How knowledgeable are you in reference list etiquette?

March 2016 Jobs Report

Many employers cite three types of attachments they like to see when you submit your job application: your resume, a cover letter and a reference list. The latter request often throws people off, particularly if there are no instructions on how many references the employer wants, the nature of these references and how to send along the information. The confusion often lies in that too many people over think their reference list or, worse, follow poor etiquette when it comes to passing it along.

While hiring managers may not list out a specific set of instructions regarding your list, there are certain rules to follow and you can be sure that employers will pay attention. See below for a simplified set of rules to follow when drafting your reference document.

1. Do not add your reference list to another document
One of the most common mistakes new job seekers make when submitting applications is to list their references directly on their resumes or cover letters. You wouldn’t list your cover letter and resume on the same page, and your references should be treated in the same manner. Similar to other attachments, such as portfolios and writing samples, your sheet of contacts should be on its own page, have a header and look professional.

2. Include the appropriate information
Listing a name and a phone number of your reference is not sufficient, and employers may not want to continue the application process if they don’t know who they’re calling. Instead, it’s prudent to list the full name of the reference, your affiliation with this person (colleague, mentor, boss, etc.), a phone number, email address and the position or title of the individual.

3. Include at least three references
Most employers may fail to say how many references they want, but three seems to be the magic number. In addition, hiring managers may also fail to add whether these contacts can be professional or personal, but err on the side of caution and go with professional. If you are just out of school and have no work experience, there is no harm in asking a former professor to write you a recommendation (and many are happy to do so.) You can also include leaders of professional affiliations to which you belonged while in school.

4. Give your contacts a courtesy “heads up” call
Once you have glossed over your reference sheet and submitted your application, you may think your job is done. But don’t forget to contact each of the people you listed yourself to let them know you used them as a reference. Typically, it’s best to ask permission before including a person as a reference, but it’s still important to give them a heads up that a manager may call and inquire about your character.

5. Assume managers will call
If you’re short on references, you may be tempted to put down a friend or sibling with the belief that hiring managers may not contact anyone on the list. However, this can backfire on you, particularly if you’re applying for finance jobs where a great deal of money will change hands. Stay on the safe side when choosing your references and assume that a hiring manager will check up on you.