Character Reference Letter Sample and Tips

By Chris Kolmar
Jul. 3, 2022

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When applying for a job, it’s common for companies to request a list of professional references who can speak to your abilities and experiences on the job.

A character reference letter, however, is a different type of recommendation letter.

A character reference letter is an account of your traits and skills from a person who is not a previous employer (hence why it is also called a “personal reference”).

There are instances where you may need to request a personal reference to help gain employment, or you could be asked to write one. In either case, getting tips on character references and reviewing a sample can help give you more insight.

Key Takeaways:

  • A character reference letter, also known as a personal reference letter, is a letter written by someone who has a personal relationship with an applying candidate.

  • A character reference letter is helpful when you lack professional references or need a reference for something outside a job opportunity.

  • Family friends, mentors, organization members are all good people to use as character references./p>

  • A character reference letter should be well written, positive, and give a clear endorsement.

  • A character reference letter should be between 200-400 words.


What Is a Character Reference Letter?

A character reference letter, also known as a personal reference letter, is a document written by a contact of a candidate for a job, school, or admission to any organization. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be covering character reference letters for a job opportunity.

Character references attest to the integrity, work ethic, and other soft skills possessed by the job candidate. Notably, a character reference does not cover the candidate’s professional capabilities, because, by definition, a character reference has no knowledge of the candidate’s on-the-job hard skills.

While professional references are more impactful for job opportunities, a character reference is better than nothing. After all, companies need employees that are great to work alongside just as much as they need skilled employees.

A character reference letter shows that someone who has or had a meaningful relationship with you has a lot of positive things to say, which puts a recruiter’s mind at ease when hiring you.

When You Need a Character Reference Letter

There are times when a character reference is a better fit than a professional letter of recommendation, whether it be due to limited job experience or for a reason outside of your career.

For example, you might be required to list personal references for a new car application. No matter the reason for the letter, the ultimate goal of the requestor is to gain insight on who you are as a person.

Who to Ask for a Character Reference

Throughout the letter the writer will have to detail your relationship to each other, so the better you know them the more natural the letter will be–and perhaps easier to write.

Your personal reference should be anyone who truly knows your character and can easily provide examples. Whereas a professional recommendation limits you to a person you have worked with or for, a character reference can be someone from a membership group, family friend, or a close neighbor.

You may be able to get a good reference from:

  • Co-volunteers

  • Fraternity or sorority members

  • Church members

  • Sports teammates

  • Neighbors

  • Family friends

  • Advisors

  • Counselors

When to Provide a Character Reference

Most of the time if an employer wants a character reference, they will mention it during the interview process. They might request them with your initial application packet along with your professional references. Reference checking is important to recruiters, so chances are you will be asked for one if not both.

You may make the decision on your own to submit personal references if you do not have a vast work history. Another time when character references make sense is if your previous employer will not provide a positive review.

A negative letter may hurt your chances and should be avoided. Having someone close to you speak to your character and qualifiable traits can fill in any gaps.

What to Include in a Character Reference Letter

If you’re writing a character reference, that means that you must know the job candidate on a personal level. This is crucial, as the letter needs to highlight their transferable skills in a way that the employer can relate to their professional capabilities.

The main components of a good letter include the following:

  1. How you know the candidate. At the beginning of your letter, you should clearly state your relationship to the applicant. This does not have to be a long paragraph, just be as specific as possible.

  2. The length of your relationship. Employers want to know how long you have known the job seeker. Is this a relatively new relationship or have you been able to gauge their personality for years?

  3. Positive traits. Throughout the body of your letter you should speak to the qualities that may make the person a good fit for the job.

    Pick their most valuable skills that would make them a strong candidate, such as being hard-working, collaborative, excellent at communication, or highly analytical. You can choose two to three relevant skills, making sure to include concrete examples of each.

  4. A clear endorsement. The purpose of the document is to help the applicant gain employment, which means that this should be clearly stated within the letter.

    After describing the personal qualities of the applicant, close out by noting that those traits and experiences lead you to believe they would be a valuable member of the company.

  5. Your contact information. The final step of the letter is to include your contact information. Provide the employer with at least two ways to reach you in case any follow-up is needed.

How to Request a Character Reference Letter

The most important aspect of requesting the letter is who you ask. You already have a good idea of how to narrow this down, but just remember that the best piece of starting advice is to choose the right person — someone who can honestly speak to the qualities you’d like highlighted in a reference letter.

From there, make sure to ask this person well ahead of when you need the letter. You want to give a reasonable timeframe in order to write the letter. To help expedite the process, send them your resume and other pertinent details as soon as they say yes.

If asking by email, simply reply with your statement of appreciation and attach or link your background documents. Also give a firm but realistic deadline to meet.

As you wait, feel free to give a follow-up email if you are within a few days of the requested date. Ask if there is anything you can do to be helpful, or if any more information is needed.

Once you get the letter back, send a thoughtful thank-you note that sums up your sincere gratitude.

How to Write a Character Reference Letter

Writing a personal reference letter can play a crucial role in an applicant getting hired, and you should take this into consideration.

If you do not feel that you can accurately depict a person’s character, you should kindly decline and the applicant can continue down their list of potential references.

If, however, you feel that you can help present the job seeker in a positive light and attest to their skills, here are some character reference letter writing tips:

  1. Focus on the format.Formatting should be your first consideration, as it will help structure your overall letter. When writing a traditional letter, you can use the same template that you would use for just about any reference letter.

    This includes contact information for yourself and the recipient at the top, with the current date in between.

    Then move onto the body of the letter and a closing salutation with signature.

    The layout will vary slightly for email, where you may should leave off the recipient’s contact information and include yours at the bottom of the email, after your signature.

  2. Get background information. Ask the applicant to provide details of their qualifications and skills. This can often be accomplished by simply requesting a copy of their resume.

    You will also need to know their intended job title and what their position entails. By having these details, you can better select certain skills and cater them to the role. Asking for a link to the job posting or for a general description will be helpful.

  3. Keep it on topic. You want the character letter to be as clear and concise as possible, focusing on personal traits that are relevant in a professional setting. Picking no more than three traits will help to ensure that your letter is specific to the task and will be easy for the hiring manager to read.

  4. Reread your document. Though this is not a letter for your personal pursuits, you still want to treat it as if you are the applicant that is being considered.

    Grammatical errors are unprofessional, and you want to make the candidate look as desirable as possible to the employer. Reread your letter and check for any spelling or contextual mistakes that may be present.

Character Reference Letter Tips

Regardless of whether you’re asking for or writing a character reference letter, keep these tips in mind:

  • Specifity matters. Talking about someone’s skills is great, but it doesn’t really prove anything. It’s much more impactful to provide a few specific examples of the referee’s soft skills in action.

    For example, rather than say that the person is a determined and resilient individual, talk about how they worked two jobs while earning a bachelor’s degree and starting their own blog. Actions always speak louder than words, and the more detailed you can be, the more alive the candidate becomes on the page.

  • Be 100% positive. Reference letters (both professional and personal) should be entirely positive. The character reference should sound as though they have no reservations about recommending the referee for the job.

  • Mimic the job description. Whether you’re trying to guide your character reference on what to write, or you’re the writer trying to come up with good content, turn to the job description. Look for words that are repeated or otherwise emphasized — they’re probably extra important.

    Then, look for ways to incorporate similar language into your character reference letter.

  • Keep it short. Character reference letters don’t need to be especially long. About a half page to a page in length, with 3-4 paragraphs and 200-400 words should be plenty to say everything that needs saying. Plus, you can always leave your contact information and an invitation for further contact at the bottom of the letter.

    That way, the hiring manager can call or send you an email if they have further questions.

Character Reference Letter Examples

Just as having a sample letter of recommendation from a former employer is helpful, so is the blueprint for a person reference. Here are a few examples of character reference letters that would be ready to present to a prospective employer:

Character Reference Letter for a Friend

Amanda Teller
123 Generic Drive
Cityville, NC 12345

September 22, 2020

Alice Smith
Staff Coordinator
Expert Events
567 Business Rd.
Cityville, NC 12345

Dear Ms. Smith,

It has been my pleasure to know Michael Long for the last ten years. He was a classmate at our alma mater Penn State, where he is also a coordinator for local chapter alumni events. Michael also has planned several events for my restaurant as well as other special occasions.

Michael has a keen eye for detail and is extremely imaginative, showing great dedication to events. His foresight has allowed him to transform my ideas into appealing design aesthetics. Also, an effective communicator, Michael has been able to successfully liaison with various vendors allowing me to focus solely on my guests.

Being that Michael has been able to expertly plan my events ranging from food tastings to my anniversary party, I believe he would be a valuable event planner for your organization.

If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience.


Amanda Teller

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What should a character reference include?

  2. There are five elements a character reference should include. They are: how you know the candidate, the length of your relationship, positive traits of the candidate, a clear endorsement, and contact information. These elements should be direct, grammatically correct, and written in a positive tone.

  3. Who can I use for a character reference?

  4. Your character reference should be someone who knows you well and can speak definitively about you. Preferably this should be someone NOT in your immediate family, as they can come across as biased. It is better to pick either close family friends, mentors, or members of organizations you belong to because these are people who can make judgement calls about your character.

  5. Can I use a character reference for a job application?

  6. You should only use a character reference if directly asked or if you do not have any professional references. Generally professional references are better for job applications because they speak directly about your relevant skills. However, sometimes it is not possible to obtain a professional reference. There are also times when organizations like to hear from people in your personal life. In these cases, it is OK to use a character reference.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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