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Personal Reference Letters: Definition & Why They’re So Important In 2023

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Reference letters are crucial to job applications. Most corporate jobs ask applicants to submit letters of recommendation, including a personal reference letter.

Personal reference letters are very different from employee reference letters or professional reference letters.

They come from people in your personal life rather than the workplace. They usually speak to the person’s character rather than their tangible skills.

What Is a Personal Reference Letter?

A personal reference letter is also known as a character reference letter.

These letters are different from professional references in that they do not need to come from people you have worked with. Professional references must come from bosses, supervisors, coworkers, and clients.

Conversely, personal recommendations come from people in your personal life. Family members and friends are often sources of personal references.

Personal references do not speak about your success in the workplace. Instead, they focus on things like your personality and character.

These are popular types of references for people with little work experience. They can provide hiring managers with information about the person when they are early in their career.

When employers are checking references, they do not usually value personal references as much as professional recommendations.

However, they are still valuable, especially for entry-level positions.

Personal Reference vs. Character Reference

When your hiring manager asks you for references, they might ask for personal or character reference letters.

Depending on the person, they will ask for one or the other. As a result, you might have some confusion about what each of these things is.

Fortunately, there is not much to be confused about, as personal and character references are the same thing. They are two ways of referring to the same thing.

What Should Personal References Say?

While in some ways personal references are easier to write than professional references because you know the person well, it can be challenging to start.

Here we will discuss the things you should have in a personal reference.

How Long They’ve Known You

One of the most important things to do in a personal reference is establish the relationship. The best thing you can do to do that is let the reader know how long you have known each other.

You can add this information seamlessly in the introduction. Usually, you can include it in the first sentence.

The Nature of Your Relationship

As we mentioned above, it is crucial to establish the nature of your relationship when writing a personal reference letter.

Personal reference letters are all about vouching for character and positive personality traits.

That can only be written by people who know the person well.

As a result, it is crucial to establish the relationship between the person writing the letter and who they are writing it for. The writer should establish the nature of the relationship in the introduction.

Your Qualities and Traits

A personal reference letter should focus on the qualities and traits of the applicant.

The writer should try to highlight as many positive and relevant qualities and personality traits. They can reference experiences they have had with the person to add credibility.

Anecdotes About Your Behavior

A positive personal reference letter will include several anecdotes that back up statements made by the writer. The writer should not make claims without backing them up with stories and examples.

So, whenever they reference a positive personality trait, they should include an anecdote.

Why You’d Be an Asset to the Company

The last thing the writer should discuss in a personal reference letter is why the person they are writing about would be an asset to the company.

Ultimately, a personal reference letter is a tool to help a friend or family member get a job.

So, if the writer does not state why they think their friend is a good fit for the company, there is no point in writing the letter.

When Are Personal Reference Letters Used?

Personal reference letters are not always asked for from employers or other sources.

Most employers prefer professional reference letters. However, many people will ask for personal reference letters throughout your life.


The most likely place to be asked for a personal reference letter is for a job. Jobs often ask for personal reference letters to gauge the candidate’s personality.

Professional Associations

Professional associations will often ask for personal references for the same reason as jobs. They want to ensure they are only bringing in good people and need references to ensure that.

In the Absence of Professional References

Personal references are often used in the absence of professional references. Jobs or professional associations might ask for references.

If that is the case, you should prioritize professional recommendations.

However, if you are young and do not have many options for professional references, you can submit personal recommendations.

Big Purchases

Personal references are often a requirement for big purchases.

For example, if you purchase a car or a house, personal recommendations are needed to ensure the buyer is responsible enough to pay the mortgage.

Education Related Applications

While universities and colleges value good grades and extracurricular activities over everything else, they also want to accept good people.

So, they will often ask for two or three personal references to be included in applications.

What Questions Do Employers Ask Personal References

After submitting your personal references, employers will often contact the writers with follow-up questions.

Here are questions you can expect them to ask.

  • How Do You Know the Candidate? Even if stated in the letter, employers often will ask references how they know the candidate. Employers ask this question to verify the validity of statements made in the letter.
  • How Long Have You Known the Candidate? Employers will also ask how long the writer has known the job candidate.
  • What Are Their Strengths and Weaknesses? Employers will give references a chance to elaborate on the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate in ways they could not in a short reference letter.
  • How Do They Act Under Pressure? Working under pressure is a valuable skill. So employers will ask about it.
  • Would You Describe the Candidate as Dependable? Dependability is one of the most valuable traits an employee can have. So it is not surprising to hear this question.
  • What Are Some Accomplishments You’ve Seen Them Achieve? Employers will often ask about specific accomplishments the reference has witnessed the candidate achieve.
  • How Would You Describe Their Communication Skills? Finally, you can expect a question about the candidate’s communication skills.

When to Ask for a Personal Reference Letter

You should ask for a personal reference letter if you do not have access to professional references.

Additionally, there will be times when you are asked for personal references specifically.

Who to Ask for a Personal Reference Letter

Anyone who you know outside of the workplace can be a personal reference.

Friends and family members make good options, but so do former teachers, coaches, academic advisors, neighbors, and volunteer leaders.

Can a Friend Be a Personal Reference?

Yes, your friends can be personal references.

How to Ask Someone to Write a Personal Reference Letter for You

It is common for young people to get nervous about asking someone to write a personal reference letter.

Fortunately, if you know the person well, it should not be an issue.

1. Choose the Right Person

The most important thing to do when asking someone to write a personal reference letter is to pick the right person.

Pick someone who knows you well, is a good writer, and speaks eloquently about your skills if they are called.

2. Reach Out By Phone or Email

You can contact someone to write a reference letter by phone or email.

Either works, depending on the nature of your relationship. You can also ask in person if that is an option.

3. Give Them Details

Provide your reference with as many details as possible. Tell them about the job, requirements for the reference, and anything else you think would be useful.

4. Let Them Know What They’ll Need to Do

It is crucial to be upfront about what the reference will need to do. What should they include in the letter, and will they be expected to answer the phone at some point?

5. Thank Them

Remember, writing a reference letter takes time. As a result, it is crucial to thank your reference for taking time out of their week to write a reference letter for you.

6. Follow Up

You should follow up with a reference if it is taking longer than expected for them to deliver. Do not be pushy but remind them.

Wrapping Up

Personal reference letters are useful in several situations, so it is crucial to know what should be in them.

Fortunately, close friends and family members should not have problems writing reference letters. Follow the instructions above, and you will be fine.

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