The Ultimate Guide to Personal References

asking for a personal reference

Your CV and interview skills might not be enough to seal a new-job deal: An employer may also want to speak to personal references before making you an offer. If you’re unsure what a personal reference is—or if you don’t currently have any in your queue—then we’re here to help. 

From explaining what a personal reference is—it’s different from a professional reference!—to how to ask for a personal reference, this guide will help you get a stellar job recommendation.

What Are Personal References?

To land a job, you’ll sometimes need professional references and personal references. While a professional reference is someone you’ve worked with in a professional setting—think: a former manager or current colleague—a personal reference is someone who knows you outside of work. 

While it’s common for a hiring manager to request a personal reference if you’re just starting out in your career and have little on-the-job experience, they may also ask to speak to one simply to better understand your personality and character. (It’s important for managers to know that you will fit well into their company’s culture and values, and a personal reference can help with that.)

A personal reference will speak to your soft skills, like communication and creativity. They may be able to give details about your problem-solving ability, for example, that a coworker can’t. A personal reference can show why you’re a good person—and not just an excellent employee. 

Who Should I Pick for My Personal References?

Personal references should know you personally—and know you well. In other words, a casual acquaintance or a neighbor might not make the best personal reference. But not only should a personal reference be someone who knows you well, he or she should be someone who would speak highly of you, and be willing to vouch for your character and positive personality traits

That said, family members and friends don’t make the best personal references, despite knowing you (and your character) so well. Here’s why: Hiring managers will want someone who can talk about your skills and personality traits without bias, and that’s usually not your family or friends. 

Instead, here are people who can make excellent personal references: 

  • A teacher or professor
  • A mentor
  • A coach—from an athletic or academic endeavor 
  • An academic advisor
  • Volunteer supervisors
  • Religious leaders

If you feel none of the above could serve as a personal reference, then it’s OK to ask a friend.

Who Should I Pick for My Personal References?

How Should I Ask for a Personal Reference?

Now that you know who you’d like to be your personal reference, it’s time to ask them if they’d be willing to help you. It’s best to make your ask in person, so reach out and offer to take them for coffee or tea. And if an in-person meeting isn’t possible, then try your best to set up a phone call. 

Kick off your ask by explaining why you’ve chosen them—why you think they’d make a great reference—then get down to the details: Be clear and outline everything the person would need to know in order to give you a good reference, such as the nature of your relationship, when you met, and what the employer is looking for. You should talk over these details and provide them to your reference in writing—that way, you’re lessening their workload and ensuring accuracy. 

You’ll also want to provide them with the job description or listing, so that they understand the job and any of the skills needed for success. That will help them tailor their reference to the job. 

You may also want to show them a sample reference letter, so they know what they’re singing up for, and provide any specific guidelines for how the letter should be formatted—per the company or manager’s requirements. And be prepared to answer any of the potential reference’s questions.

Learn More