Relationship to Candidate: What Does It Mean


relationship to candidate

If you’re applying for jobs, there’s a good chance that you’ve come across the term “relationship to candidate.” Typically, the term will be used on a job application in regards to job references.

This post will define what “relationship to candidate” means, talk about different types of reference relationships, and answer frequently asked questions around the term.

What Does Relationship to Candidate Mean on an Application?

Relationship to candidate means that the company to which you’re applying wants you to indicate how you know the person that you are providing as a reference.

From the company’s perspective, they want to understand the credibility of the person to speak to your qualifications for the job.

For example, a company will be much more interested in talking to a reference that was a colleague at a previous job that was similar to the one to which you’re applying than someone who is a personal friend.

Note that the term “relationship to candidate” is similar to “in what capacity do you know the applicant” so know that the two more or less mean the same thing if you see a company asking for either one.

Reference Relationship Types

types of job reference relationships

In general, you want to maintain about three to five relevant references at any given time. Now, the term “relevant” is key in this case, as the company will want only references that can add value in their ability to vet you as a candidate.

Here are common types of references that can be provided for a job:

  • A boss from a previous employer: In general, previous bosses are going to be your most relevant references. A manager will have directly evaluated the quality of your work and will know you well. They’re uniquely equipped to speak to your experience for a role.
  • A direct report from a previous employer: If you’re applying for a management role, then having a previous direct report as a reference will be helpful. They can speak to your management practices and what it’s like to work for you.
  • A co-worker from a previous employer: Outside of people you worked for or that worked for you, a colleague is going to be your next best reference. Ideally, it’s someone that benefited from your work or that you worked closely with towards the same goal.
  • A teacher or mentor: Having a teacher or mentor as your reference is going to be most common for people that are in school or coming out of school. However, that doesn’t always need to be the case. Having a mentor who is respected and successful can be a great reference.
  • A person that benefitted from your volunteer work: If you’ve done previous volunteer work that is relevant to the role that you’re applying for, listing someone that benefitted from that work, or that you volunteered with, can be a fantastic reference.

In general, it’s best to avoid providing personal reference like friends or family members, as a company will be skeptical of their credibility.

You’ll also want to carefully vet your references, as there is certainly risk that a bad reference could cost you a job.

Lastly, this video from the UC Davis Internship and Career Center provides some additional tips and recommendations on the types of people that serve as good references:

We also have an article that dives into good people to provide as references when applying for a job if you’re looking to learn more.

What Do I Put For Relationship to Candidate?

When indicating the nature of your relationship with someone that you’re providing as a reference, you simply list as succinctly as possible how the reference knows you.

As an example, if someone was a former boss, you could list “Manager at XYZ Company.”

Relationship to Candidate Examples

Circling back to different potential types of references that were provided in the “reference relationships types” section, here would be some examples of what you could put in a “relationship to candidate” section:

  • Boss from previous employer -> “Manager at XYZ Company”
  • Direct report from previous employer -> “Direct report at XYZ Company”
  • Co-worker from previous employer -> “Colleague at XYZ Company”
  • Teacher or mentor -> “Professor at XYZ University”
  • A person that benefitted from volunteer work -> “Primary Liaison at XYZ Non-profit”

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I List a Friend as Relationship to Candidate?

I do not recommend listing a friend as a job reference. Ultimately, you want to list relevant references that can speak to your professional credentials for a role. A company is likely to question the credibility of a friend to speak in an unbiased way about your ability to do a job.

We have a complete article on the topic of should you list as a friend as a reference if you’re looking to learn more.

How Would You Describe a Working Relationship for References?

The manner in which you describe a worker relationship is going to vary slightly based upon the nature of the relationship (i.e., a boss vs. a co-worker). However, assuming that you’re describing a co-worker, these would be variations of how you could list a working relationship with a co-worker on a job application:

  • Colleague
  • Co-worker
  • Work associate


It’s important to pick the right type of person to be your job reference. Ideally, you want a relevant reference that can speak to your professional qualifications for a job. But if you select the right references, and the company calls them during the vetting process, a job offer could be on the way soon.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

Recent Posts