Character Reference Letter Sample and Tips
- Only write a character reference for someone whose qualities you can speak to directly.
- Get submission details including the recipient’s name and email and the due date.
- Ask for an up-to-date resume and details about the opportunity for which they need a reference.
- Include specific examples of how they’ve displayed relevant qualities and character traits.
A character reference letter provides employers with a third-party account of a candidate’s personal attributes and character traits. While application documents like resumes highlight professional qualifications, the character or “personal” reference letter focuses on characteristics that help someone perform well in a job. Whether you’re choosing who to ask for a character reference or looking for advice on how to craft a useful character reference letter for someone else, consider the following tips and examples.
What is a character or personal reference letter?
A character or personal reference is a letter written by a contact of a job candidate and provided to employers as a testament to the candidate’s personal qualities. It typically comes from the perspective of someone who has not worked with the candidate in a professional capacity but can speak to the candidate's abilities and character such as a coach, volunteer leader or family friend. This gives employers insight into a candidate’s personality and traits and is helpful in understanding if the candidate would be a good fit for the organization.
In some cases, employers may ask candidates to include a personal reference with their applications. Employers might also ask for references before or after interviews, or as the last step before they decide to make a job offer.
Related: Personal vs. Professional References: What's the Difference?
How to write a character reference letter
If you’re asked to provide a character reference for someone in your network, only accept the request if you know the person well enough to speak on their behalf. It’s also essential you can speak positively about the candidate’s personal traits that relate to the job.
Here are five elements all personal reference letters should include:
1. Start by explaining your relationship to the candidate
How do you know the candidate? Be as specific as possible. For example, “I volunteered alongside John building homes for Habitat for Humanity,” or “Mandy lives next door to my family and is my children’s babysitter.”
2. Include long you’ve known the candidate
How many years have you known this person? For example, “I have known Roberto for more than six years, including two years together in business school,” or “Julia and I have worked together for four years.”
3. Add positive personal qualities with specific examples
Share at least three personal qualities that would help the employer better understand the candidate and how they’d benefit the company. These qualities could include things like dedication, communication skills, leadership abilities, positive attitude, efficiency, commitment to quality and other relevant soft skills.
4. Close with a statement of recommendation
Your final statement should declare your recommendation. For example, “For these reasons, I recommend Susan for this position and feel she would be a worthy asset to any organization.”
5. Offer your contact information
Include at least two pieces of contact information, such as your email address and personal phone number.
Related: How to Ask for a Character Reference
Sample character reference letters
Here are two examples of well-composed character reference letters that highlight the candidate’s best qualities with concrete examples while keeping the message brief and impactful:
Dear Hiring Manager,
I have known Manish Patel for more than seven years. He and I met while volunteering as mentors for the local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club and he also offered his consulting services to my small business, helping me improve my website and increase web traffic.
Manish is one of the most dedicated, hardworking and innovative people I’ve had the pleasure of working with in any capacity. He is also compassionate, kind and never misses the opportunity to help others. Once, while we volunteered together at the Boys and Girls Club, the events coordinator became very sick. Manish stepped in to finalize plans and ensure the children’s holiday party wasn’t canceled—even working late into the evening and sacrificing an entire weekend.
Manish is the type of person you can count on to keep a cool head in a stressful situation, and his positive attitude is contagious.
For these reasons, I recommend Manish for the marketing manager position and believe he would be a valuable asset to any organization fortunate enough to have him on their team.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Dear Volunteer Coordinator,
Susan Cook has been on my club soccer team for the last 3 years. In addition, I am also a close family friend of the Cook’s.
Over the time that I’ve known her, Susan has displayed an immense amount of self-discipline, dedication and positivity. Her passion for teamwork and comradery have been inspirational to our club soccer team. For example, after losing two important games back-to-back, Susan felt that the team needed to re-connect and re-focus. She organized a teambuilding activity for the following practice that brought the team closer together. It is this type of proactiveness that I find invaluable to the team.
When Susan informed me that she was interested in volunteering at your organization I was delighted. I am confident in her commitment and enthusiasm towards this opportunity. I highly recommend her.
If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Tips for a powerful reference letter
Whether you’re asking for someone to write a letter for you or composing a letter for someone else, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Reference letters should be positive. This is not the place to list someone’s personal or professional shortcomings. Candidates should always select references they’re confident can speak well of them, and references should only agree if they feel they can authentically speak to the contact’s best attributes.
- Specific examples are important. While a list of qualities is helpful, detailed examples that support and illustrate these qualities help employers better understand how a candidate might perform in various real-life scenarios.
- Concise letters are best. In most cases, personal references should not exceed one page. Remember, recruiters and hiring managers are busy and may have several candidates to consider. Keeping letters descriptive but brief will ensure employers read them entirely.
Avoid private details. The reference letter shouldn’t go into detail about a candidate’s personal struggles or other intimate matters they may not want to be shared with their prospective employer.
When to ask for a character reference
Character reference letters can be requested by employers, universities, volunteer opportunities or professional organizations.
If you’re applying for a job and an employer doesn’t request a character reference, you have the option of offering it to them. Additional information can come in handy if you’re entering the job market for the first time and don’t have professional references to share or if you have been out of the workforce for a few years.
Who to ask for a character reference
A character reference can be anyone in your personal network who can speak to your best attributes. You might also choose someone in your professional network who knows you personally (other than an employer).
Here are a few examples of people who make great character references:
- Co-volunteer or volunteer leader
- Client or customer
- Vendor or business acquaintance
- Professor or academic advisor
- Personal or professional mentor
- Fellow student or graduate from an educational program
Neighbor or friend
It’s best to avoid choosing anyone with whom you share a familial relation, including a spouse or in-laws. Often, references from family members are not considered objective and are unlikely to be taken as seriously as one from a teacher or colleague.
Also, be sure the person you choose is able to speak to your attributes as they relate to the position or industry. To help them prepare, provide the job description and your current resume, and let them know as far in advance as possible. Once someone has submitted a character reference for you, show your gratitude with a thank you note or email.
Related: Reference Check Questions: What to Expect
Choosing the right character reference can be critical in determining whether an employer advances you in the hiring process. If you’re chosen as a reference, carefully compose your message to highlight the positive qualities your contact could offer an employer. While the professional skills and job experience shared through a resume is important, a candidate’s personality, character and soft skills are also an important part of an employer’s final decision.
Related: How to Write a Character Reference for a Friend (With Examples)
Get the Job
Writing a strong letter of reference can help someone land their dream job. On the flip side, a poorly written letter could cost that same person the job. Knowing the difference -- between a good and bad letter -- is important. You can produce an excellent reference letter once you know a few simple tricks.
A good letter of reference needs to be solid and informative. It should tell the reader as much as possible, while being direct and brief. To do this, you have to know the person you are recommending rather well -- or at least appear to. Writing a letter when you have little knowledge or not much to say could actually do more harm than good. Ask the person requesting the letter for background information, a template or even a sample letter to make the process easier.
Consider the Audience
Knowing the target of the letter is key in determining what to write. Write the letter for the position or purpose it serves, not just as a general recommendation. A letter recommending someone for a job should be focused on those skills and qualities the employer will value, given the industry or type of job.
Explain the reasons behind your praise. Explain what you have seen this person do. Give brief examples that place the praise in context and help the employer envision what this person is like. For example, if you write about punctuality, describe how Sam has worked for you for over five years and has never been late once -- even on snow days.
While you might think that the job applicant is the only one being judged by your letter -- think again. Employers often take into consideration who wrote the letter. Be sure to maintain a professional tone and demeanor in your letter, be flawless with your grammar and list your title and qualifications, as appropriate.
A thank-you today could be a lawsuit tomorrow. In some cases it is a good idea to get written consent from the person you are writing the letter for. Protect yourself and your credibility by being honest and only discussing what you know. If you do not feel comfortable writing the letter, decline the request.
Professional Reference Letter Samples
If someone who works for you is moving to a new city or looking for a new opportunity, she or he may request a professional reference letter. This letter can be helpful during the job application process, whether the employee is moving to a position in a different division of the same company or to an entirely new employer.
In your capacity as a supervisor, you will likely get asked for references by your employees. Of course, it can be surprising to discover that someone is planning on moving on at a given time, for one reason or another. People transition to new jobs for many reasons, and it’s most often not a reflection of your management style, especially if they feel comfortable asking you for a reference.
Before you agree to provide a professional reference, make sure that you understand your employer’s policy on providing references to departing employees. Many companies now refuse to provide references, across the board, because of their legal departments’ fear of lawsuits. Your Human Resources department will know your company’s policy.
If you feel that you can give the person a glowing reference, you should. Be honest about their skills and qualifications, and provide specific anecdotes of their success on the job where you can.
Make sure that you ask them what reference letter format is required, and for a contact name where possible. If you don't feel that you can give a strong endorsement, here's how to turn down a request for a reference.
What to Include in a Professional Reference
Some information is standard to include in a reference letter. You will want to mention in what capacity and for how long you have known the employee, as well as highlighting his or her particular skills, abilities, and talents. The letter should also include your contact information so that potential new employers can easily follow up to ask more questions if necessary.
You might also want to ask the employee to give you copies of their resume and of the job postings they are applying for. This way, you’ll have information at hand to draw upon should a potential employer request additional information.
The job postings will also clue you into the professional skills you should most emphasize in your reference letter. If you can demonstrate how your employee possesses the “preferred qualifications” specifically listed in the job posting, you’ll increase his or her chances of being interviewed and hired.
Printed Letter Format
The following are examples of professional reference letters written for an employee who is job seeking. The first is written as a business letter and would be mailed or sent as a Word attachment to an email (which could be printed for an employee file):
- Start with your name, title, company, address, phone, and email information.
- Follow with the date and the hiring manager’s name, title, company, and address.
- Begin your letter with a salutation, followed by the body of your letter.
- End your letter with a business closing and your signature on a hard copy, followed by your typed name. Just your typed name needs to be included if you’re not printing the letter.
Professional Reference Letter Sample
You can use this sample as a model to write a professional reference letter. Download the template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online), or read the text version below.
Download the Word Template
Professional Reference Letter Sample (Text Version)
76 Main Street
Any City, State Zip Code
March 30, 2021
532 East 95th Street
Every City, State Zip Code
April Rango has been an employee here at TREX, Inc. for the past five years. She has been a pleasure to work with, bringing her attention to detail to every project. Her communication and people skills are excellent, and she has some very innovative ideas.
I can highly recommend her for the opportunity that you have available. It is a very similar position to the one she currently holds here, and she is well suited to the challenges it provides. April is a talented young woman, and everyone here wishes her all the best with her move to Every City.
If you need any additional information, please contact me.
Signature (hard copy letter)
Email Reference Format
The following is an example of an email reference letter.
If you are emailing the reference rather than typing a letter, the subject line of the email message should contain the name of the person you are providing the reference for (Example: “Professional reference for Joe Johnson”).
Email Reference Example
Professional Reference Email Sample
Subject line: Derrick White - Reference
Dear Ms. Chin,
I'm writing to recommend Derrick White. I've worked with Derrick for the past five years at ABC Event Planning Company; for three of those years, he was my direct report.
In the time I've known him, Derrick has consistently been a strong employee — capable of taking control of big projects and executing to the fullest. As well, he's a pleasure to work with. Derrick is cheerful in the face of daunting deadlines and always available to lend a hand to co-workers when necessary.
Rarely do you come across someone who is talented at both big picture ideas and executing the small details — Derrick is just that person. As an account supervisor here at ABC Event Planning Company, he pitches event plans to clients and then manages the client relationship from ideation through execution. Derrick would be a great fit for your company, building strong relationships and ensuring successful events.
I highly recommend Derrick as an employee at your company. He would be an asset to any organization. Please do not hesitate to be in touch if you have any further questions.
Director, ABC Event Planning Company
Review More Examples
Review more reference letter samples including academic, character, personal, business, and employment letters and emails.
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