How to Give a Good Job Reference for a Friend

by M.T. Wroblewski

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 “So 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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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

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.”

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

Prepare one short anecdote about each pillar so that you are prepared. Use the three descriptive terms as a springboard, but be sure to keep your examples succinct and focused.


  • 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.”

About the Author

With education, health care and small business marketing as her core interests, M.T. Wroblewski has penned pieces for Woman's Day, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and many newspapers and magazines. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.

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