A personal reference, by definition, is someone with whom a candidate for employment has never worked. It’s a sixth-grade teacher, or a scoutmaster, or somebody on the candidate’s bowling team.  From the standpoint of reference checking for employment purposes, personal references are a complete waste of time.  What, after all, could the candidate’s sixth grade teacher have to say about the candidate’s management style on the job?  What would the local Brownie troop leader know about the candidate’s career development needs?  The answer: nothing!

Employers, therefore, should insist that every candidate for employment provide business or professional references.  They include people the candidate has actually worked with on a day-to-day basis for at least six months, preferably longer, within the last five to seven years.

It should be pointed out that many times a candidate will provide the names of references two or three levels removed from the candidate’s day-to-day work environment.  While it may be nice that the President of the company has agreed to be a reference for the candidate whose job is six levels down on the organization chart, the President will probably know next to nothing about the candidate’s actual job performance.  If there are too many levels of organizational structure between the candidate and the reference, the prospective employer might as well be talking to the candidate’s sixth-grade teacher.  That’s why prospective employers should ask a candidate for employment to provide – specifically – the names and job titles of at least three people he or she has actually worked with – and express permission to talk with them.

Finally, it’s very important for employers to realize that they are in charge of the employment process – and that includes asking job seekers to provide the type of references the prospective employer wants, not the type of references the prospective employee wants the employer to have!