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How Many References Should You Provide On A Job Application?

Listing job references on your job application is a good idea because this is how your prospective employers perceive you as a viable candidate.

While your educational qualifications and previous job experiences are important factors, employers also take into account the individuals who are willing to provide you with references, which can potentially tip the scales in your favor.

You must remember that prospective employers will contact your references at some point during the hiring process. Usually, this happens around the last phase of the hiring process.

However, listing references can be challenging, and there are quite a few things you need to keep in mind.

It is also vital, to be honest about your references. Hence, you must be careful about who you list as your references. On the other hand, you should also ensure that you do well in your interview on merit and not rely on your references and recommendations alone to pull you through.

However, having strong references will be an added advantage as some experts and professionals will discuss why you would be a good employee.

What is a Job Reference?

What is a Job Reference

It is important to cite references to increase your chances of landing a job. It adds extra importance to your credentials because prospective employers know they can verify your details from suitable sources.

If you have references in the right places, it can influence your employers to a certain extent. For example, speaking to a former professor of a candidate who attended an Ivy League college will help them learn more about their excellent performance at the institute. It will work in their favor when they apply for an intern position.

On the other hand, some employers only rely on the candidate’s performance at the interview to make a hiring decision and offer them a job. They only use the references to verify and ask a few basic questions. It will help them pick the right candidate impartially.

Who Can You Pick For Job Reference?

There are quite a few people who you can list as your references. However, all of them should be a part of your educational or professional network. Here are some of them.

1. Former Teachers And Professors

Former Teachers And Professors

Your teachers and professors have known you during your formative years; adding them as a reference will work in your favor. Your instructors can tell your prospective employers about how you were as a student and how you picked up complex concepts quickly.

They can tell your recruiters about your willingness to learn and keep yourself updated about the latest trends in technology. All of this will build a positive impression in your recruiter’s mind about you.

2. Former Employers

Former employers are one of the best references you will come across. If you were a good employee, your former employer would have some good things to say about you.

Building a rapport with your employers pays off during such occasions because although employers are unhappy to let a good employee go, those with integrity will not begrudge their employees for doing well for themselves.

Hence, while leaving any organization, try as best as possible not to burn bridges with your employers as you might need them as references later. Unless they were toxic employers, they would gladly be your reference.

3. Former Colleagues

Former Colleagues

Former colleagues are also good references, especially if they are your senior colleagues. They had seen you from close quarters because you had to work alongside them. Their first-hand information will be very insightful, and your employers will want to know what they have to say.

Your colleagues can say whether you were a team player and how you strengthened the team. It’s essential as most employers want to know whether you can fit in and add value to the team.

4. Present Employer or Colleagues

If you are looking for a job while still employed, you may have to cite your present employers and colleagues as your reference.

It will depend entirely on whether you have let your current employers and colleagues know you will leave the company soon and are looking for a new position. If you have prepared them beforehand, you can cite them as your references.

How Many References Should You Provide?

How Many References Should You Provide

Ideally, you should provide two to three references unless the recruiters have asked for more. Suppose they have yet to ask for any references initially. In that case, you can add two references to your job application and provide them with more if they ask for them.

You can add a reference from your university, previous employers, and former colleagues, as that will maintain a healthy balance and show that there are people from all areas of your network who are willing to be your reference. It shows you are a strong team player who gets along well with everyone.

Mistakes to Avoid while Citing References

While citing references may seem easy, many need to correct mistakes when including them. Here are some mistakes you should avoid.

1. Fake References

Fake References

Never fake your references. For example, do not say you worked for a particular company in the past when you didn’t or that you know someone whom you don’t.

You can be sure your recruiters will discover the fact during the verification process.

Always give genuine references who will be impartial while offering their opinion about you. You may not even get a chance to explain and might be removed from the hiring process.

2. Not Informing Your References

You must inform your references that you will put their names in your job application. Else you will catch them off guard. They would then know who is calling. Also, they may get a call during work hours and wouldn’t speak to your recruiter.

Hence, ask your references whether you can put their names, the best way to contact them, and the best time to call them. Doing this will show that you are mindful of their time and will make you polite and professional. In most cases, your references will gladly offer their insight about you.

3. Providing Wrong Contact Details

Providing Wrong Contact Details

It’s one of the most basic mistakes that many candidates make. It will not matter if you have some of the best references, but your recruiters won’t be able to reach them. Hence, double-check the contact details of your references.

Ensure you have typed the email id correctly and the phone numbers are correct. Ask your references about their updated contact information if they have changed it. Most recruiters will only try calling twice before they give up, and you may lose out on a splendid opportunity.

4. Incompatible References

Do not cite anyone in your references with whom you may have been incompatible in the past, assuming that they will put their differences aside and speak well of you to your employers.

Your references don’t need to only say glowing things about you. It could be someone like one of your previous employers who was toxic and forced you to leave the company. Or, maybe a colleague who was too competitive and put you down for your gain.

Recruiters appreciate someone with a neutral and impartial view of the candidate. Yet, it would be best to avoid citing references with whom you had ideological and professional differences.

5. Citing Too Many References

Citing Too Many References

Another mistake that many candidates need to correct is that they cite too many references. Try to cite at most three initially. You should mention your relationship with the references; if your recruiters want more, they will ask for it. Any more than that, you may not have confidence in your abilities, and you are relying on others more to speak well of you so that you can get the job.

6. Citing Very Old References

Refrain from citing very old acquaintances as your professional references. For example, you might still be in touch with your kindergarten teacher or your high-school coach, or your employer who gave you your first job a decade back.

Still, they will not precisely work when you seek a new position involving cutting-edge technology. If you want to add them as references, then do so after including some of your more recent contacts.

Sometimes, the mix impresses the recruiters so you can add them at the end. It shows you are still in touch with those you consider necessary, as they supported you during the initial years.


While citing references, it is essential to remember that quality matters over quantity. There is no use citing many references if you don’t clearly know who you are or your professional strengths.

Add three references who can vouch for your abilities and will be truthful in assessing you. Be sure to ask their permission before including their names; if they cooperate, your chances of landing a job will increase exponentially.