Your Job Search: Who to List as Employment References


“I’m applying for a job, and it says I have to list two references. Do I have to include this? I’m not sure who to put.” – Lee from Reno, NV


Thanks for your question, Lee. If the job you’re applying for requests references, you shouldn’t leave that space blank. Employers who receive large numbers of applications or résumés will often give each one only a quick glance before deciding whether to advance that candidate to the next round. Any omission in your application could cause you to be passed by.

What Do You Need to Prove?

Think about the position for which you’re applying – what qualities does that person need to demonstrate? Maybe they need to know how to manage others, how to solve conflicts or be detail-oriented. If you’re responding to a job advertisement, review the words the employer has chosen to describe its ideal candidate.

Next, consider the characteristics that all employers like to see in their staff. No matter what job you’re applying for, you want to demonstrate that you’re responsible, dependable, honest, a team player and someone who shows initiative, just to name a few.

Brainstorming Potential References

Now that you have your list, you want to think about the people you know who can speak to an employer about the ways in which you demonstrate those qualities. While former job supervisors are the first people many job seekers think of in terms of references, you can also consider asking these kinds of individuals:

  • Professors or instructors
  • Coaches
  • Church or volunteer group leaders
  • Coworkers
  • Professional contacts who are familiar with your work

If you have a challenge in your background such as a criminal history including someone as a reference who can speak to your journey and positive qualities — such as a case manager or social worker — can be important.

Avoid listing family members or close friends as references – employers may perceive them as giving a biased opinion of your work. You should also avoid listing anyone who might have anything negative to say about you.

Contacting Your References

Once you’ve determined who you’d like to list as your references, reach out to them and ask them if it’s okay to list them on your job applications. You also want to make sure you have the most updated contact information – such as a phone number and email — for them.

If they say yes, brief them on the jobs you’re applying for and the qualities you’re looking to demonstrate. You may also want to provide this information to them via email, so they can refer to it if they receive a call from an employer.

If they say no, don’t get discouraged — after all, you only want references that are comfortable and willing to talk about you with potential employers. Be sure to thank them for the consideration and end the conversation politely.