Why are they specifically asking for a *non*-professional reference?
April 16, 2008 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Every job-seeker's advice guide I've ever seen says that personal references are bad and almost never looked into by the employer and you shouldn't use them. So why am I specifically being asked for one?

Unlike this person, the job I've applied for doesn't involve any kind of money-handling---it's a clerk/typist for the local office of a state executive-branch agency. I know the person doing the hiring has contacted at least one of the standard references I listed, and now they want more: I got an e-mail today that said, "could you please supply me with a PERSONAL reference. The ones that you gave me are fine but they are all professional references. I need a reference from someone that knows you on a personal level, as opposed to strictly business. "

posted by FlyingMonkey to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just a quirk of the hirer. They think it will tell them something about you that they wouldn't learn otherwise. One of the things they can learn is whether you have any friends.

This doesn't mean you should start supplying them as a matter of course.
posted by grouse at 12:24 PM on April 16, 2008

I don't know why, but government jobs in the U.S. (at least where I am) often seem to request personal references, along with a raft of other crazy garbage.

Corporate jobs are the other way around, of course.

Sometimes professional references can only offer proof of employment, in which case the hiring person might want more detail from another source. Otherwise, I would take this as a bad sign about the job itself.
posted by selfnoise at 12:25 PM on April 16, 2008

I've had the same experience as selfnoise with government jobs, and also when I was a notary public I had to get several references from people "in the community" (my county, in that instance). Some forms even specify a non-relative you have known for X amount of time.

Perhaps they want to make sure you're not a crazy loner? Whatever the cause, a few friends, neighbors or colleagues from your hobby/interest group/congregation/YMCA waterpolo team usually do the trick.
posted by pointystick at 12:39 PM on April 16, 2008

Best answer: Would you be handling any confidential or sensitive information about the agency's clients? It might just be that the person filling the job wants a character reference to give him/her some confidence you won't tell people that, for instance, so-and-so applied for some form of assistance, or that the agency is going to be buying a particular parcel of land for a development project.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 12:42 PM on April 16, 2008

I was once told that one School of HR thought is that many professionals are so afraid of being sued that they are almost worthless.

Friends on the other hand, think they are doing you a favor and tend to be a lot more chatty. Picture your ex-college roommate saying "another strong point is he never takes no for an answer. I am convinced he would have married Betty Lou if it wasn't for the restraining order...."
posted by Mr_Chips at 12:51 PM on April 16, 2008

Most companies will only respond with the employment dates and position held. When I ask for references I include this statement with the forms:

Your references need to be from responsive people who can confirm you worked there, your title, level of responsibility, performance, reason for separation, and other basics.

I don't want the HR department. I want to talk with someone who was either a peer, manager, subordinate, etc. It is amazing how chatty references will become sometimes. It's not always a negative thing they may say about a candidate but it helps me to know better if the person is a good fit for the position we have open.
posted by cainiarb at 1:07 PM on April 16, 2008

Response by poster:
the christopher hundreds "Would you be handling any confidential or sensitive information about the agency's clients?"
It's a regulatory agency, so they're regulatees?, but, yeah, this does actually seem likely. thanks.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 1:23 PM on April 16, 2008

well there are a limited number/type of questions a previous employer can answer about you (i believe without your permission), but a personal reference can say whatever.
posted by Soulbee at 1:49 PM on April 16, 2008

I had someone recently ask me for 3 letters of reference, one of which had to be from a "prominent" member of the community. Like a doctor, teacher etc. I was absolutely flabbergasted that they would want that for a low-level accounting job. And I hadn't been asked to supply more than phone numbers for all the other jobs I ever applied for. I ended up skipping the interview rather than go through the hoops of having my mother-in-law round up a fake friend for me.

I think that because it was an agency that did home health care, they were used to having to get this info for the nurses and health care aides that went into people's homes. And even though it had no bearing on my job, it was part of their standard procedures and they wouldn't budge on it.
posted by saffry at 4:20 PM on April 16, 2008

My current employer called several of my professional references.
posted by popechunk at 7:03 PM on April 16, 2008

I'm a librarian, and reference-checking seems to go on a lot in our profession. In fact, two of the three people I put down as references for the job I was just offered (Yay! And thanks AskMeFi!) said they were contacted. I'm betting the third one reports the same thing.

According to Mrs. Rykey (a college professor), it's common in academia (at least in the States) to check references too. Kind of ironic, considering some of the battiest people I've ever met are either librarians or academics.
posted by Rykey at 8:59 PM on April 16, 2008

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