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Who Should I Include On My Reference List To Employers

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

Some skills and achievements are easy to prove. You moved through a company’s ranks, earned bonuses each year, or held an executive position for an extended period of time, which is a sign of good work. However other skills, particularly soft skills, are much harder to prove. Things like knowing how to handle other people, and generally being a good person in a team is not something you can see in a resume.

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Intelligence, work under pressure or on tight deadlines, are also very valuable features in an employee, yet it is hard for an employer to be aware of them through a resume.

That is why listing professional references is important. Usually, employers will do some digging on every potential job seeker, and will definitely look to give your references a call. If you’re not sure who to list as a reference on a resume, and who to avoid, this article is for you. Contacting a professional resume writing company who can help you, is a smart choice.

Referencing Former Employers

The first mistake many people make is not asking themselves, "should I add former employers to my professional reference list?" Most managers are not allowed to be placed on a professional reference list. Usually, company policy does not allow managers to give other employers personal information about job seekers. What you want to do instead is list your colleagues, your teammates and other co-workers. People who are not in executive or managerial positions, yet have shared the work with you and know what you’re like in the office.

Also, make sure to let your references know you have listed them, and don’t forget to give them a heads-up in case your new potential employer expresses their desire to give them a call. No one likes to receive a phone call unexpectedly, especially if they will be asked to give details on another person’s professional life.

Can I Use Family Members As A Professional Reference?

Does this mean you should list family members on your professional reference list? This would be a big mistake! Family members, spouses, brothers and sisters should be avoided. Their opinion about you is biased and regardless of how well you actually did, they will always praise you. Hiring managers know this and won’t consider their opinion relevant, at all.

There is a small window of opportunity here, though. In case you have a relative working in the same industry as you are, and in case they are not your closest relative (spouse, brother or sister), you may add them as a reference. However, if there is anyone else you could list instead, we would advise to stay away from relatives. Your resume is a concise, short document and you don’t have the space, nor the time to take risks. Choose people you only know professionally, and who can vouch for you.


There are plenty of human characteristics, skills and qualities that can’t be seen in a resume. Not being aggressive, conflicting, being helpful and mindful of others are just some of them. For those kinds of things, professional references are extremely important. First-hand experience from other people working with you will give your future employers a glimpse of you as an actual person, and what they can expect meeting you every day.

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Listing family as references in a resume, or generally people you haven’t met professionally is one of the bigger, yet very common mistakes people do. Make sure to only list those people who you’ve worked with and who have experienced what it means sharing an office with you.

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