Character Reference Letter Example and Writing Tips

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Have you been asked to write a character reference for a friend or colleague? It’s often an honor to be asked, but if it’s something you haven’t done before, it may help to look at a character reference letter example.

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

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 you say yes, be sure to include a few key elements in your letter:

  • First, state your relationship with the job candidate, and how long you have known him or her.
  • 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. You also want to make sure your letter is thorough, but not too long. Three to five paragraphs is enough – no more than one page. 

Character Reference Letter Example

To Whom It May Concern,

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 extremely 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 for 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 for any organization.

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

Sincerely,

John Smith
555-555-5555
jsmith@email.com

Read some more reference letter samples to get started on your own letter.

Tips for Writing a Character/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.”
  • 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 are send an email reference letter, you do not have to use this format.
  • Edit, edit, 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.

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 you’re concerned about the references your employer might give you? Consider using a character reference in addition to, or as an alternative to, employment reference letters.

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. A reference gives the employer, school, 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 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 baby-sat 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 afterwards 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

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.

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.

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. Afterwards, send them a thank you note to show your appreciation. Here are more tips on how to ask for a reference.