Personal Reference Letter Samples and Writing Tips

woman working on laptop in sm mod office
••• Erik Von Weber / Stone / Getty Images

A personal recommendation, also known as a character recommendation or a character reference, is a letter of recommendation written by someone who can speak to the job candidate’s personality and character. A person might ask for a personal recommendation if they do not have much work experience, or if they feel their employers cannot write positive references.

A recommendation letter should provide information on who you are, your connection with the person you are recommending, why they are qualified, and the specific skills they have that you are endorsing.

A personal recommendation focuses on the personality and soft skills of the candidate and uses examples from the candidate's life outside of work.

When Are Personal Reference Letters Used? 

These letters of recommendation are written by people who know job candidates outside of work, and can speak to their character and ability on a personal level. While companies typically request letters of reference from co-workers, sometimes hiring managers will request a personal reference letter as well.

Personal reference letters are often required for a big purchase, such as a condominium, or for education-related applications. As well, lawyers who seek to be admitted to the bar must submit a personal reference; the letter is also often required for other professional associations and guiding bodies.

When high school or college students without professional work experience apply for jobs, volunteer opportunities, or scholarships, they will typically need to present character references in lieu of professional references.

These can be solicited from teachers, club leaders, pastors, guidance counselors, or other adults who are familiar with the student’s personality and accomplishments.

Here is advice on how to request a personal reference and who to ask to write it. 

Guidelines for Writing a Personal Reference Letter 

As with all recommendation letters, you should only agree to write a personal reference letter if you feel comfortable supporting the person and will be able to write a positive and enthusiastic note.

In your letter, include information on how you know the person. As well, share details about the person's morals and values, experience, or background as is applicable to the situation. If, for example, you are writing for a college student applying for a fellowship, you’ll want to emphasize their academic talents. If writing for someone seeking their first-ever retail sales job, concentrate on detailed descriptions of their “people skills,” work ethic, and personal charisma.

Personal Reference Letter Samples

The following letters are examples of personal reference letters — use them as inspiration when writing.

Sample Personal Reference Letter #1 

Dear Ms. Lewis: 

I am writing to recommend Ariel Jones for a position with the Town of Smithtown. I have known Ariel since she was a child, and she is a highly qualified candidate for a position in town government. She has lived in Smithtown for most of her life, and she is deeply involved in her local community, her church, and her children's schools.

Ariel has shown her commitment to the town as a Member of the Board of Appeals and as an active participant in many community endeavors, including the annual fund drive for the Downtown Shelter for the Homeless, Meals on Wheels, and our public library’s biannual book sale.

Ariel would be a tremendous asset to the town and I recommend her to you without reservation. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Mary Smith

Sample Personal Reference Letter #2

Dear Mr. Jones: 

I'm writing this reference in support of Jason Craden. Jason was my college roommate, and we have been friends for the past ten years. If you are looking for a smart, talented, and diligent candidate, Jason is the perfect match. 

As a student, Jason was always engaged in classes — he studied not just to get good grades, but also out of a desire to truly understand the material. It was no surprise when he displayed similar characteristics once he joined the world of work. As a friend, Jason is supportive and caring. When my father passed away shortly after our graduation, Jason was one of the first people I told.

Not only did he fly out to be with me during this difficult time, but he also absorbed the burden of communicating the news to our other college friends. Jason has a knack for building and maintaining strong, enduring friendships.

These relationship-building skills would enable him to excel as a salesman for ABC company. 

Jason would be an asset to any company, and I wholeheartedly recommend him. Please do not hesitate to be in touch if you have any further questions. 

Sincerely, 

Michael Smith 

Personal Recommendation Letter Template

Heading
If you are writing a letter, follow the proper business letter format. Begin with your contact information at the top of the letter, followed by the date, and then the contact information of the employer.

If you are sending the letter as an email, you do not need to include this heading. However, you will have to come up with a subject line for the email. In the subject, briefly include the purpose of your letter and the name of the person you are writing about. If you know the job the person is applying for, you can put that too. For example Subject Line: Recommendation for Firstname Lastname, Account Analyst

Salutation
When writing a recommendation letter, include a salutation (Dear Dr. Joyner, Dear Ms. Merrill, etc.). If you are writing a general letter, address it "To Whom it May Concern" or simply don't include a salutation and start with the first paragraph of the letter.

Paragraph 1
The first paragraph of the personal recommendation letter explains how you know the person you are recommending (and for how long you've known them) and why you are qualified to write a letter to recommend employment or graduate school. With a personal letter, you are writing a recommendation because you know the person and their character.

Paragraph 2 (and 3)
The second paragraph of a recommendation letter contains specific information on the person you are writing about, including why they are qualified and what they can contribute. If necessary, use more than one paragraph to provide details.

Be sure to provide specific examples of times the person has demonstrated specific qualities. It is fine if these are not work-related examples – after all, you do not know the person from a work setting. Focus on examples from your relationship with that person.

When writing a letter referring a candidate for a particular job opening, the recommendation letter should include information about how the person's skills match the position they are applying for. Therefore, ask the candidate for the job listing ahead of time, or at least ask what types of jobs the person will be applying for (if it is a general recommendation letter).

Conclusion with Summary
This section of the recommendation letter contains a brief summary of why are you are recommending the person. State that you "highly recommend" the person or you "recommend without reservation" or something similar.

Conclude the letter with an offer to provide more information. Include a phone number within the paragraph or another form of contact (such as an email address).

Signature
End the letter with a sign-off such as “Sincerely” or “Best.” If you are mailing this letter, conclude with your handwritten signature, followed by your typed signature.

If this is an email, conclude with your typed signature. Below your signature, include any contact information.

How to Use a Letter Template

A template helps you with the layout of your letter. Templates also show you what elements you need to include in your letter, such as introductions and body paragraphs.

You should use a template as a starting point for your recommendation letter. However, you should always be flexible. You can change any of the elements of the template to fit your own needs. For example, if a letter template only has one body paragraph, but you want to include two, you should do so.