I'm in the process of interviewing for a new job. I was given an offer based on my interview and the recommendation of a former co-worker who now works for this company.

As part of the process, they've provided me with an application for employment that I need to fill out (even though they already have my resume, a direct recommendation from a current employee of theirs, require a background check, and have made an offer.) The application specifically requests personal references.

I'd prefer not to get my personal friends involved with my professional life, or vice versa. What exactly are they hoping to find out from a personal reference that they can't get from the background check, drug screening, and professional references? And how can I politely turn down the request without potentially losing the offer?

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    With some companies "personal" = "professional" in this context. So, as the answers say, ask what they're looking for in a diplomatic, professional way.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 20:58
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    I always put "available upon request" for things like that. If they come straight out and ask me for them and if the position is one I plan on taking, then I'll provide the references. Otherwise I won't bother. To date I have not been asked to provide specific references even once.
    – aroth
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 23:08
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    You say you are interviewing...but you also said you have received an offer. These are different stages of the process and references play different roles in those stages. Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 1:35
  • My guess is they haven't made a formal offer. The last time I changed employer there were six weeks between "we're going to offer you the job at such-and-such salary and conditions" and the actual formal offer. Six weeks filled with police checks, fingerprinting, references, forms, more forms, reading and signing the business ethics statement, and just plain waiting. Commented Sep 10, 2012 at 19:29
  • This is probably a conditional offer, and is just a bureaucratic requirement by HR.
    – MrFox
    Commented Sep 11, 2012 at 18:16

5 Answers 5


I'd check in with your point of contact on this and say just what you said. Determining the company's reasoning for this can be difficult, so don't make assumptions. Just ask them - what kind of personal reference do you want? Is it a must-have? And what do you look for in doing the reference check?

It could be anything from "that's required for another type of position, just skip it" to something in depth and important based on a lesson learned at that company. No way to tell without asking.

I'd keep it to the focus of making sure you give them what they need as opposed to coming across as unwilling to provide it. For example "what are you looking for here?" vs. "do I REALLY need to give you this??".


As long as you provided a sufficient number of professional references along with all your other identification, I don't see the point.

I would ask if the professional references were enough. It could be they are use to entry-level workers who usually only have personal references.

You can always just enter your professional references on this form.

They may have a legitimate reason. You'll ultimately have to ask them.


Personal references = personal professional references, as opposed to impersonal references, such as an HR person verifying employment. The employer just wants to talk to people who've worked with you enough to say something useful to help them evaluate your candidacy.

  • Nope; I spoke to my friend who already works there, and in this case they really do want "personal" references - i.e. character references from people you don't work with.
    – EmmyS
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 16:49

Give only professional references. Not friends. Call them friends if you wish, but only provide professional references. Many employers are using the internet to find out about prospective employees, by looking at their Facebook account, etc. Remember, just because someone asks for something, doesn't mean you have to provide it. Your friends are your own personal life, and none of their business. Any company that wants to judge you based on that should give you concern to look elsewhere for employment, because they are attempting to judge you based on input, not output. Employers need only be concerned with output.

Another thing to consider, do you really want HR to ask you again, in a year or so, to provide a list again of your personal friends as part of your evaluation? No, of course not. Be very careful here, only professional references at best. But from my experience, if a company is asking for information you are not comfortable with, it's a red flag for them.


Do you have acquaintances that you could use? They are probably trying to see what kind of person you are outside of work as there may be the case that even when you aren't on the clock, you may still be considered a representative of the company and thus they want to know what kind of character you'd be in those situations. The idea here being to find those people that could talk about you but that aren't your nearest and dearest friends.

If you rent where you live, then your landlord may be an idea. Neighbors could also be an idea. The theory here is to just get a few people that can give an idea as to your kind of character.

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