Everything you need to know about a personal reference

Many employers will ask you to provide references as part of your application or at some stage during the interview process. The personal reference, sometimes known as the character reference, is a brief assessment of you as an individual provided by someone who knows you outside of work. This should not be confused with the professional reference which is provided by a former or current employer. Rather than covering your skills and competencies in the workplace, the personal reference will cover your personality, character, behaviour and ethics.

When are they needed?
Personal references are commonly required as part of an application process. This might be for a job, educational programme or professional membership/certification. You will include a line in your applications or on your CV stating ‘references available on request’. We would recommend that referees are sounded out as early as possible and are ready to be contacted as soon as the request comes from the employer. Employers generally request references during or after the first round of interviews as a way of verifying any information they acquired throughout the meeting.

Why are they needed?
When employing new people, most businesses are looking not only for someone with the right set of skills and experience, but also a person who will fit in well with the existing team, be a team player and an overall positive influence on the organisation. Getting a good sense of this can be hard when referring to a CV or professional references as these largely focus on skills and experience. A personal reference can give some insight into your character and how well you are likely to fit in within the company.

Team fit is absolutely essential and we are seeing it become the deciding factor in recruitment processes. Organisations would rather hire someone who is going to be a great cultural fit over another with more experience. Skills and experience can be learned whereas a good cultural fit is harder to come by. If you have a strong personal reference this can both open doors to job opportunities and prove the deciding factor when the competition is stiff. For employers, they can give valuable insight into your character and help to establish who is going to be the strongest team fit.

Who should provide them?
Personal references are commonly provided by teachers, lecturers, group or club leaders, neighbours, friends and family members. Those providing the reference should know you well and be able to give examples that back up statements about your character. While friends and family are acceptable referees, it is better for you to select someone who is not immediate family as their opinion may be construed as being biased.

What should a personal reference include?
A personal reference should be addressed to the hiring manager, or whoever has requested it, and include some particular information. Importantly it should cover the relationship between the subject and yourself, as well as how long you have known each other. It should also include examples of your character, personality and work ethic. They should aim to focus on two or three of your strongest qualities and provide specific examples to back these up. Lastly, it should include the referee’s contact details as the employer may wish to get in touch for more information either by phone or email.

An excellent character reference may be inspired by the job description of the position being applied for. If you provide this information to your referee the letter can include information which both sheds a positive light on you and exhibits why you are capable of fulfilling the roles and responsibilities outlined in the job description. Attention to detail here can make a big difference.


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