Character Reference Letter Example and Writing Tips

Image shows a woman with red curly hair writing a handwritten letter. Out of the letter is a small bubble depicting another woman, posing with her hands on her hips, indicating she is the subject of the letter. Text reads: "What to include in a character reference letter: 1) State your relationship with the job candidate and how long you have known him or her. 2) Focus on one or two of the candidate's strongest qualities or skills that you think will make them stand out in the job search. 3) Provide contact information."

Theresa Chiechi / The Balance

Do you need to write or request a character reference? It’s often an honor to be asked to write a character letter, but if it’s something you haven’t done before, it may help to look at a reference letter example. If you need to request a reference, it's also helpful to review sample letters.

A character reference (also known as a personal reference) is a letter written by someone who knows the job candidate and can speak to their character and abilities. Unlike professional references, the person writing the reference is not an employer.

Review tips for writing and requesting character references, what to include in the letter, tips for writing a reference letter, and how to request a reference.

What to Include in the Letter

When asked to write a character reference, only say yes if you can speak positively about that person’s personality and work ethic.

If so, include a few key elements in your letter:

  • First, state your relationship with the job candidate, and how long you have known them.
  • The body of your letter should focus on one or two of the candidate’s strongest qualities or skills that you think will make them stand out in the job search. 
  • Try to support each claim you make about the person with a specific example.
  • At the end of the letter, provide any contact information that you feel comfortable sharing with the employer.

Be sure to meticulously edit your letter before sending it.

Character Reference Letter Example

This is a character reference letter sample. Download the letter template (compatible with Google Docs or Word Online) or read the example below.

Screenshot of a character reference letter example

Character Reference Letter Example (Text Version)

John Smith
123 Main Street
Anytown, CA 12345
555 555-5555

March 22, 2021

Jane Kiel
Director, Human Resources
Anytown Riding Institute
123 Business Rd.
Anytown, CA 54321

Dear Ms. Kiel,

I have known Jane Doe in a variety of capacities for many years. She has been my daughter's riding instructor for the past several years. In addition, she is my partner in a small business where she is responsible for writing and editing articles and website content.

Jane is efficient, detail-oriented, and extremely competent. She often successfully finishes a task well before the deadline. She is very organized, and never misses a deadline or forgets an assignment.

Jane also has an excellent rapport with people of all ages. She has taught riding to both young children and the elderly, and every age in between. Her excellent communication skills (both written and verbal) allow her to connect with all kinds of people and to inspire them to put forth their best effort.

In summary, I highly recommend Jane for any position or endeavor that she may seek to pursue. She will be a valuable asset to any organization.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Signature (hard copy letter)

John Smith

More Reference Letter Examples

Review more reference letter samples for a variety of circumstances to get started on your own letter.

Tips for Writing a Personal Reference Letter

Think before saying yes. Before agreeing to write a character reference letter, be sure that you can write a positive and honest letter. If you cannot, it is better to say no; this will give the person the chance to ask someone who might write him or her a stronger reference letter.

If you do not want to explain the reason for saying "no" in detail, you can simply say, “I don’t feel I am qualified to write a letter on your behalf.” Here's how to decline a request for a reference.

Should you choose to write the letter, you should:

  • Request information: If you decide to write the letter, make sure you have all the information you need. In particular, make sure you know what the letter is for (whether it is for a particular job, a college application, etc.), how to submit it, and when it is due. You might also ask the person if he or she has a resume or other document listing their skills and experiences that you can use to help write the letter.
  • Be specific: In your letter, focus on two or three specific qualities or abilities the person has that makes them a good fit for the job or school.
  • Look at the job listing, or the school website, for a sense of the qualities the employer or school might be looking for. Provide an example of a time the person demonstrated each of these qualities.
  • Provide contact information: Provide some form of contact information so that the employer can reach you with further questions.
  • Use business letter format: If you are sending the letter by mail, use business letter format when writing your letter. Including the contact information of the employer at the top, the date, and your contact information. Conclude with a handwritten signature and your typed signature underneath. If you send an email reference letter, you do not have to use this format.
  • Proofread and edit: Be sure to thoroughly edit your letter so that it is polished and professional. Ask a friend or family member to read over the letter before you send it.

Make sure your letter is thorough, but not too long. Three to five paragraphs is enough and certainly no more than one page. 

What to Do When You’re the One Looking for References?

Looking for your first job, or been out of the workforce for a while? Do you need a recommendation, but don't have professional references you can use, or are you concerned about the references your employer might give you?

Along with using character references when applying for jobs or school, you might also need a character reference when applying for a loan from the bank or for renting an apartment. A reference gives the employer, school, landlord, or bank a vote of confidence about the candidate.

Who to Ask for a Character Reference

Who should you ask to provide a personal reference for you? Ask someone who you know personally, who can speak to your character and abilities.

Neighbors and acquaintances may be willing to write a reference for you. Business acquaintances, professors/academic advisors, customers, and vendors can also make good references. You may even be able to use a friend as a reference for employment.

If you volunteer, consider using leaders or other members of the organization as personal references. Have you participated in the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H, a similar organization or in school sports?

Do you belong to a church group? Ask your group leader or coach to write a personal letter of reference for you. If you've babysat or dog-sat or shoveled snow, ask the people you worked for if they will write a reference letter for you.

Whoever you ask, be sure to send a thank you note afterward to the writer. Be sure to emphasize how much you appreciate them taking the time to write you a reference.

When to Provide a Character Reference

Some employers request character references in addition to letters of reference from former employers. These references give employers a sense of your personality.

Student job seekers often choose to use personal references for their first job search, since they may not have any former employers.

Occasionally, people also use character references if they worry their bosses will not write positive references. Sometimes a strong character reference can help make up for a weaker employer reference, or a lack of employer references.

Tips for Requesting a Character Reference

Who to Ask

Think carefully about who you want to ask to write a reference for you. Make sure you pick someone who knows you well enough to offer insight into your personality. Pick someone who you think will speak positively about you. You can ask a family member, friend, or neighbor. You can also ask a teacher, advisor, volunteer leader, coach, pastor, or business acquaintance.

When to Ask

Be sure to ask your reference as early as possible, so she or he has time to write the letter. Offer to send them your resume or to update them on your life if they would like some more information, and make sure they understand the deadline by which their reference needs to be received.

Provide the Details

It’s also a good idea to provide them with a copy of the job postings you are applying for so that they can address how your character and personality make you a good candidate for these positions. Afterward, send them a thank-you note to show your appreciation.

Article Sources

  1. CareerOneStop. "References."