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

Job candidates, students, and even apartment hunters may need to supply a character reference letter to their would-be employer, program, or landlord.

Do you need to write a character reference or ask someone to write one for you? If it’s something you haven’t done before, getting some pointers and looking at sample letters may help.

Review sample reference letters and tips for writing and requesting character references.

What is a Character Reference?

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

What to Include in a Character Reference Letter

When asked to write a character reference, only agree if you can speak positively about the candidate's personality and work ethic.

Once you've agreed, be sure to include a few key elements in your letter:

  • First, state your relationship with the person requesting the letter and mention 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

Character Reference Letter Example (Text Version)

John Smith
123 Main Street
Anytown, CA 12345
555 555-5555
jsmith@email.com

June 17, 2022

Jane Kiel
Director, Human Resources
Anytown Riding Institute
123 Business Road
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 to every age in between. Her excellent communication skills (both written and verbal) allow her to connect with all kinds of people and 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.

Sincerely,

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 one that is positive and honest. If you cannot, it is better to say no; this will give the person a chance to ask someone who can write a stronger letter.

If you do not want to explain your 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 they have 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 make them a good fit for the job or school.
  • Research the position: 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 or organization 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. Include 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 the letter certainly should not be longer than one page. 

What to Do When You Need References

There are a number of situations in which you may need to ask someone to write a character reference for you. Perhaps you don't have any professional references you can use because you're looking for your first job or have been out of the workforce for a while.

Or maybe you're concerned that your current employer won't give you a positive reference. Even if you have good professional references, some employers request character references in addition to letters of recommendation because they want to get a sense of a potential employee's personality. 

You may also need a character reference when you're applying for a loan from the bank, renting an apartment, or applying to schools. A reference gives the employer, school, landlord, or bank a vote of confidence in the candidate.

If you're the one who needs a character reference, here is some helpful information about whom you should ask for help and how to go about doing it.

Who to Ask for a Character Reference

Whom should you ask to provide a personal reference for you? Ask someone 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 and 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 belong to or volunteer for any organizations, consider using leaders or other members of the group as personal references. Have you participated in the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H, or a similar organization? Did you play 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.

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

Tips for Requesting a Character Reference

Select Someone Who Knows You Well

Think carefully about whom 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 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 they have 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 know the deadline by which their reference needs to be received.

Provide the Details

It’s also a good idea to provide them with information about the job postings or programs you are applying for so they can discuss how your character and personality will make you a good candidate for these positions.

Say Thank You

Afterward, send them a thank-you note to show your appreciation.

Key Takeaways

  • A character reference is a letter written by someone who knows the candidate and can speak to their abilities.
  • Ask someone who can speak to your character to provide a reference for you.
  • Request your reference as early as possible, so the person has plenty of lead time to write the letter.
  • Send a thank-you note to show your appreciation for the recommendation.


Article Sources

  1. CareerOneStop. "References."