Why You Should Take Your Personal References Seriously
What Is a Personal Reference?
The job search process might be extremely stressful. And wondering how to ask someone to become your reference is often one reason it's such a headache.
When you are applying for a job, you should keep in mind that the hiring manager may ask you to provide personal or professional references during the interview process. Employers want to make sure you are a good fit for their organization; that's why they are ready to spend their time talking to your references about your personality, behavior, and interests.
Team fit is essential; very often, it becomes a critical factor in the hiring process. Employers prefer hiring someone well suited to cultural life rather than someone with exceptional work experience. Skills and experience can be learned, whereas finding a suitable teammate is more complicated. If you have a brilliant personal reference, it can open doors to many job opportunities and be a critical factor in a highly competitive environment.
What Exactly Is a Personal Reference?
By definition, a personal reference is someone who knows you well and can give you a recommendation based on your abilities and individual characteristics.
But who could be a great personal reference? Who should you ask? Well, typically, a candidate has a variety of people to choose from when it comes to selecting personal references (example: your teacher, professor, mentor, friend, distant relative, teammate or coach, neighbor, etc.).
Also, there are no set rules regarding your family members being your personal references, but you should avoid this. While your mom might be the person who knows you the longest, her opinion will be considered biased and not professional. Instead, you should show your potential employer that your mates or former colleagues respect you and that you can easily establish and develop relationships with new people. So it's better to stick to someone who has no family connection to you, whether it's a pastor in a local church or your fifth-grade teacher.
Lanteria also advises not to choose someone who doesn't know you very well, with whom you've only had limited contact. The hiring manager wants to hear sincere and specific answers about your personality, which a distant friend can't provide. The employer asks for a personal reference to have a complete picture of your character, and if your reference's answers are too short and vague, this goal won't be achieved.
Personal vs. Professional References
The fundamental difference between personal and professional references is that the latter is meant to describe your work skills and career accomplishments. In contrast, personal references – also known as character references – give the employer information that they cannot get from your former colleagues. In many cases, former employers are not legally allowed to say anything negative about you during employment verification check anyway, so a personal recommendation is often what companies need.
However, if the hiring manager has not specified which one they prefer, you should provide them with a professional reference. Here's the difference between personal and professional references:
A personal reference is a person you never worked with directly, although they know you well from another point of view. They can give an insight into what you value, your interests, goals, and perspectives. As mentioned before, character references may come from any area of your life: be it school, friends, neighbors, etc. Just think of someone who you've known long enough – at least for a year – who speaks highly of you and is rather well-spoken. Plus, they should be available on short notice because you don't want to make your potential employer wait.
A professional reference is a person who has worked with you for more than six months in the last seven years. Usually, a professional reference turns out to be a colleague or a manager, or even a client if you still keep in touch. You are supposed to select someone who can speak on your work ethics, productivity, and career goals, so that the employer can fully understand your role in the workplace and how you contributed to the work environment.
Do I Need a Personal Reference?
Having personal references might be especially helpful for recent graduates who lack work experience and professional recommendations. Instead, they may ask their professors to serve as their referees, who could convince the hiring manager that the candidate is highly qualified for this job. Additionally, if you can't provide a professional reference, you may think of your former casual employers, for example, a family you used to babysit for. It won't count as a professional recommendation, but it would undoubtedly be a great addition to your resume.
If you are quite experienced but looking for a new career, providing a personal reference may also be a fantastic idea. Just think of someone who knows what you're capable of and what skill sets you possess.
A great character reference also needs to be communicative and outspoken. Your referee will likely be asked questions like:
How long you have known each other
Where you met
What your strengths and weaknesses are
Why you left your previous job
If they would personally hire or work with you together
How to Get a Personal Reference
Once you've selected the person who you want to ask for a personal recommendation, you need to think about how to approach them. Some people might not feel comfortable talking to strangers, even if their best friend's career depends on it. So before you give out your neighbors' personal information to the hiring manager, ask the neighbors first if they are okay with it. - especially if you haven't seen them since you moved four years ago.
Obviously, the way you approach your potential personal reference depends on what your relationship is like. You can send them a text message, call them, or even shoot them an email if you want to go a little more formal. However, this person needs to know what you are signing them up for before the hiring manager's call catches them off guard. In fact, if the employer immediately realizes that you haven't notified your character reference, they may think of you as an unprepared, unorganized, and unsuitable candidate altogether.
If you don't want this scenario to come true, follow these steps to ask a person for a character reference:
Ask for permission before using someone for a personal reference. Make sure the person is ready to become your referee.
Provide guidelines for your character reference. Give them all the necessary information they need to compose a strong, positive recommendation. It would be great if you sent them your updated CV and the job posting so that your referee knows what the employer is looking for exactly.
Don't share your reference with the employer unless requested. Just wait until you are explicitly asked to provide references to the hiring manager.
Thank your personal reference. Acting as a reference takes time, consideration, and effort on their part. Sending a thank-you-message or email to someone who has taken the time to support you is a good gesture to show your appreciation.
A good recommendation is worth its weight in gold, so do yourself a favor and invest in this aspect of your job search by following these steps.
One of the Best Personal Reference Examples: Email Template
Take a look at the personal reference example below. This is an entirely appropriate way to notify someone you would like them to be your character reference.
I hope you're well! I'm writing to you to see if you are available to serve as a personal reference for me in my current job search: I'm in the middle of the application process for a position at an organization that promotes girls' education. If all goes well, I'll be a Marketing Manager!
As you probably remember from our time volunteering together at WomenOne, this is something really important to me. Having known you and volunteered with you for two years now, I was hoping you would consider serving as a character reference for me as I interview for this job?
I'm happy to send over more info on the organization and what my intended role would entail if that's at all helpful! I know they're hoping to decide between candidates soon, so if you are indeed willing to speak to the hiring manager, I believe they would be contacting you within the week.
Please let me know if this sounds okay and if you'd need any additional information to act as a personal reference for me. Thank you in advance for your assistance!
More Advice From Lanteria
We hope that this guide to personal references was helpful, and we wish you the best of luck in your job-hunting prospects! For more topics on hiring and recruitment processes, check out the rest of our blog; our HR experts often share their top tips not only for recruiters and managers but also for job seekers.