References don't belong on your CV

As a job seeker, here's why you need to ensure recruiters don't call your referees until you want them to.

First of all, your references do not belong on your CV. I covered this in another video. If you still have them there, delete them.

Let's just cover what could happen if you do have referenced on your CV. 

Well, the risk is that the employer or the recruiter will call you referees without you knowing. They'll call and start asking them a range of questions - "How are they? Are the worth talking to? Tell me a little bit more about them." The recruiter is probably patting themselves on the back for getting that information upfront.

You, on the other hand, you could be in a situation where you have not had a chance to give you referees a heads up that they will be receiving a call. So they're caught off guard. This may make you look unprofessional.

On that note, whatever your referees say about you is important. Many employers withdraw an offer of employment after receiving a poor reference about an otherwise successful applicant.

So you may get disqualified before the race even starts - before you even receive the phone screening call - because of what the referees have said.

References don't belong on your CV

Preparing your referees

Given the high number of rejections, it's important to prepare your referees prior to them receiving a phone call.

Don't list a person as a reference without their permission. I see it so often. I call referees and they say, "oh, I didn't know he was looking for another opportunity", "I haven't spoken to him for years", or they simply say "I'm not really prepared to give you a reference check." 

You should also let your referees know:

  • The name of the recruiter who will be calling, the company name and the position you have applied for.
  • The duties, responsibilities and KPIs of the role.
  • What your potential new employer is looking for and why you are interested in this position.
  • Why you think that you can do the job well, as well as why it would be a good career move for you.

Get your referees excited on your behalf.

Then they can prepare themselves for the reference check call and give honest answers. Maybe even assisting you with some supportive statements, because few referees will try to obstruct you getting a new opportunity.

However, this may not stop a recruiter calling someone they know within the company, someone you have not listed as a referee. Sure, they are breaking the privacy act. They either don't care, or they're ignorant. Either way, you are at risk. You need to try to prevent them from doing this.

I recommend you add a sentence in your cover letter that sounds like this, "I would appreciate if you keep my application confidential, as I do not wish that my past employers, colleagues and business associates know that I am considering moving to a new opportunity." That may or may not stop them from contacting an employee of the company, but it's definitely worth giving a go.

Preparing your referees

When should your referees be contacted?

Don't allow reference checks to be conducted until a preliminary verbal or in writing offer has been made and accepted.

Let's say a reference check was done and you didn't get the job. The next time the referee gets a reference check call, the referee might say to the recruiter, "oh is he/she still in the market? She's been looking for six to 12 months. Did she lose her job again? I gave her a reference check three months ago." Or he might say "Oh, she seems to be applying for a lot of positions and cannot get a job. You're the fifth reference check I've done for her over the last six months."

To make things worse, the referee will turn around to your past colleagues and say "she's still in the market and she's really struggling getting a job." Now you past manager and your colleagues know what you're doing and your privacy has once again been compromised.

You need to ask the referees to please keep it confidential that you're looking for another opportunity. Try to keep a lid on it. Keep your referees close to you. If a recruiter asks you for referees early in the process, be careful.

In the end, it is your call and you might be okay with it. In an article, Indeed explains "There are a few rare scenarios in which including references on your resume may be acceptable. If you are in an industry that accepts case studies or testimonials (like consulting, for example) on the resume, it may be appropriate to include the person and contact information for which these apply." But you still need to exercise some control over the access to your referees.


Christian Madsen - Managing Director at 11 Recruitment
Christian Madsen
Managing Director
11 Recruitment

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