In What Capacity Do You Know The Applicant: What It Means


in what capacity do you know the applicant

The application process of hiring new employees is often complicated, for both the applicant and those working on the other end.

And if you’re asked to give a reference for someone, you may come across terms that you’ve never had to think about before. 

To that end, this article is going to unpack a common term that you might see when you’re giving a reference for someone – “in what capacity do you know the applicant”. 

Let’s dive in.

In What Capacity Do You Know The Applicant: What Does It Mean

thinking person

If you’re asked “in what capacity do you know the applicant”, it’s simply asking how you know the applicant. The employer wants to know how you know the applicant so they can have a context and frame of reference for what you’re going to say about them.

When an employer asks for references, they try to learn about the different aspects of the applicant, and what they may be like both professionally and personally. By asking this question, they’ll understand which viewpoint your reference is coming from. 

Note that a variant of this question is what is your relationship to the candidate, which more or less means the same thing.

In What Capacity Do You Know the Applicant Examples

As mentioned in the last section, when you’re asked in what capacity you know an applicant, the employer is trying to figure out the frame of reference. 

Here are a few common contexts in which somebody may know a job applicant:

Professional Capacity

professional experience

If a reference says that they know the applicant in a professional capacity, it means that they’ve worked with, for, or above the applicant.

Within the context of a professional capacity, a company will often ask how the reference how they worked with the applicant, such as a co-worker, a manager, or something else.

Understanding the nature of the professional relationship to the applicant is helpful to framing the rest of the information received. 

Personal Capacity

friend job reference

Personal and professional capacities are the two most common types of references given. A personal reference is often a friend or family member.

While it can be risky for the applicant to provide a personal reference unless specifically asked for one, they can still be useful for understanding the personality and the temperament of an applicant.

The company the applicant keeps will also give plenty of information, for that purpose, so it’s always advised that you choose your references wisely when applying for jobs.

Educational Capacity


An educational reference is someone who has studied with, studied under, or taught the applicant in some manner. This reference may be a professor, a fellow student, or a student of the applicant.

This reference capacity is wonderful for understanding how the applicant retains, handles, and utilizes information. It also may help an employer understand the level of aptitude and dedication that an employee has, and how they manage their time, with or without others. 

Volunteer Capacity


While much less common, the volunteer capacity is a great reference to have. These are people who have volunteered with the applicant in some manner. This reference helps the employer understand more about what’s important to the applicant, how they manage working with others, and so much more. 

For recommendations on who to use as a job reference, and how to ask someone to be a reference, take a look at our dedicated articles on the topics.

How Do You Answer How Long Have You Known the Applicant?

thinking person

Another important question for companies to understand the nature of a reference relationship to the candidate is to ask “how long have you known the applicant”. While longer relationships are preferred, it’s also okay for you to have known the applicant for just a few months too. 

All types of references are useful, even those who haven’t known the applicant for years on end.

This tells the employer how applicants manage new relationships, and may also give the employer an up to date, clearer picture of the applicant, as older relationships are often more biased and stained in memory of who the applicant was, not who they are now. 

For those reasons, when you’re asked this question, try to answer it as honestly as possible. You may round up if you choose to do so, and be sure to cross-reference with the applicant who put your name down to begin with, just in case your stories don’t quite match. 


References are an important part of the application process, and they involve a lot of different questions sometimes.

These questions are meant to give the potential employer a clear understanding of who the applicant is.

References help an employer understand whether they’d like to hire an applicant.

Because of this, always remain as truthful as possible, and never purposefully try and sink someone by giving false reference. Well-rounded, truthful references are important for everyone involved, no matter the capacity that the applicant is known, or for how long. 

About the author

ted wilson
Ted Wilson

Ted Wilson is a writer and marketing specialist with over thirteen years of experience. He has worked with clients of all types, including major brands like Bed Bath & Beyond. He has years of experience writing for career management and education websites and often tells clients seeking to advance their career that passion and consistency are key.

Recent Posts