How to Format a List of Professional References

Completing the job application process usually involves providing professional references. In many cases, you will be required to provide a list of references to the potential employer after submitting your resume or during the interview process. Either way, it’s best to be prepared with your reference list to increase your chances of getting hired.

Whether you’re preparing for a job interview or in the middle of the application process, learn the format of professional reference lists and the steps to take before submitting them, so you can get one step closer to the job you want.

Purpose of professional reference

When an employer interviews for a job, they look at a variety of factors to help evaluate a job applicant. They review job applications, including a person’s resume. The employer will also conduct an interview if the applicant moves on to the next stage of the process. The interview allows the employer to meet the applicant, ask questions, and get an overall feel for the person’s fit with the company.

Employers also request a list of professional references. References provide information about an applicant’s work habits, skills, ability to be a team player, leadership qualities, and more. This gives the employer insight into how the applicant might perform in the posted position.

The employer is sitting across a long table from an interviewer.  He holds one end of a very long piece of paper that starts at the opposite end of the table.
A short, honest list of references always works best.

When to Provide a Reference List

Submit a list of professional references if the employer asks for them. Often, job applications will indicate that you need to provide references. Other times, the employer will ask them during or after the interview after narrowing down their potential candidates.

Don’t put references on your resume because it takes up valuable space. Save your resume to list only your experience and education and create a separate list for reference.

Steps to take before building a professional reference list

Before you create your list of references, consider taking these steps first:

  • If you have several potential references, consider selecting the ones that would be the best fit for the job you are applying for. In other words, use references that can expand on relevant job skills and experience. You may want to customize the reference list for the job you are looking for.
  • Not everyone has vast work experience, which means they may not have a lot of professional references. If this describes your situation, you can use character references to highlight your abilities.
  • Contact the people you plan to use as a reference to make sure they are able and willing to write one. Some companies may have specific policies that do not allow them to serve as a reference. Other times, people may not have time to write one. You can write them a professional letter asking them to be a reference for you, but make sure you also give them an opportunity to decline. However, most people are happy to provide a letter of recommendation for a colleague with whom they have had a positive work experience.
  • When writing your request for a recommendation, review your relevant skills and experience with them. It reminds them of your qualifications and provides information on what to write. This is welcome if they haven’t worked with you in a long time, as they may forget critical details.
  • Make sure your recommendation request is error-free and professionally formatted.

How to write and format a professional reference list

Your name should be at the top of your professional reference list and indicate what your references are. Next is your reference information, so the employer can reach out to them to discuss your qualifications. You can also include what your relationship is with the person. Information about references should include:

  • name
  • Job Rank
  • Place of employment
  • street address
  • Email address
  • phone number
  • How do you know people?

Make sure your reference list is left-justified and use a simple font that’s easy to read.

Sample reference list

If the recipient does not specify how many references they want, sending three is sufficient. This is a sample of a professional reference list:

References for John Dolan

Allen Avila
Computer Support Specialist
Runkle Industries
41 Heather Street
Mehawke, NY 22344
[email protected]
(555) 123-4567

Allen Avila worked in the same department as I did at Runkle Industries.

Ellen Web
Human Resource Manager
Glinko & Co
1500 West Mill Rd., Suite 321
Orland, CA 21122
[email protected]
(555) 123-4567

Elaine Webb was the HR manager when I worked at Glinko & Co.

Helen Wade
the engineer
Lexner Enterprises
219 South Third Avenue
Ashtabula, OH 41111
[email protected]
(555) 123-4567

Helen Wade was my colleague at Lexner Enterprises.

Sending your reference list

How you send your list of professional references depends on the employer’s request. You will most likely want to mail a hard copy of the references. However, in some cases, the employer may ask you to bring your references with you to the interview. Then you can personally hand over your hard copy to them.

Whether they ask you to bring them or not, keep a copy ready with you in case they ask for them without notifying you in advance.

Some employers may ask you to email references during the job application process. If you are asked to email your reference list, you may want to “share” the original document as an attachment to retain formatting. You can do this by following these instructions:

Select “Share” in the upper right corner of the Word document. Review the “Share” options and make sure to select the option that only allows the recipient to view the content and not allow them to modify it.

After that, you can send it directly via email or choose “Copy link” from this menu If you want to send it directly to email, the email application will open and you’ll type in the recipient’s address.

If you copy the link, you will need to open your email program and copy the link into the email.

Make sure you use an applicable subject line so that the employer knows the content of the email and opens it immediately. Here are some options for email subject lines:

  • List of work references
  • The professional reference you requested
  • Job reference
  • Reference work for [first and last name]
  • Reference list for [first and last name]

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