How to Use a Friend as a Reference

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The old line “references upon request” may have fallen out of favor on resumes, but having references at the ready is essential for a successful job search. A good reference can make all the difference, offering insight into your skills, accomplishments, and character that a hiring manager can’t get from your resume and application materials alone.

Friends can make excellent professional and personal references for your job search. But, there are a few things to keep in mind, to use these references effectively (and to make life easier for your friends who want to help you get a job).

Difference Between Personal and Professional References

We spend the bulk of our waking hours at work, so it makes sense that our coworkers often become friends. If that’s the case, you might use your friend as a professional reference, i.e., one attesting to the quality of your work. If your friend is currently or formerly your manager, direct report, or colleague, they may be able to provide you with a professional reference.

On the other hand, if you’ve never worked together, your friend might be able to provide a personal reference. These references are about character, work ethic, reliability, etc. — all the personal qualities that make someone a great employee, tenant, board member, etc. Do not use recent acquaintances or anyone who doesn’t know you well. Don’t ask spouses or family members to provide you with a reference — the hiring manager will assume that your family has only positive things to say about you.

Will They Be a Good Reference

Good friends don’t automatically make good references. Remember that you’re not just looking for someone who has a high opinion of your work — although that’s essential — but also for someone who can explain why they feel as they do. The hiring manager won’t think less of you because someone likes you a lot, but they won’t necessarily think more of you, either — their goal is to hire someone who can do the job, not find a new best friend. Here is what to look for in a good reference.

  • Give you permission to use them as a reference.
  • Can speak to the quality of your work (or your character, in the case of a personal reference).
  • Will have only positive things to say.
  • Can provide concrete examples of your accomplishments.
  • Express themselves well and in a way that reflects positively on you.
  • Are available, punctual, and reliable.

As a rule of thumb, it’s a bad idea to ask anyone for a reference if you wouldn’t feel comfortable providing one for them. Remember that their conduct will reflect on you, not only during the reference but generally. Keep in mind that hiring managers often Google candidates during the hiring process, and might do the same with your references. You don’t want the endorsement of someone with a less-than-professional online reputation.

How to Ask

When someone gives you a reference, they’re doing you a favor. It’s essential to be appreciative and to make things as easy on them as possible. With that in mind:

  1. Always ask your friend if you may use them as a reference, even if they won’t be required to write a letter of recommendation or make a significant time commitment to the process. It is both considerate and smart: you want your friend to be prepared to paint you in a positive light. It’s often best to use references who are available by phone, and you should ask them for the best number to use (cell, office phone, etc.).
  2. Review the job and your accomplishments. Share the job description and explain which qualifications and skills seem most essential to the role — and most important to the hiring manager. Offer examples of your accomplishments that demonstrate your aptitude for the job. Don’t assume that your friend will remember your achievements from your time working together. It’s hard enough to remember what we’ve done in our own careers — keeping tabs on someone else’s is nearly impossible.
  1. Is your friend phone-shy? They can still help you by writing a letter of reference. If you go this route, it’s not a bad idea to have a list of important skills, accomplishments, and duties ready to give them, to make the writing process easier. If it seems helpful, you can also offer them these templates to guide their writing — but be sure they use these as a guideline only. The last thing you want is to wind up with a reference letter that’s copied word-for-word from a template.
  2. Send a thank-you letter. It’s the right thing to do, and it’ll increase the chances that your friend will recommend you in the future.