3 Ways to Make Your Resume Really Stand Out Using References

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Degrees2Dreams Resume advice student resumes CC photo by Extra ZebraAdvice from the 1960s

Many college career centers advise against listing references on your resume. This is totally bizarre. Why pass up an opportunity to have prominent industry professionals listed as endorsing your candidacy? And why force a hiring manager to contact you before moving the hiring process along?

It’s madness.

Make it Easy for Hiring Managers to Check Up on You

Picture this: Hiring managers are at their desk. They’re looking over your resume, and they’re excited about the idea of hiring you.

They want to speak to someone who knows you right then and there! Why should they have to go through the process of reaching you (you could be away from your computer, camping for the weekend, etc.). They have to wait for you to reply to the e-mail and then and only then they can start calling your professors and supervisors?

By that time, they might have lost their interest or found another candidate who listed his or her references and their easily-reached references are making your competitor sound pretty damn good. Perhaps good enough for the hiring manager to ignore you and your missing references!
As a Resident Assistant, some of my freshman dorm students with whom I work closely in the Living Green Learning Center listed me as a reference for campus and summer jobs.

I’ve never once had a company representative call me and say, “X student just emailed me your number for a reference.” It is, consistently, “I’m looking over X student’s resume here, and…” The reference on the resume really does the trick.

Allow Your References to Provide Instant Stamps of Approval

The references on your resume also act as an instant stamp of approval by people who have a reputation in your industry (or at least have standing as someone of authority and responsibility).

Hiring managers are impressed that such luminaries have allowed you to include them as references and that instantly boosts you in their eyes (“I know/have heard of so-and-so, and it’s a good sign that they agreed to be a reference for this candidate,” is the way hiring managers react.)

Pick a Reference Who Knows You Well

However, if your Big Name Reference doesn’t know you well, choose people who know you best over people with impressive titles. A good title is cool but if the employer actually calls and all your reference has to say is that you seem nice and made a couple copies for him/her once or twice, that doesn’t really get you anywhere.

Your employer already knows where you’ve worked, what they don’t know is who you are, what you’re like, and what makes you a unique human being. Someone who’s close to you, be it a former boss or a professor, will have information that no resume can convey (and few impressively-titled boss will know to say). They will also be inherently enthusiastic when talking about you and that will enthuse your potential employer as well.

Prep Your References

Some college career counselors say you shouldn’t list references because they will constantly be bothered by reference calls out of the blue. That’s true, but only if you are so incredibly stupid as to NOT call your references when you’re applying for a job to alert them to the possibility that they’ll get a call.

What’s more, you should call your references not only to alert them, but also to prepare them. Nobody likes a cold call. Everyone likes to be prepared. Tell your reference all about the job and what the company is looking for. You could even go so far as to tell your reference which key words or phrases to focus on and apply to your performance for him/her. References usually appreciate having the table set for them rather than having to pull out thoughts on the fly. Everyone wins with advance notice.

Use References on Social Media

Take it two steps further: Ask all your references for a recommendation on LinkedIn. Then take the best 10-20 words about you and excerpt them right under the listing of that reference on your resume. Put it in quotes like a mini-movie review you see on movie ads (e.g., “Sam was one of the hardest working interns I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with…”).

Then ask your best reference to do a video recommendation of you. No more than 30 seconds. He or she can do it right from their laptop camera. Have them post it on YouTube or send it to you. Then create a QR code linking to that video and put it on your resume next to the listing of your references! All of a sudden, your best reference is “real” and talking instantly and directly to the hiring manager. This will blow their socks off. Guaranteed.

So what’s to take away from this blog post? Degrees2Dreams encourages you to enhance your resume with references, LinkedIn recommendation excerpts, and a QR code that links to a video of your best reference. Make your resume a multimedia experience for the hiring manager.

Did you like this story? Would you like to get more like it to help you in your job search?

Can you share any suggestions of your own when it comes references and resumes? Tell us, and we’ll make a list of the best ideas. We might even call you for an interview and feature you here on Degrees2Dreams. Or, would you like to write your own story about your own experiences? Send a story pitch to me at ! We’d love to have your contribution.


By Emma-Jean Weinstein

John Wilpers

John Wilpers

Founder & CEO at Degrees2Dreams
I am the founder and CEO of Degrees2Dreams, a company I created to empower college students and recent grads to leverage the power of social media to build a rewarding, fulfilling, fun career. I have been working in media for forty years, and continue to speak and consult with media companies around the world, including newspapers and magazines in Norway, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Washington, England, Korea, The Ukraine, Austria, and others. Prior to launching Degrees2Dreams, I worked with major media companies including the Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, GlobalPost.com, The Miami Herald, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and BostonNOW. I have also been the editor of multiple online city sites in AOL’s Digital City network. Outside of publishing, I am the founder of a self-esteem building soccer program that has graduated 4,000 girls since 1996 (hotshotssoccer.org). I am also a long-board surfer, and have performed as “Mother Ginger” in a Boston production of “The Nutcracker” for the last 15 years. My wife of 36 years and I live in Marshfield, MA with my two daughters.
John Wilpers

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