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How to Give a Good Job Reference for a Friend

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It’s not every day that you’re asked to give a good reference for a friend. More than merely supplying confirmation of a job title and duties, a friend can often provide insight into something a previous employer may not: a person’s true character, which is why these references are often called “character references.” As always, follow a questioner’s lead and answer those questions put to you. But if you’re asked an open-ended question, such as “Please tell me about So-and-So…” make sure you’re ready to rise to the challenge by invoking the six pillars of character: caring, citizenship, fairness, respect, responsibility and trustworthiness.

What to Say

In most cases, your friend will let you know in advance that she has listed you as a character reference for a job. To ensure you're ready when an employer calls, prepare a short anecdote about your friend to address each pillar. You may not need to use them all, but having several examples ready will help you answer any questions. Be sure to keep your examples succinct and focused on your friend's character, without getting too personal.

Also, keep in mind that a glowing character reference can sometimes inspire a devil’s advocate question, such as, “So what’s the worst thing you can tell me about So-and-So?” If this happens, defuse a potentially dangerous line of questioning by saying something upbeat, such as, “Well, when she loves a job, her friends just can’t seem to get her to stop talking about it.”

Addressing the Pillars

Incorporating the pillars into a character reference doesn't have to formal. Simply using certain words can tell an employer what he needs to know about your friend. Consider using the following words to describe your friend for each pillar:

Caring. Paint a picture of your friend as a caring person by providing examples of how she helps her co-workers and doesn’t have to wait to be asked to pitch in. Round out the picture by using such words as “kind,” “compassionate” and “appreciative.”

Citizenship. Show that your friend displays good citizenship by obeying procedures and rules as well as authority figures. Invoke words such as “cooperative,” “involved” and “neighborly.”

Fairness. Underscore your friend’s sense of fairness by explaining how she remains open to alternative ideas and treats people equally, regardless of their status. Use words such as “diplomatic,” “equitable” and “even-handed.”

Respect. Highlight your friend’s respectful manner and her deference to the Golden Rule. Color your examples with terms such as “considerate,” “polite” and “tolerant.”

Responsibility. Score a home run for your friend by talking about her sense of responsibility and how she perseveres. Rely on words such as “self-disciplined,” “goal-oriented” and “accountable.”

Trustworthiness. Speak to your friend’s level of trustworthiness and honesty. Flavor your reference with powerhouse words such as “integrity,” “reliability” and “courageous.”


Before you provide a character reference for your friend, talk with her about the job and what she wants to highlight with the employer. Check to make sure that none of the anecdotes you are thinking about sharing will contradict anything she has said in the interview or are too personal. Above all, remain professional and honest when talking about your friend.