Career Advice: References – Think Twice Before You Put Anyone in The List

In your resume, references section is probably the most crucial part of all. It’s like testimonials to a business, with the purpose of giving credibility to what you are doing. Unfortunately, many think that adding a list of authoritative figures on their resume references section can land a dream job for them. If you think that way, think again. It’s fatal. Even experts advise you not to include references if they are not required – and I agree with them. How so?

resume references
photo credit: ©Terry Hart

My story about references

I was an employee and now I am an employer. I understand both sides of the story.

When I was applying for a job as an IT Staff for a regional travel publication, I added two references on my resume: One was a previous employer (I was working as a Web Programmer for an educational institution) and another one was a lecturer which class I attended when I was completing my Postgraduate study.

Everything seems legit, except the fact that I “make use of” my lecturer’s name and credential to boost my resume’s profile. We had a good relationship, but I don’t think he will give raving reviews on my study (I skipped his class a couple of times!)

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t do that. To cut long story short, I didn’t get the job, for some reasons. Perhaps one of the reasons was I didn’t get a positive review from my lecturer. Ouch.

As an employer, things are more “interesting”!

First of all, for you guys who think about using references to “sell” your skills and experience, think again. We do check on things. And if we don’t like what we see/hear, we’ll skip you for the next candidate.

When hiring someone, I always look for reference/review/testimonial – which means when I receive a resume, the first thing I look for is the reference section. If I can’t find it, I go back to the educational background section. Yes, I talk with their previous employers and I google their name to learn more about them as much as I can.

But background checking is not what I normally did in the past. I have made some mistakes in my hiring; some of my employees in the past didn’t perform well; I even got scammed twice (they “steal” my money and run away; not nice.) I learn from my mistakes.

References matter – don’t abuse it!

So, you see, references matter. If you think your future employer won’t contact the names you list as references, you should think again. To illustrate, this video can show you how important is references section in your resume:

Well, you can lie as much as you want in your resume, but your references will reveal the truth.

Some tips to avoid career catastrophe

To help you consider, I can offer you these 2 tips:

1. If it’s not required, don’t include it

The golden rule of thumb with references in your resume is this: Don’t put any names in the list, unless your employer requests for it. Don’t even indicate that you are willing to provide it (e.g. “References provided upon request.”) It’s for your own sake :)

2. Don’t forget to let your reference know

It would be unethical putting someone’s name in your reference section without asking for his/her permission. So, before you put someone’s name on your list, you should contact him/her first.


References are double-edged swords; they are powerful, in a way that they can literally determine whether you get the job or you don’t. Indeed, as an employer, I always look for references the first thing I look for in a resume.

With that being said, always remember: If your employer doesn’t ask for it, don’t provide it.



This post is sponsored by Workopolis