Home » In What Capacity Do You Know The Applicant? What Does it Mean And How to Answer it?

In What Capacity Do You Know The Applicant? What Does it Mean And How to Answer it?

During a job application, a candidate is often requested to cite references by their prospective employers. The reason is that employers want to know about a candidate’s skills and the kind of person they are.

It will give them an idea about whether the applicant would be a good team member in the future and whether they would be a good fit for the company in the long run.

If someone else asks you to be their reference, you may expect calls from recruiters and employers about the candidate.

You may hear the question, “In what capacity do you know the applicant?” in this regard and wonder what it means.

It implies that the employer wants to know how you know the applicant. And since it’s a professional scenario, you should be careful while answering it. Your response may determine whether the applicant gets the job or at least proceeds to the next phase of the recruitment process.

Why Should You Carefully Consider Before Agreeing to be a Reference?

Being a reference for a candidate is quite a big responsibility. But more than that, it shows that the person has enough faith and confidence in you when they ask you to be their reference. But you need to ask yourself, are you ready to become a reference for the said candidate?

It’s because, as a reference, you need to be impartial about your views regarding the candidate. You may have become acquainted with the person professionally at first. But now you may have become quite close to the person. In that case, it is natural to look past their flaws.

On the other hand, if you ever have any grudges against the applicant or professional rivalry, do not be a reference unless you are sure that your feelings will not cloud your judgment. You must also be someone’s reference if you can keep your opinions to yourself and only speak from a neutral perspective.

Why Employers Ask in What Capacity Do You Know The Candidate?

Why Employers Ask in What Capacity Do You Know the Candidate?

As mentioned earlier, employers ask this question to get a complete picture of the candidate who has applied for a job in their organization.

While they can understand whether the candidate will be good at his job through the questions they answer during the interview, only someone who has known them beforehand can say whether they are a person of integrity. Do they get well with team members? Did they submit their project on time? Did they come up with ideas and were self-motivated?

As a result, asking this question is important to determine your relationship with the candidate. Were you a senior colleague who watched the candidate make steady progress at their previous job? Were you a professor who mentored them during their university days and saw them start their career? Were you a coworker who worked with them closely and, likewise, have an idea about their work ethics?

When employers ask you in what capacity you know them, the kind of professional relationship you had with the candidate will help them gauge how closely you might have known them.

In What Capacity May You Know an Applicant?

Usually, there are four ways in which you may know an applicant. They are:

1. Professional Capacity

Professional Capacity

It happens when you have been a part of the same organization. You could have been colleagues in the same position. Or, one of you could have been senior or junior to the applicant. Or, you could be a past employer or mentor at the organization.

2. Personal Capacity

It’s when you know the candidate personally. Both of you could be friends, or you could also be related to each other. Maybe you are neighbors, or you just get along very well as a part of a club or group.

3. Educational Capacity

Educational Capacity

It’s when you know the applicant from their school or college days. You could have been to high school together or been a teacher or professor to the applicant during the college or university days. Or, you may have been their high school sports team coach.

4. Volunteer Capacity

It’s when you are a part of the same community service program. Both of you may have been volunteers for the same shelter, or you may have participated in outreach programs together. If so, it will allow you to offer a unique insight into the applicant’s commitment as a citizen.

Why Should You Reconsider Being a Personal Reference?

Why Should You Reconsider Being a Personal Reference

When employers want to know in what capacity you know the candidate, they prefer someone who knows the candidate professionally. Hence, if you say that you know the candidate personally as a close friend or are related in some way, this might go against the candidate.

However, some employers want a mix of both professional and personal references. In such cases, it’s okay if you know the candidate personally. Otherwise, it would be best to reconsider when someone asks you to be a reference. In that case, the employers usually assume that your opinions may be biased in favor of the candidate and could ruin their chances.

How to Answer, “In What Capacity Do You Know The Applicant?”

If you agree to become a reference for someone, you may get a call asking you about the person. One of the first questions the recruiters will ask you is how you know the candidate. Or, they may read out what the applicant has written in their resume about their relationship with you and ask you if that is correct.

Here is how you answer this question:

1. Keep it Brief

Keep it Brief

If the recruiters state what the applicant has written about you in their application and ask if it’s correct, then you must answer in the affirmative.

But in most cases, the recruiters will ask you how you know the candidate to match what you are saying with what the applicant has written about you. In such cases, keep your answers short and only mention what is relevant.

For example, you can say, “I was his or her professor during their sophomore year.” Or, “We were a part of the same team in XYZ Company for three years and worked closely together on several projects.” That would be enough to establish your connection with the candidate.

2. Be Honest

While answering how you know the applicant, be honest about your acquaintance. If you know the applicant personally, mention it. Don’t try to imply that you have known them longer or better than you do.

Recruiters often conduct background checks, and many companies also conduct a check on the references just to be thorough. Hence, any discrepancy in what you say will only work against the candidate.

3. Only Answer What You Are Asked

Only Answer What You Are Asked

While answering questions about the candidate, only talk about what you are asked. Be brief and to the point and do not elaborate unnecessarily or use many adjectives. The recruiters will make out when you are genuinely voicing your opinions and when you are exaggerating about the applicant.

Try to provide only the information that is asked of you, nothing extra.

4. Mention a Unique Aspect

It is a good idea to say something unique about the candidate, something that the recruiters might not have been able to know otherwise.

For example, the recruiters will learn about the applicant’s skills and experiences from various sources. However, you can offer a unique insight by saying that you know for a fact that the applicant is professional yet kind because, as a team member, they had once agreed to cover for a coworker for three days as the coworker in question had to care for their mother after an accident.

Mention that the applicant completed a project within the set deadline and also found time to help the coworker by running errands for them. It will show that the applicant is a person of integrity, and such insight is always welcome.

5. Be Professional

Be Professional

While being a reference, you must sound professional. Even if you know the applicant beyond a professional capacity, avoid showing that while answering the recruiter’s questions.

It’s easy to get carried away when professional relationships become lifelong friendships. However, try to keep things professional and impartial, and you will be doing the greatest favor this way.


Being a reference for someone is indeed a matter of great responsibility. A lot could depend on your answers. And how you know, the person will indeed have a lot of impact because that will determine how seriously your opinions matter about the applicant.

Always reveal to the recruiters the true nature of your relationship with the applicant while mentioning in what capacity you know them. It will benefit the applicant in the recruitment process.