Also known as a personal reference, a character reference is written by someone who knows you well. This might be a family friend, a neighbor, or someone you once volunteered with. Your reference can be by someone for whom you did casual work, such as babysitting or gardening, or a teacher, an advisor, or someone who coached you.
Think of it as a personal recommendation, focusing on your character rather than your job experience. A potential employer might ask for a character reference in addition to other employment references as a way to learn more about you. If you don't have professional references you can use, a character reference can be a good alternative.
If you're not asked for a reference letter, you might consider offering one anyway.
In a character reference, certain aspects of your personality are emphasized, such as your trustworthiness, loyalty, and ethics, as opposed to your skills and experience related to a specific job.
A character reference can be a great way to make your job application stand out if you don't have a very strong employment background because you haven't worked in a while or because you're new to the job market.
Tips for Asking for a Character Reference Letter
Consider who to ask. It should be someone who knows you well, and who can speak to your positive qualities. What matters most is that this person can provide you with an honest, positive reference. Avoid asking a family member whose opinion will be considered biased.
The person writing the letter should be able to provide an independent assessment of your qualifications.
Give the person an out. One of the most important parts of getting references is to ensure yours are good ones. If someone doesn't have time to give you a solid recommendation or isn't able to provide a strong endorsement of your skills, you're better off asking someone else. Since people aren't always comfortable declining, frame your request in a way that asks the person if they could recommend you specifically, rather than simply asking for a reference. For example:
With your permission, I would like to use you as a reference who can endorse my qualifications. Please let me know if you would be comfortable providing a reference for me. If you're busy or not able to provide a reference, I understand.
Provide information. If the individual you've asked agrees, give them all the information they'll need to write the letter. Tell them what job you're applying for, how to submit the letter, and the deadline for submission. Give them any material that might help the, write the letter, such as your resume.
Send a thank you note to the writer afterward. Be sure to emphasize how much you appreciate them taking the time to write you a reference.
Tips for Writing a Character Reference Letter
Think about it before you say yes. Be sure that you can write the person a positive letter. It's better to graciously say no if you don't think you can. This will give the person a chance to ask someone else who might be able to write a stronger letter.
Request information. Make sure you have all the information you'll need if you decide to write the letter. Be sure you know what the letter is for, such as for a particular job or a college application.
Explain your relationship. How did you meet this individual, and how long have you known them? Explain the context of your relationship, but leave out overly personal details.
Be specific. Focus on two or three specific, strong qualities you know the person has. Try to think of traits that would make them a good fit for the job or the school in question. If the letter is for a potential employer, take a look at the job listing or similar listings for a sense of what the employer might be looking for.
Provide at least one specific example of a time when the person demonstrated each of these qualities.
Make that recommendation! It's just a letter unless you specifically state why you're writing it, such as, "I recommend Edith for this position because..."
Keep it concise. Try to keep it to one page—no more than three paragraphs at most. Keep an eye out for anything repetitive or extraneous.
Provide contact information. If you feel comfortable doing so, provide contact information so the employer can reach out to you with further questions.
Proofread and edit. Be sure to thoroughly edit your letter to ensure that it's as polished and professional as possible. You might want to ask a friend or family member to read it before you send it.
Sample Character Reference Letter
This is a sample character reference for someone who is a babysitter. Download the letter template compatible with Google Docs and Word Online to review it.
Sample Character Reference Letter (Text Version)
123 Main Street
Anytown, CA 12345
August 4, 2020
To Whom it May Concern:
I have had the pleasure of knowing Katherine Kingston for eight years. During the years of our acquaintance, I have known Katherine in many capacities. Katherine is my neighbor, and she has been my babysitter since the birth of my first child five years ago. Since that time, she has become the babysitter for my three children. In the eight years I’ve known her, Katherine has demonstrated great maturity and creativity.
Katherine is mature beyond her years. She was only eleven when she first became our babysitter, but she was so responsible. Katherine even began a policy of writing a brief summary at the end of each babysitting job, with information on what they did and how each child behaved. She demonstrates an impressive professionalism.
Katherine is also extremely creative. Over the years, she has designed multiple games and art projects for children ranging from newborns to eight-year-olds. One time, in particular, she designed a play, created costumes and a set with our children, and they performed this for us after a week of rehearsing. Not many teenagers have this kind of creativity and take this kind of initiative.
Katherine is an intelligent, capable, dedicated, and personable young woman. She is always quick on her feet, with sensible reactions in all the circumstances I've seen her in. I feel confident in saying that she is capable of handling any situation with thoughtfulness and maturity.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 555-555-5555 with any questions.
Character Reference Sample Email Message
Here's an example of a character reference sent via email. Be sure to include the name of the person you're providing the reference for in the subject line of the message.
Sample Email Character Reference
Subject: Reference for Janelle Smith
Dear Mr. Connerty,
Janelle Smith was my neighbor for three years before moving to North Westchester last month. She is a kind and wonderful person; she has been so helpful to me and several of my neighbors.
I have trouble getting around. Janelle always came over to my house and offered to mow my lawn; she would ask if I needed any help with my errands. She was always friendly and cheerful, and her help was very much appreciated.
We would often talk about her education, and I know she did well in school and had a high grade point average. She never complained about homework; this was even when she had big projects to finish or long papers to write.
Janelle is smart, creative, and a genuinely good person who will do well in whatever career she chooses. I am happy to provide this reference. If you have any questions or want to know more about my experiences with Janelle, please feel free to call or email me.