Don’t put references on your CV – Do this instead
Should you put your references on your CV?
I get asked this question a lot, and the short answer is No
Like many candidates, you may be tempted to include references within your CV in an attempt to be transparent, and provide recruiters with some early social proof of your abilities. And that is totally understandable.
However, the benefits of leaving your references out of your CV, far outweigh the benefits of including them.
In this post, I will explain the reasons why you shouldn’t add your references when writing your CV, and what you can do instead to prove your value as an employee.
Why shouldn’t you put references on your CV
There are four key reasons why you shouldn’t add your references to your CV.
They are not needed at the early stages of a job application
References are simply not needed at the beginning of the job application process because employers do not normally request them until offer stage.
Although there is no official regulation of reference request timing, it’s generally understood across the recruitment industry that most employed candidates will be unable to provide references until they’ve been offered a job – due to the fact most people cannot let their current employer know they are looking elsewhere until they have a concrete offer on the table.
Very rarely a company might ask for a reference at interview stage, but this doesn’t mean that you have to provide one if you’re not comfortable doing so.
It’s unfair to circulate other people’s info online
Whenever I’ve seen candidates list references on their CV, they usually do so like this:
As you can see there is some key personal information on that person, sitting on a document that will be distributed online, uploaded to websites and possibly seen by hundreds of people.
This could potentially leave the individual at risk of receiving unsolicited calls from less scrupulous recruiters.
Because a small minority of recruiters will look at your CV and see those reference details as a person who could be in a position to hire staff, and view them as a potential new client.
They will then cold call them to pitch their services to them.
If you want to maintain good relationships with your previous managers, you probably wouldn’t want to put them in a position where they are being cold called off the back of your CV.
Note: I stress that the vast majority of recruitment consultants do not use this tactic – but during my time working in the industry I have seen it happen.
References waste space
You have limited space on your CV, with 2 pages of A4 being the preferred length to get your message across without boring readers.
Adding a section for references wastes space that would be better used detailing your experience, skills or knowledge.
The purpose of your CV is to persuade recruiters and employers to contact you with a view to interviewing you, anything outside of that is surplus to requirement.
What to add to your CV instead of references
So, if you can’t add your references to your CV, what else can you do to prove that you are a respected candidate who is valued by your past employers?
Show your reporting lines
One argument for including references in your CV is to demonstrate your level of seniority and prove that you have good relationships with important figures in the organisations you have worked at.
A simple way to do this is by explaining your reporting lines in your role descriptions.
You can describe who you report to in the outline of your role description, like the example CV section below.
(learn how to structure your roles properly in my CV structure guide)
You can also demonstrate further interactions with senior figures in your workplace to show readers how strong your relationships with them are.
Doing these things will demonstrate your gravitas and ability to work closely with senior staff.
Prove your impact in roles
Another reason that candidates feel they need to include references, is to show potential employers that they made a difference in the workplace and have been noticed by their leaders.
If you use your role descriptions to prove the impact your work has had on your employer or customers, then it’s a great way of proving your value as an employee.
Your impact is the result of your actions in the workplace.
For example, if you are responsible for introducing new processes in your office, then your impact could be, saving the firm money, or saving your colleagues time.
So, when writing your role descriptions, don’t just list your responsibilities – expand to demonstrate your impact.
For example, don’t just write:
"Making outbound calls to potential clients"
Expand to say...
"Making outbound calls to potential clients to generate quality leads for sales team to convert to orders"
This way you demonstrate your impact and recruiters can quickly see the value you offer to employers.
Add quantified achievements
To further prove your impact, add some impressive achievements to your CV, and back them up with figures where possible.
Only include achievements that have had a big positive effect on your employer or customers, and avoid personal achievements like; being promoted or winning an award – the idea is to demonstrate how you contribute to the team.
These are some typical achievements you could include.
Backing your claims up with numbers gives recruiters a very clear picture of your level of seniority, and the contribution you make.
Get recommendations on LinkedIn
Whilst this is not strictly a CV tip, it’s a great alternative to adding references to your CV.
During my time working in recruitment, every recruiter I worked with used LinkedIn extensively– and the vast majority still do.
In fact, a recent survey carried out by Jobvite found that 87% of all recruiters used LinkedIn to find or screen candidates.
This means that there is a very strong chance that recruiters will look you up on LinkedIn if you apply for one of their roles.
So, what are looking for?
- They are making sure that your public profile matches up with the details on your CV
- They are looking for social proof of your claims in the form of recommendations
Writing something impressive about yourself is great, but it’s much more powerful if somebody else writes something impressive about you – especially if that person is a senior figure in your industry. So, getting plenty of recommendations on your LinkedIn profile gives it a serious boost.
Reach out to as many of your ex-managers or stakeholders as possible and ask them for a recommendation.
Send them a simple message on LinkedIn like this one.
Hope you're well and still enjoying your time at Company X
I was wondering if you might do me a huge favour and leave me a gleaming LinkedIn recommendation for the time we worked together?
It would be greatly appreciated and I'd be happy to return the favour or perhaps get you a coffee some time soon
Remember, you are asking them for a favour, so be polite and offer them something in return – even if it’s just a coffee and a catch up.
If you can get just one or two recommendations from ex-managers on your profile, it will give recruiters a lot more trust in your abilities, and give them more confidence to put your CV forward for roles.
CV references – conclusion
Adding references to your CV is unnecessary, unfair to the people providing the references, and also wastes valuable space across the format of your CV.
If you want to prove your credibility as a professional, show your reporting lines in your CV and prove your impact by adding results and quantifiable achievements.
Also, take advantage of LinkedIn’s power by getting recommendations from your ex-bosses to back up the claims you make about your abilities.
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