familiar with your accomplishments and worked closely with you can give an employer additional information regarding any accolades you listed in other sections of your CV. This can impress them and increase your chances of receiving an interview.

To fill in any extra space on your CV

You may have some extra space remaining to elaborate on skills and accomplishments not previously mentioned. However, if you still have ample space for references, then it's beneficial to include them. Just make certain your references don't encroach on more important information.

When should you not include references on your CV?

There are a few reasons why it may be more ideal to leave out your references, including:

The job description explicitly states you for not to add them

If the job description says to omit references, then it's best that you do so. There are several reasons why companies might make this request. For example, if the hiring manager has many CVs to review, the references section may take up additional time that they can't spare.

When you have less than three applicable references to include

If you have less than three professional references, it may be best to leave them out of your CV. This is because employers use references to validate a range of skills, experience and qualifications, and having a larger reference list to contact can mean a better review of your capabilities. If you only have one or two references, you may be better off filling the space in your CV with relevant information about yourself instead.

They may not be necessary during the early stages of the application process

At the start of the application process, references may not be necessary. After the interview, an employer might ask for references to verify any information you provided to them. This helps them to ensure that everything you said is true.

If there is no available space for you to include them

It's essential that you wisely use the space on your CV to provide the most pertinent information. Including references requires a portion of this limited space. If you need the space for more relevant details, then forgo the references list.

If your references aren't applicable to the position or industry

If your references aren't relevant to the industry or job you're applying for, leave them out of your CV. You should include references that can provide relevant feedback about your performance, work ethic and qualifications rather than just listing anyone you have worked with in the past. For example, if you have a professional reference from a previous job as a cashier, you should leave this off of your CV if you are applying for an entry-level developer role because they may not be able to provide enough applicable feedback to a potential employer.

If you only include relevant references, employers can get input that is specific to the job to better assess your fit for the role.

How to include references in your CV in 5 steps

Here are five steps to help you include references for your CV:

1. Get permission from your desired references

Before you add a reference to your CV, check with the individual to make sure they are comfortable speaking on your behalf. Ask permission through an email or a phone call. Additionally, ensure you have the reference's accurate job title and contact information.

2. Include their full name and professional title

Add your reference's complete name, or you might use their chosen name if applicable. Include any professional job titles that they have as well, but keep it brief. For example, if their role is vice president of creative development, you could simply say VP of Development.

3. Include their company and company address

Include the company they work for and their primary location. If your reference freelances, then you don't have to include this section. Contact your reference to confirm what their affiliation is.

4. Include their email address and contact number

Include your reference's work number and email address. List the phone number first with their email address on a separate line beneath it. If your reference has a private office extension code, include it next to their phone number.

5. Briefly describe your relationship to the reference

Provide a succinct description of your relationship to the reference. This only needs to be a few words at most. For example, you could say Project manager or University mentor.

Related: What to include in your CV

Template for formatting a reference

Use the following template as a guide for formatting a reference on your list:

[Reference's first and last name]
[Job title]
[Company name]
[Reference's work address]
[Reference's work phone number], [extension code, if applicable]
[Reference's professional email address]

Relationship: [Short explanation of your association]

Related: CV format guide: examples and tips

Example of a reference for your CV

Use the following example to help you properly write and format a reference for your CV:

Sophie Middleton
Art therapist
Ravenshaw Art Therapy Practice
101 Bootham Terrace
Ravenshaw, UK BD23 2ZG
Relationship: Art instructor

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