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When applying for a job, it’s common to have a professional letter regarding 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.
If you are 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 their abilities to the position.
The main components of a good letter include the following:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Just as having a sample letter of recommendation from a former employer is helpful, so is the blueprint for a person reference. Here is an example of a character reference that would be ready to present to a prospective employer:
123 Generic Drive
Cityville, NC 12345
September 22, 2020
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 value event planner for your organization.
If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience.
Writing a personal reference letter can play a crucial role in an applicant getting hired–especially in a post-COVID job market –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:
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 opt to leave off the recipient’s contact information and include yours at the bottom of the email.
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.
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.
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.
What about when you need a reference for a new job? Or, maybe you need a reference for a fellowship or internship.
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.
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:
Fraternity or sorority members
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.
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.
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.
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