Why is "references upon request" so common in resumes?
March 29, 2009 11:08 AM   Subscribe

In my middle management position at a non-profit, I get to see a good amount of resumes pass over my desk for various positions in my department. Why is it so common for job applicants to place "References Upon Request" at the bottom of the resume?

Seems to me that anyone applying for a professional, salaried position would expect that, after a good enough interview, they would be asked for references. I would not hire someone without at least a nominal reference check, and I would not hire someone who told me they had no references. So why is it so important to explicitly let the interviewer know they have references?

I feel like its as useful as writing "I will attend a second interview upon request." But I am not in HR so maybe someone knows (I asked my HR, they don't know, but then again they don't know much at all.)

Yeah I know this is a really, really important question.
posted by RajahKing to Work & Money (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Just a stupid convention as far as I know.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:13 AM on March 29, 2009

I've never put that on my resume, but when I worked for a vocational school we were told to add that to the end of our students' resumes. I think the problem is that people are now using resume writing programs and standard models rather then creating resumes themselves. Someone probably thought it was a good idea at some point and it stuck and now it's become standard. But you are right, it's unnecessary.
posted by Anthro girl at 11:13 AM on March 29, 2009

Yeah. It's an old convention to put the names of references at the end of the resume. Since the real estate on a resume is so valuable, people just put the header and 'available on request' now.

I teach tech writing now and again. More current advice is usually to put references on a references list, separate from the resume, but many books still include the 'available on request' line. Seems like a bit of a waste to me.
posted by LucretiusJones at 11:26 AM on March 29, 2009

I put it on mine because some of the references i might give are from projects where strict NDAs were signed -- i see it as a way of saying "i'll tell you when you interview me -- maybe"

but then again its like my CV ever attracts a lot of interest..
posted by 3mendo at 11:32 AM on March 29, 2009

It may be a no brainer in your field to call references, but it isn't it all. And it's also about the niceties of job hunting: when you are applying for a job, you don't always want people calling your current boss to ask about you. So you say you will provide names at the right time, instead of listing them.

I'm not in a hiring position, but if I were, seeing that at the bottom of a resume would tell me the person has a good sense of how a traditionally proper CV is written.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:41 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I'm passing out resumes to 20 employers, I don't really want to share my references home numbers with all of them. Most will never call my references. Once I've had an interview, when I know they're serious, I'm more than happy to share these names and numbers. I usually bring a printed list of names and contact info to the interview actually.

I've also been the position of reviewing resumes and hiring, and its never concerned me to see that on a resume. I'd rather see that than have the resume cluttered up with the actual contact info.
posted by serazin at 11:48 AM on March 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think a couple "how to be a grownup"-type classes I took in middle and high school (the kinds of classes with lots of fake job interviews and make-believe food budgets and stuff) told us it to put "references available upon request" at the bottom of our cute little resumes. Probably because as fourteen-year-olds we didn't have real references and the teachers didn't want us to waste time making them up? I'd feel pretty goofy putting that on a resume now, though.
posted by Neofelis at 11:48 AM on March 29, 2009

You don't even know whether you actually really want a job until you've gone through the interview. If you are looking for another job on the down low, the last thing you want is to have the prospective employer letting everyone know what you're up to before it's absolutely necessary. I would also worry that the prospective employer might use the references as a pre-interview screening tool, so they don't waste time interviewing people who look good on paper but whose references won't pan out. You only want people calling your references when it's already a done deal and the references are just a formality."References available upon request" means yeah, I have references, but let's wait until we're both serious before we crack them open.
posted by HotToddy at 11:56 AM on March 29, 2009

My office has been in the process of shutting down for the past couple of months, so everyone I work with has been working on resumes and passing them around to get feedback. The consensus among my coworkers is that "references available upon request" is what you drop in when you've still got some empty space at the bottom of the page. No one works to fit it in if the page is already full, though.
posted by des at 11:58 AM on March 29, 2009

If I'm passing out resumes to 20 employers, I don't really want to share my references home numbers with all of them. Most will never call my references.

But why include the "References on request" bit? I mean, I would assume that people I am interviewing would have some references.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:03 PM on March 29, 2009

In the I.T. industry in the UK, recruitment agencies are a real nuisance. They keep cold calling up managers and staff in the hope of finding vacancies to fill, or people looking to change jobs. So, you don't really want to put your referees names on a document that's going to be passed around, or they will be harassed like that.

So, a candidate need to make it clear that he has references, they're just not on the document.

Moreover, you have to bear in mind that even if, say, only 10% of people don't have references, those people are likely to be the worst candidates. So, they spend much longer in the job-hunting period (while the top candidates are snapped up quickly), and they may well send out many more applications in an effort to get lucky. So, they may well account for, say, 60% of the actual resumés.

So, if you're trying to hire someone, you often find that most of the resumés you see are really bad. So, you do want to find out as early as possible that the candidate can actually provide references, before you waste time interviewing them.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:12 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

But why include the "References on request" bit? I mean, I would assume that people I am interviewing would have some references.

Because then you don't have to assume, I would think. They know that you know that they have them.
posted by niles at 12:12 PM on March 29, 2009

Multiple reasons to stick to an unelegant convention:

1) It is a traditional cue that that it is the end of the resume;

2) it allows the applicant to be more secure about the contact information of his/her references so that they are not floating around;

3) It provides feedback if they are contacted for their references -- woohoo, they are interested;

4) Contact information may age. Really, you have no idea how long your resume may reside in a database and get pulled and whether your reference contact information is still good;

5) Different references for different positions. It depends on what the narrative that is being sought and how you fit that narrative.

A solution for the references portion that keeps interest but signals that you have some legs are testimonial sentences such as, "Bobbie is the most creative problem solver I have worked with.." -- jane doe, VP of Operations, Big Megacorp.
posted by jadepearl at 1:04 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

When your potential employers contact you for your references, you can let your references know then.

Otherwise you may have just handed out 50 resumes, told your three boilerplate refs to expect calls about you "sometime in the next couple of months", and then left them hanging.

I think this is more a sign of courtesy to your references than anything else.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 1:13 PM on March 29, 2009

I always put that so my friends didn't get called by every company I submitted resumes to, but I wanted those companies to know I had some ready to go if they asked.
posted by mathowie at 1:15 PM on March 29, 2009

Because the vast majority of people are poor writers and are incapable of writing a good resume. A resume should be one page of carefully crafted material, leaving out bullshit and leaving in just enough information to exude confidence in skills and invite employers to make that phone call. Mindless platitudes have no place in such a document. However, given the quality of most resumes I read, such platitudes are right at home.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:35 PM on March 29, 2009

I do this, because I value the privacy of my referees over the needs of recruiters.
posted by fullerine at 1:55 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

What? 'References available on request' is pretty standard here in the UK. Largely because CVs tend to be speculative, and many job apps are more often submitted on specific forms which ask directly for references. The CV is a taster, if people want to know more, they can ask.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:01 PM on March 29, 2009

I do this because I am a professional, and in my particular field:

1. It is unusual that a potential employer would feel a need to follow up my references. While there can be legitimate reasons, it smacks of "We want to check up on you. We want to make sure you really are who you present yourself as. We don't entirely trust either you, or our judgement of you, or both."

Or to put it more starkly, because many companies have HR policy of, when called for reference, confirming employment title and start/end dates only, then the only purpose their reference can possibly serve is to check that I'm not lying through my teeth. So let's not even go there. I have professional respect for you and your work, you have professional respect for me and my work, and that's our starting position. We go from there. We start at mutual trust and respect.

2. The time to check references is when the shortlist is down to the last candidates and the final decision is pending. Making the information available earlier than that risks squandering the time of my references on multiple position application that might be going be nowhere. This is rude to my references.

3. If the potential employer feels the need to follow up on references, I would prefer to know this.

4. I can give them the references that would best address their concerns, because they're at the point where they know what they wish to find out from the references. Eg. if they wish a character reference, but the default reference - my last position - has the title/dates-only policy, then I could find them something better. (This is theoretical - I don't think I've been asked for references, other than for working-visa paperwork).

While I am sure that there will be professions in which the culture is to check references, for me in mine, I associate checking references with high-school jobs and crappy positions that attract more than their fair share of people that can't hold a job.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:04 PM on March 29, 2009

I do that with resumes I put online, for privacy reasons.
posted by divabat at 5:52 PM on March 29, 2009

A lot of people seem to be assuming that the alternative to putting "References available on request" is listing the references, which it isn't. The alternative is assuming that if you need to provide references, you'll be asked, and you won't be asked until after an interview. I doubt anyone in HR is sitting around circular-filing resumes that don't explicitly mention having references.

Unless you're in high school and work at Subway and call everyone's references before the manager gets the resume, barraging them with questions about how to get a fox, a chicken and a bag of feed across a river in a boat, the accomplishments of Lyndon B. Johnson and some minutae about vampires. The line "you can tell a lot about a potential employee by how intelligent their friends are" really opens doors.
posted by soma lkzx at 7:12 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "References available on request" at the end of a resume is kind of like "Sincerely" at the end of a cover letter. Obviously someone who is not sincere, and has no references, should not be applying for a job, but it's a convention they've never examined and all the other examples they see have it on there.

As others have said, it couldn't hurt to leave it off--it's vestigial these days. It's a holdover from the pre-telephone, pre-typewriter and carbon paper days when "references available on request" meant "I have these three letters of reference that I will be glad to let you see, but since they are my only copies I'm not including them with my resume."
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:07 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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