Home » Career Resources » Advice » Personal vs Professional References

Personal vs Professional References

personal vs professional references

When it comes to writing your resume, especially in the early days of your career, you often wonder who you can use as a reference.

This could be because of the fact that you have less experience in a workplace, or you have worked in one place for many years. That’s why I decided to take an in-depth look at the differences between Personal vs Professional References. Which you should use depends on what information the company wants to know about you.

More often than not, companies will choose a professional reference over a personal one. I’ll touch on why later…

personal vs professional references

What Are References?

Companies request references to find out about you as a person. They should be people who can describe your character and work ethic well. This could be someone you know outside of work or someone you have worked with for at least six months.

If the reference is personal, it will be based more on your personality and you as a person. If it is a professional reference, it will look more at your abilities in the workplace. Your key skills such as time management, communication, and leadership skills. Ultimately, you want to refer a future employer to people who speak highly of you and discuss your qualities, not your weaknesses.

How To List Your References?

If your application is through an online portal, you may have a space to include references. Employers sometimes don’t leave room for this, and you can give them your references after a job interview. In other cases, you can write them on your resume, but you can leave it to the employer to ask you for them at a later date.

Application Form

If the application, whether it’s online or a paper copy, has space to provide references, it is wise to include them there. If you don’t, you may look like you are trying to hide something – you don’t want to jeopardize your application by withholding or being lazy writing a reference.


Most people don’t include references on their resumes anymore due to space, and now, technology is so advanced we can request these via the click of a button or a quick email. However, you can write on your resume that references will be provided upon request.

Cover Letter

It’s also not unusual to list the same statement on a cover letter. You can write your letter and finish with ‘references will be provided upon request,’ so your employer knows you are willing to offer them and have them prepared just in case.


If you have already landed an interview, it’s wise to always arrive with a printout copy of your reference list. This is just in case an employer asks, and it saves you having to remember to email it over later. Providing it there and then will also make you look super organized! Impressive.

Why Do Companies Ask For References?

Businesses typically want to know more about you. Most references get followed up on after an interview. Companies wouldn’t usually waste their time going through references before an interview.

This means you already have one foot in the door. You have made an impression, and they want to learn more about your character and work ethic. Here are some other reasons why companies want to receive a reference:

  • Understand how you perform at work.
  • Learn about your strengths (and weaknesses).
  • Your professional values.
  • How well you interact with your superiors and colleagues.
  • Check out your employment dates and work history. (DON’T LIE!)
  • Talk about your progression within a company.
  • Discuss the job description roles and responsibilities, and whether you are a good fit for the job.

Professional References

A professional reference comes down to someone who can vouch for you and your qualifications. They are the people who have seen you in your working environment, closely watching your skills, achievements, and strengths.

They can verify how well you work with others and also verify whether the achievements or projects you listed on your resume are accurate. Usually, a professional reference is a former employer, supervisor, or colleague.

It could come from a client or colleague…

However, they can also come from a client or higher-level manager if you interact with them often. It’s common sense to pick someone who will speak highly of you and know your professional strengths. You also want to choose someone who can articulate themselves and speak with confidence. It is wise you select someone you have worked with more recently as they are up-to-date with your skills and experience.

Personal References

A personal reference would come from someone who doesn’t work with you professionally but knows you well. They should be someone who understands your qualities, values, and goals. This can be anyone from someone you met volunteering a year ago to a 30-year friendship.

It is recommended that you should avoid listing family members as a personal reference as it could come across as biased. If you choose to list a personal reference, it should be someone you have known for at least a year and can describe your qualities to the best of their ability in a professional manner.

Personal references are excellent for people with less work experience or moving into graduate jobs without much past experience.

personal vs the professional references

How To Ask For References?

1 Who will you ask?

It’s essential to pick your references carefully. You want to ask someone who will speak well of you and can articulate all your qualities and strengths. You need to choose someone who has known you personally for at least six months.

2 Ask them

It’s always best to pre-warn someone you will use as a reference, especially a personal reference. Doing so means that the person you ask will not get a surprise when they receive a phone call or email. If it is a professional reference, try to ask them in person first. If they aren’t available, give them a call and explain.

3 Remind them of who you are

This is especially the case if it has been a little while since you last worked somewhere. Talk about who you are and what you did, especially if you worked for a huge company.

4 Give them the option to say no

The last thing you want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable or a busy person to feel like they have to say yes. Phrase your question so they can politely decline. Something along the lines of ‘would you be interested in giving me a reference?’ or, ‘if you have time, would you like to provide a reference for me?’.

5 Show your reference the job description and resume

This could be helpful; you will already be familiar with the job description, having linked your resume or application to the keywords. Now, you can ask if your referee will look over it and link your skills to the job description. It would also be helpful if you passed along your resume. This can then keep them up-to-date on your achievements from the role.

6 Yes or No?

Make sure to give your potential references a few days before they reply. They may need time to think about it or are slowly getting back to their emails. It is unlikely someone will agree to give you a reference if they thought you were a bad employee.

7 Confirm contact information

You want to make sure your potential employer can quickly contact your referee. Therefore, you must get an up-to-date email address or phone number that they can reach your reference quickly. You wouldn’t want to refer someone who no longer works for a company anymore. It could appear lazy and doesn’t look good on your part.

Key Takeaways

  • Professional references are preferred; however, personal ones will be accepted if you don’t have enough professional references or your employer asks you for one.
  • Professional references stand out more due to coming from a workplace setting.
  • Give people the option to say no when asking for a reference.
  • Provide the correct contact information for all references.

References and Resume Advice!

Let’s start with a few of our articles pertaining to references while job hunting. Take a look at my How To List References On A Resume, how to write a Character Reference Letter 101, or maybe How To Ask Someone To Be Your Reference, and finally the Best Questions To Ask References in 2023.

Now that you have a better idea, let’s take care of the rest of your resume with our how to list Job Titles On Resume and How To List Education On A Resume, or perhaps you don’t know how to list Achievements To List On Your Resume, How To Write A Letter of Interest, or the Most Important Skills To Put On A Resume.

Still not confident enough? No problem, we found the Resume Writing: 10 Ridiculously Simple Tips, the English for Academic CVs, Resumes, and Online Profiles, as well as the How to Write an Amazing IT Resume, the CVs, Resumes, and LinkedIn: A Guide to Professional English, and of course Marketing Yourself in the Age of Digital: CVs, Applications, Interviews, Social Media, LinkedIn, all available online today.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to choosing a referee, it comes down to who you believe can explain your qualities to the best of their ability and will make you seem like the perfect fit for a new job.

If you don’t have much experience in the workplace, don’t worry! A personal reference will do. Remember to choose someone who has known you for over a year and who can vouch for your character.

If you have a list of references, you could use your top three who you believe will outline your achievements and character best.

Hope you find the perfect Reference for your Resume!

5/5 - (47 votes)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top