${ company.text }

Be the first to rate this company   Not rated   ${ company.score } stars     ${ company.industry}     ${ company.headquarters}

Career Resources

${ getArticleTitle(article) }


${ tag.display_name }


${ getCommunityPostText(community_post) }


${ contributor.full_name }

${ contributor.short_bio }

Jobs For Employers

Join InHerSight's growing community of professional women and get matched to great jobs and more!

Sign up now

Already have an account? Log in ›

  1. Blog
  2. Applying
  3. Last updated October 3, 2022

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

Personal references offer firsthand insights into your character, work ethic, and abilities from individuals who have interacted with you in various capacities. These references then help employers make more informed hiring decisions by offering a more comprehensive understanding beyond what's listed on your resume or conveyed in an interview.

If you find yourself in need of a personal reference, here's your guide on what to do next. We'll cover: 

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. 

Here are some questions an employer might ask your personal reference:

  • How do you know the candidate? In what capacity have you worked together?
  • Can you describe the candidate's work style and approach to tasks?
  • What are the candidate's greatest strengths in a professional setting?
  • In what areas has the candidate shown significant growth or improvement during your time knowing them?
  • How does the candidate handle challenges or high-pressure situations?
  • Can you provide an example of a project or task where the candidate excelled?
  • Have you witnessed the candidate taking on leadership roles or displaying initiative?
  • Would you recommend this candidate for the position they're applying for? Why or why not?

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. 

Two examples of a request for a personal reference (by email)

If you speak with the person on a regular basis, send this 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,

If you haven't spoken with the person in a while, send this email:

Hi Jessica,

I hope this message finds you well. I'm reaching out to you because I'm in the process of applying for a community director position, and I'd love to use you as a personal reference since we volunteered together at the Ronald McDonald House.

Your firsthand knowledge of my work ethic, strengths, and character would greatly support my application and provide the hiring team with a deeper understanding of my capabilities.

If you're okay with this, I'll share your contact information with the hiring manager. I’ve attached my resume and the job description for your reference.

Please let me know if you would be comfortable offering a reference, and if so, the best way and time to coordinate this.

Thank you,


Read more: Is Lying on a Resume Ever Okay?

About our expert${ getPlural(experts) }

About our author${ getPlural(authors) }

Share this article

Don't Miss Out

Create a free account to get unlimited access to our articles and to join millions of women growing with the InHerSight community

Looks like you already have an account!
Click here to login ›

Invalid email. Please try again!

Sign up with a social account or...

If you already have an account, click here to log in. By signing up, you agree to InHerSight's Terms and Privacy Policy


You now have access to all of our awesome content

You’ve Been Matched!

On InHerSight, we connect women to jobs at companies where they can achieve their goals. View your dashboard to see your daily job matches.