How to Format a List of Professional References (Because They Don’t Go in Your Resume!)

Sep 8, 2021 | Job Search Strategy

How to format a professional reference list

If an employer asks for a list of references, no need to take up space valuable resume space. Here’s how to create an eye-catching professional reference list that contains all the data the hiring manager needs.

By: Katelyn Skye Bennett | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma

Job hunting can feel complicated, and there are a lot of moving parts. So let’s get something straight: Your professional reference list, resume, and cover letter are all different parts of a job application. There is no need to include references on your resume or a line that says “References Available Upon Request” at the bottom.

Resumes and references serve different purposes, and combining them into the same document can actually decrease the value of your resume, since professional references take up valuable space that should be used for your accomplishments.

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Instead, the best practice is to list references separately. Let’s learn how to create a professional reference list that will help you succeed in your applications and land an interview.

When to Provide Professional References

professional on phone calling references from a list

A hiring manager may not call everyone on your professional reference list, but you want to make sure everyone you include can speak positively about your performance. Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

It’s actually pretty simple: If the employer wants your professional references, they’ll ask. Sometimes online applications include a designated place for you to enter detailed information on your past jobs, including supervisor names and contact information, and a button asking if your potential employer can contact them.

Other times, employers will ask you to input your references in a section at the end of the application.

You also may be asked to submit references outside of an application. The job posting may say something like “Please submit your resume, cover letter and three professional references to [email.]” We’ll talk about specifically how to do that further down in the article.

Even if an employer doesn’t ask for references at all, it’s best to have a professional reference list ready. This way, you know you’re not missing key information they need if they decide to take the hiring process to the next step.

Who to Include in Your Professional Reference List

As you gather your references, think about people you have worked with – ideally supervisors, but sometimes coworkers. If you’re a new graduate without significant work experience, professors may serve as professional references as well until you build up more paid or unpaid work experience.

List people you have good relationships with and have kept in touch with. Only list people after you have asked them if they can serve as a reference, and make sure you’re choosing folks who are able to speak to your skillsets.

What Information to Provide for Each Contact on Your List

person checking contact information on phone to include on their professional reference list. Photo by on Unsplash

Double-check the contact info for everyone on your professional reference list. Photo by on Unsplash

Once you have your professional contacts in mind, it’s time to compile your list of references. Include as much contact information as your references allow you for clarity on the potential employer’s end. Don’t include anything you don’t have their permission to include in order to respect their privacy.

A reference’s full name, phone, and email address are the core pieces of information to include. Use the phone number and email address that the reference gives to you. It can be either their personal or work contact information, just make sure to confirm which they prefer.

The application’s prompt will often request your reference’s position, company, or relationship to you as well. Since position titles may change, be sure to stay in touch with your professional references before applying to include information that’s as accurate as possible.

How to Format Your Professional Reference List Concisely

If the application does not include type boxes for your references, you will have to upload the professional reference list as a document or attach it in your email submission.

To do this, you create a Word document with the same heading you use for your resume and cover letter at the top. Then, list your references as described above. Save the document as a PDF, and attach it alongside your resume and cover letter attachments.

If you are submitting your application via email rather than through a portal, you can also choose to list your references in the email body instead of as a PDF. However, if you choose this route, be sure to make it clear where your references begin and the rest of the application ends by using a bolded and underlined subtitle. You can format it like Olivia does in the following email.

Subject: Executive Administrator Application – Olivia Sandoval


Dear Natasha Grecowicz,
I discovered your opening for executive administrator through Sebastian Wu, who works in finance at Your Company. With seven years of administrative experience under my belt, including four years at a Fortune 500 company, I would be an excellent fit for the position.
My resume and cover letter are attached for your perusal, and I look forward to meeting with you in person. Please feel free to contact me at 773-555-5555 or to reach out via this email address. My references are below for ease of access:


Name | Relationship | Title & Company
Phone | Email


Name 2 | Relationship | Title & Company
Phone | Email


Name 3 | Relationship | Title & Company
Phone | Email


Olivia Sandoval (she/they)

References aren’t meant to be complicated. As long as you’re listing professionals who can speak to your experience and who have a good relationship with you, you’ll be all set! Just make sure that your references are an additional component of your job application and not combined with your resume itself.

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