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  1. Blog
  2. Applying
  3. September 30, 2020

Personal References: What They Are, Who to Ask & How to Ask

Choosing a trusted friend to vouch for your character

Woman reading the newspaper an drinking coffee
Image courtesy of Ayodeji Alabi

What is a personal reference?

Sometimes called a character reference, a personal reference is someone who vouches for your character. 

A potential employer may ask you to provide a personal reference with your job application or after you complete an interview. Having a strong personal reference can give you an edge over the competition. 

Why do employers ask for personal references?

The information in your application and the responses you provide during your interview help employers learn about your work ethic, prior experience, and professional accomplishments. 

The responses your character reference provides tell the employer more about your personality, conduct, and relational skills. Speaking with someone you know on a personal level helps employers better understand what it would be like to have you on their team. 

Read more: How to Decide What Skills to Put on a Resume

How do personal references work?

The employer will ask you to provide information like the reference’s phone number, email address, and how you know them. Once you provide that, the employer will contact your reference. They might request that your reference provide a reference letter, which is also called a letter of recommendation, or they may request that your reference fill out a reference form or answer questions over the phone. 

The employer might ask your reference things like how long they’ve known you, what your strengths and weaknesses are, or how you interact with others. After the employer has talked to your personal reference(s), they will consider this information with the information they gathered from your interview, resume, background check, and professional reference check.  

Who can serve as a personal reference?

Unlike a professional reference, a personal reference does not have to be someone you have worked with. While you can cite a coworker or supervisor, you can also choose as your personal reference a friend or mentor. 

Other possible personal references:

  • Your academic advisor(s)

  • Your teachers or professors

  • Professional or personal mentors or sponsors

  • A leader or fellow member from your place of worship

  • A fellow parent at your child’s school 

  • Neighbors you know well

  • Someone you volunteered with or for

  • A teammate or coach from an sports team or league

  • Business partners or people you’ve done business with

Choose someone you have a current relationship with and have known for at least a year. Current contacts will be able to provide better information, and you may find it harder to secure a reference from someone who you’ve known for a long time but haven’t spoken to in the last year. 

And although you may be tempted to, do not cite your spouse, partner, parent, or sibling. While you have more flexibility with who you can use for a personal reference (compared to a professional reference), you still want to choose someone who can be as objective as possible when answering questions about you. 

Read more: Colleague vs. Coworker: What’s the Difference?

How do you choose someone and ask for their reference? 

Choose a personal reference you have a good relationship with. Get their consent ahead of time and confirm that they are willing to provide a positive reference for you (how to do that below). Help the person prepare by telling them what they can expect—a phone call from the employer, an email, etc.

Provide the employer name, the job you’re applying for, and a timeframe for when the employer will contact them. Give the reference a copy of your resume and an update on your career and time to ask questions about your recent work experience. In 2019, USA Today reported that updating your contact on your career progress will help them be a more effective reference.

When asking someone to serve as a reference, consider contacting them by phone or email. If you know the person very well, you can send a text. However, be prepared to follow-up with a phone call to make sure they have everything they need to serve as a strong reference for you. 

Example of a request for a personal reference (by email)

Hi Taylor,

I hope you’re well! As you know, I’m currently job searching for a position as an EMT. I got an interview with Central Hospital and they asked me to provide a personal reference. Since we’ve known each other for years from volunteering at the food pantry, I immediately thought of you! 

With your permission, I would like to use you as a personal reference. If you agree to this, I will share your contact information with the hiring manager and let you know when you can expect a call. I’ve attached my resume and the job description for your reference.

Please let me know if you would feel comfortable providing a positive reference for me.

Thank you,
Breonna

Read more: Is Lying on a Resume Ever Okay?

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Kaila Kea-Lewis

Contributor

Kaila Kea-Lewis is a career coach and freelance writer, mainly covering career changes, job searching, and self-development. As a long-time advocate for remote work, she also enjoys writing about remaining productive while working from home. Her bylines include InHerSight, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, and ZipRecruiter.

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