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Difference Between Personal & Professional Letters of Reference

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Employers usually require that candidates submit professional references with their application or after completing an interview. Professional references are important to reassuring the hiring manager that you have the skills and experience needed for the job. Some hiring managers also require personal letters of reference, which give a well-rounded picture of your personality.

Personal Letter

A personal reference letter describes who you are as a person, instead of simply as an employee. Some employers skip personal references, relying only on professional recommendations when making hiring decisions. In certain businesses, personal references are highly important, such as the hospitality field where customer service is essential or in positions that require handling sensitive data. Personal references focus on your positive attributes, such as your integrity, commitment, loyalty and compassion. The letter may touch on your work ethic, but it is not the focus.

Professional Reference

Professional references convey your on-the-job experiences and work principles. It addresses your approach to your profession and your abilities as an employee. For example, it may mention your punctuality to demonstrate your ability to arrive to work on time and your knowledge of general ledger posting to show your accounting skills. A professional reference might hint at your character, but it does not give deep insight into it.

Personal Reference Writing

A personal reference can be written by someone who knows you well enough to vouch for your character outside of work. This might be a teacher, academic adviser, coach, guidance counselor, landlord, community leader, volunteer coordinator or a leader of an organization of which you are a member. When seeking employment, refrain from listing friends and family members as personal references. These references might not carry much weight, because an employer may view them as biased. In some cases, a personal reference letter from family or friends might be okay, such as for adoption proceedings or membership into certain organizations. Try to request personal references from people who have known you for at least two years.

Professional Reference Writing

Anyone you worked with can give you a professional reference, provided they have a solid grasp of your qualifications, competency and work ethic. This includes your boss, co-workers and vendors or customers. If you do not have a long work history, anyone you worked for in the past might do, such as people you babysat for or did volunteer work for. If you have no work experience, a personal reference letter might suffice, especially for entry-level positions.


Most employers verify professional references. If you do not want your current employer to know you are job hunting, tell the hiring manager that you want to keep your job search confidential for the time being.


Grace Ferguson has been writing professionally since 2009. With 10 years of experience in employee benefits and payroll administration, Ferguson has written extensively on topics relating to employment and finance. A research writer as well, she has been published in The Sage Encyclopedia and Mission Bell Media.

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