How to use a personal reference to land your dream job

How to use a personal reference to land your dream job
Jobstreet content teamupdated on 27 June, 2024

Getting your dream job may rely on who you know. While your resume and qualifications are important, personal references can spell the difference between landing the position and being overlooked.  

There are two types of references to look out for. Professional references might focus on career-related skills and experiences. Personal references, on the other hand, give potential employers a sneak peek into your character, reliability, and interpersonal skills.  

In short, personal references offer a more comprehensive view of your character beyond professional qualifications. 

A hiring manager may use your personal references to gauge your personality and values. They also use them to see how you interact with others in various contexts. Once you know how personal references work, you can use them well in your career search. 

Why are personal references important? 

The right personal reference can highlight qualities that may not be evident from your resume alone. Here are a few reasons why personal references should matter to serious job seekers. 

First, a personal reference adds depth to your application. They share anecdotes and personal experiences that showcase your character and abilities outside of a professional setting. Let’s say you regularly volunteer at a local charity. Your supervisor there could describe your dedication and teamwork skills in their personal reference, which might not be as evident in your work history. 

Second, personal references provide insights into soft skills such as teamwork, communication, and adaptability. These are insights that professional references (which stick to job-specific skills and accomplishments) simply can’t fill in.  

Finally, personal references matter in hiring decisions. Potential employers want to be sure a candidate will fit in well and work smoothly with the team. 

A suitable personal reference can offer this reassurance. They do so by vouching for your people skills and ability to fit into new situations.  

How to choose the right personal reference 

Family members, like your uncle or girlfriend, might be your first choice as your quick personal referees. But are they the best choices? It’s crucial that you select the right personal reference – not just the ones within easy reach! Here are some key considerations on who can be a personal reference: 

Understand the role of personal references 

Personal references should provide a look into qualities that your resume might not be able to provide. They should offer insights into your personality, reliability, and key strengths, complementing your professional qualifications. 

Choose a personal reference who can verify the qualities needed for the role you're applying for. For example, if the role calls for great teamwork, choose a personal reference who has seen you work well in a team.  

How to select the right personal reference 

When choosing a personal reference, pick someone who can honestly vouch for you. They should also be able to do so positively. If possible, select someone with whom you have a close relationship and who is respected by other managers. 

Consider these factors to help you make the best choice: 

  • Trustworthiness: Select individuals who are reliable and will provide a positive endorsement. Their credibility can improve the perception of your job application. Think of a long-time friend who has seen your growth and can vouch for your positive character traits. 
  • Familiarity with your skills and achievements: Choose people who are familiar with your personal and career achievements, character strengths, and work ethic. A mentor from a shared professional organisation could be ideal. 
  • Communication skills: Your references should be articulate and able to convey their thoughts clearly and positively. Someone who is well-spoken and confident, like a former teacher, can be very effective. 
  • Positive impression: Consider how your potential personal reference has viewed your work and behaviour in the past. You want someone who has consistently seen you in a positive light. A former employer who admired your work ethic can offer genuine praise.
  • Close relationship: Ensure that your reference feels comfortable speaking openly and positively about you. You're more likely to get an enthusiastic endorsement from someone who gets along with you. 
  • Diverse perspectives: Aim for a range of references who can highlight different aspects of your character and achievements. Having both a former team leader and a sports mentor, for example, can provide a well-rounded view of your capabilities. 
A businesswoman in a suit smiles while on the phone, possibly discussing a personal reference with team colleagues. 

Who to choose as a personal reference 

When considering whom to ask, list the people in your life who can provide valuable insights: 

  • Former teachers or college professors: They can speak to your learning ability, work ethic, and academic achievements. They are important for new graduates in particular. For example, a college professor who supervised your thesis can vouch for your research and analytical skills. 
  • Coaches or mentors: Anyone who has guided you in personal development, sports, or other activities can speak to your ability to take feedback and work towards goals. 
  • Community leaders or members: Individuals from organisations or groups you've volunteered with can attest to your character and commitment to community service. A community leader who worked with you on a significant project can talk about your conflict resolution skills and dedication. 
  • Close professional contacts: While they lean more towards professional references, people you've worked closely with on projects can also highlight your personal qualities. Consider reaching out to former employers or company coworkers. For example, a colleague who worked under you in a product launch can share about your leadership abilities. 

How to request personal references 

Requesting a personal reference demands a thoughtful approach. This will increase the chances that your references are prepared and willing to support you. 

Prepare your request 

Make sure your choice for personal reference is not swamped with their own responsibilities. Have your resume updated and a summary of your achievements and experiences ready. 

Be ready to explain why you chose them and which of your traits or achievements they can speak about. This is particularly important if your potential employer asks for specific examples. 

Personalise your approach 

Based on your mutual relationship, choose the best way to ask for a personal reference. An email might be best for a former professor, while a casual coffee meeting might suit a close friend better. 

Be specific about your request 

Clearly explain why you're asking them for a personal reference. Mention the position you're applying for, why you are a great choice, and what aspects of your relationship to focus on. 

Jobs requiring leadership skills, for instance, may need them to recall times when you demonstrated those abilities. 

Two executives engage in a serious discussion at a desk, possibly about providing a personal reference, with a laptop and potted plants in the background

 Provide context 

Share your job search goals and your interest in the specific role. This helps them tailor their character reference to best suit your application. Give your references details about the job so they understand what the potential employer wants. 

Make it easy for them to say yes 

  • Offer an Out: Make it clear that you understand if they're too busy or uncomfortable to provide references. Respect their time and availability. 
  • Be Prepared to Guide Them: Offer to provide a brief list of points or experiences you'd like them to highlight based on your interactions. This can help ensure they provide a strong and relevant personal reference. 

Show appreciation 

Thank them for considering your request, whether they agree or not. If they agree to be your personal reference, follow up with an email. 

It should have all the details they'll need. These include your resume, the job description, and any other points you'd like them to cover. 

Handling the response 

  • If they agree: Confirm how a hiring manager can best contact them. Keep them updated on your career progress; thank them for their support. Sharing the good news, like getting an interview or a job, can also show your appreciation. It keeps them engaged in your success. 
  • If they decline: Respectfully accept their decision. It's important to keep a good relationship, even if they can't provide a reference now. Thank them for their consideration and understand that they may have their reasons. 


Adding a personal reference can be a powerful asset in your job application process. You can use them to boost your credibility with hiring managers and improve your chances of getting your desired job. To ensure a positive reference for your job search, learn to pick the right person and phrase your request thoughtfully.  

Proactively managing and cultivating personal references can provide long-term benefits for your career growth and professional network. 

Two women sit across from each other at a table in a bright office, engaged in a discussion, possibly about providing a personal reference for a job application


  1. How do I decide whom to ask for a personal reference? 
    ⁠Choose individuals who are familiar with your character and personal achievements. Make sure they can speak positively and articulately about you. 
  2. What's the best way to approach someone for a personal reference? 
    ⁠Personalise your approach based on your relationship with the potential personal reference. You can reach out through email, phone calls, or a face-to-face meeting. 
  3. Can I ask a family member to be a personal reference? 
    ⁠While family members can provide personal references, it's generally better to choose someone who can offer a more objective perspective on your character and abilities. 
  4. How many personal references should I have ready for my job application? 
    ⁠Typically, having two to three is sufficient. 
  5. What information should I provide to my personal references about the job I'm applying for? 
    ⁠Provide your resume, the job description, and specific points you'd like them to highlight that align with the job requirements. 
  6. What should I do if a potential personal reference declines my request? 
    ⁠Respect their decision and maintain a positive relationship. Consider asking another person who can provide a strong reference. 
  7. Is it necessary to inform my personal references every time I list them on an application? 
    ⁠Yes, keeping your references informed ensures they are prepared and can provide a relevant and timely reply when contacted. 
  8. How can I thank my personal references for their support? 
    ⁠Send a nice gesture, like a thank-you note or email, expressing your gratitude for their time and support. Consider keeping them updated on your job-searching progress as well. 
  9. What if my personal references are confronted with questions they can't answer? 
    ⁠Prepare them by discussing potential questions and providing them with context about your experiences and achievements. In most cases, this can help them provide more comprehensive answers. 

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