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A fellow admin of a PlayStation gaming clan is applying for a job in real life and have asked me to write a character reference for him. I have no problem doing this as I admire him and would not hesitate to recommend him to any company who might consider him for a position.

Having served on the same admin team for about 2 years now I feel that I know a bit about his interpersonal and managerial skills, although not in the conventional context that employers might be used to reading about in character references.

My question is, how would employers view a character reference received from someone whose relationship with the candidate extends only as far as online interaction through gaming? Should I be frank about the nature of our relationship or should I skirt around it in more generic language? Do I defend it and explain why I think my appraisal of his character is meaningful or do I just own it and pretend as if it's the most natural thing (which really, it is)?

I'd really like to provide him with a character reference that would help him land this job but I'm struggling to word it in a convincing way that doesn't sound like we're just a bunch of kids who play computer games together. I mean we're both middle aged adults with professional careers.

  • 3
    Recommended (off-site) reading: can I put World of Warcraft leadership experience on my resume? – Lilienthal Jun 7 at 14:50
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    Are you being asked to write a reference or just to be one if asked? In many parts of the world, references typically don't have to prepare anything written ahead of time and are only contacted by the company after an interview. – David K Jun 7 at 14:58
  • Why does it matter how you know this person? If you think that you can speak to their character, then do so. It matters not whether you know them through a game clan, a cat lover's club, a dance school, etc. – joeqwerty Jun 7 at 18:29
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My question is, how would employers view a character reference received from someone whose relationship with the candidate extends only as far as online interaction through gaming?

Not your problem. You've just been asked to write a reference. It's up to the recipient to decide it's usefulness.

Should I be frank about the nature of our relationship or should I skirt around it in more generic language?

The more specific and detailed, the better the reference. It is what it is, and there is not point in hiding the context or being "ashamed" of it. A good game admin needs plenty of skills that are useful in any other real world context as well: conflict resolution, complex management problems, day-to-day trade offs, etc.

Do I defend it and explain why I think my appraisal of his character is meaningful or do I just own it and pretend as if it's the most natural thing (which really, it is)?

Neither. Just assume it's a normal thing to do (which it is) and focus on the skills and specific examples: problem solving, management skills, conflict resolution, achievements, etc.

  • I think communication skills should be on your list, too. Sounds like it's a voice-chat (and writing) thing. Cat-herding, so to speak. For a role that involves remote-work (or remote-workers on the team) that is incredibly important. – simbabque Jun 10 at 11:15
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Years ago I played an online game (Goalline Blitz if you've heard of it) and got to know a guy pretty well through managing our team. He and I have now been friends for about 10 years. In every way I consider him a friend and not just an online acquaintance.

The reason I bring that up was that when he applied for a job, I served as a reference. When he needed a reference for school, I gave it. He's a friend. I did not tell them that "well...I know him as "cowboysfan9982" and I'm the offensive coordinator and CFO for his team. I said I was Rob's friend who was familiar with his organizational skills. We had worked together on some things.

I'd suggest you do the same. You may need to be careful how you say it exactly, but by now if he's asking you to be a reference, he's likely more than just a casual gaming friend you see once a week for a few minutes. You have probably had to depend on each other and work together on a few things.

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You asked a few questions,

My question is, how would employers view a character reference received from someone whose relationship with the candidate extends only as far as online interaction through gaming?

Ultimately, that's on your friend, not you, to decide. There may even be specific reasons why he's picking you (maybe he's applying for a job developing games?)

It may help to understand the context of what he's asking for. Interviewers will generally be concerned about many aspects of a candidate's fitness: their technical or job skills, their soft skills - communication, teamwork, and so on, and their character or culture in terms of fitting well with the employer.

Ultimately, a character reference is one of many tools an employer will use to evaluate the candidate. Each tool used will have a purpose - and, as may be obvious, a character reference is meant to evaluate character, personality, and soft skills - things that are inherent to an individual and not specifically to their employment history. In other words, although you do not know the person in a workplace context, you do know them in a context that lets you comment on their soft skills and how well they work in a team environment.

So, let's get back to the rest of your questions:

Should I be frank about the nature of our relationship or should I skirt around it in more generic language?

You should be honest and concise. You don't need to hide anything but you don't need to be detailed, because the interviewers probably don't care if you're part of a gaming clan together or any other similar social construct - maybe you're on the same community softball team or whatever. It's fine to mention that you've worked with him as leaders of a hobby club or a gaming team or whatever language you find appropriate.

Do I defend it and explain why I think my appraisal of his character is meaningful or do I just own it and pretend as if it's the most natural thing (which really, it is)?

No, don't defend or explain anything. Referencing my comments above about the nature of character references, the employer isn't expecting a defense of your position - they're just expecting an honest and direct answer.

Finally, you made some additional comments which aren't questions but beg for answers:

I'd really like to provide him with a character reference that would help him land this job but I'm struggling to word it in a convincing way that doesn't sound like we're just a bunch of kids who play computer games together. I mean we're both middle aged adults with professional careers.

Keep in mind that it's not your job to get him this job, and ultimately your character reference will be one (fairly minor) data point used in the process. The employer will likely already know the guy isn't a time-wasting video-game playing kid - don't worry about defending his employability!

  • Lots of relationships are primarily online. What’s a friend in 2019? Outside of a few dinners together, seeing a movie, what’s the difference between those actions and playing a competitive game together? – Donald Jun 7 at 16:51
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I was a volunteer coach for a college sports club. I had several of my players, as well as someone who was as assistant coach when she was a graduate student, ask me to write recommendations for them for grad school, and for jobs. None of those positions were sports club related.

So, first of all, it's a personal reference, but what I did was I thought about what kind of characteristics were these people seeking, and how might a sports team member or fellow coach have demonstrated those attributes. Also very relevant, I thought, was my ability to share the growth in maturity and responsibility, with concrete observed examples, from when I first met them, usually a few months out of high school, to being on the cusp of independent adulthood.

I actually spoke directly with the assistant Athletic Director at a Division I university for the non-coaching position for the then-assistant coach, and we had a good conversation about how that person collaborated, their working and communication style, and their ability to independently work on tasks. When asked about how I would personally supervise this person, I said "Make sure you clearly communicate the boundaries and your expectations, and then get out of her way. She will make sure it gets done right." It was clear that was exactly what she was looking for (but, then again, that's what most supervisors want).

One student who got into a very exclusive marine research program, and swears it was based on my recommendation. So, really, you don't have to have hands-on professional experience with that person to give a good recommendation.

The trick is not whether your interactions with this person perfectly match their potential work environment. It's whether you've been able to see strengths and skills that would be applicable, directly, or universally. Frame it in that context, and you will be helpful to this person.

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When writing a letter of reference, I include a statement of how I know the person.

I'm delighted that Xxxx Yyyy asked me for a reference. For the last two years, Xxxx and I worked together as volunteers at Zzzzz. Our work required us to interact with users of Zzzz's product Qqqqqq. etc etc

Xxxx was a good partner for me. He was reliable.... etc etc

I would welcome the opportunity to work with Xxxx in a job. If you have questions please don't hesitate to contact me at qqqqq@example.com.

Of course, write the truth. Don't say you want to work with him if you actually don't.

This improves the credibility of the reference you give. It explains the context and supports the claims you make about the person.

Notice this: success as an organizer / moderator of a group of people shows evidence of talent and skill. Being good at working with people is valuable.

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Keep it in context of the clan, but make the language more "squad leader/team" military in tone.

The context will make this more readable and engaging for the reader, but don't forget to highlight his leadership and mentoring skills as well as displaying a respectful attitude toward other teams (with examples, if possible).

This could turn out to be really interesting for the reader and maps easily onto this guy's real-life teamworking abilities and work ethic.

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