How To Write A Personal Reference Letter (With Examples)

By Sky Ariella - May. 13, 2021

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When you’re applying for jobs, employers don’t just want to hear what you think of yourself — they also want other people to vouch for you. While professional recommendations are ideal for showcasing your on-the-job skills, a personal recommendation can also improve your candidacy.

This is especially true for people who don’t have much (or any) formal work experience but still need someone to positively attest to their character and personality. If you’ve been asked to write a personal reference letter but don’t know where to start, you’re in the right place.

In this article, we’ll cover what a personal reference letter is, when applicants should use them, and how to write a recommendation letter that lands someone in your network more job opportunities.

What Is a Personal Reference Letter?

A personal reference letter, also known as a personal letter of recommendation or a character reference/recommendation, is a letter used to bolster a person’s application for a job, admission to a school or organization, housing, or any other position that screens applicants.

A glowing reference letter can make the difference between securing an opportunity and being passed on for the next candidate. Unlike professional references, a personal reference letter is about getting to know a candidate beyond work ethic.

It emphasizes positive personality traits and soft skills. Personal reference letters give an organization a sense of a person’s character outside of work and make their application stand out.

When to Provide a Personal Reference Letter

There are a few circumstances when providing a personal reference letter may be helpful to the success of an application. Personal recommendations often come into play with a candidate who doesn’t have much work experience but still has the potential to be a great employee or student.

For example, your letter could let a cautious employer know that the teenage neighbor who babysat for your kids is definitely responsible enough hiring. It can also be an important part of the loan process when making a large purchase, such as a home.

Before deciding how to ask someone to be your reference, you must figure out who to ask. People who can speak to these qualities in an enthusiastic character reference may include:

  • Past teachers

  • Clients

  • Family-friend

  • Coworker

  • Guidance Counselor

  • Anyone else who can effectively vouch for an applicant’s soft skills

The great thing about a character reference is that it’s personal. That means that the possibilities for people who can write it are as wide as your social network.

Should I Agree To Write a Personal Reference Letter for Someone?

Being asked to write someone a personal reference letter is a task that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It can carry a lot of weight in application success. It’s important to make sure you know the requester well enough to highlight their good, relevant qualities before you agree to write them a recommendation.

Writing a character reference for a childhood friend you haven’t seen since high school may come off as disingenuous and have a surprisingly negative impact. It’s best to politely decline if you can’t definitively speak to this person’s character.

What to Include in a Letter of Recommendation

Once you’ve decided that you’re the appropriate person to write a good recommendation, it’s time to get to business. There are a few key components that you should implement before the letter’s conclusion.

Your personal reference letter should include:

  1. An explanation of your relationship with the applicant. Before you jump into explaining someone’s personal character, catch the reader up to speed.

    Go into detail about where you know them from and how long you’ve been acquainted. It needs to be clear that you know the candidate well enough that your opinion on their character carries some weight.

  2. Examples of the applicant’s positive qualities. You’ve gone into depth about your relationship with the job candidate. In the next paragraph, provide what they came here to find out. Give as many positive attributes as possible, but a minimum of two.

    Some possibilities of good qualities you could touch on might include:

    • Excellent communication

    • Positive outlook

    • Outstanding academic performance

    • People skills

    • Dedication to extracurriculars

    When possible, try to give specific examples of times you witnessed the applicant demonstrating these qualities. Maybe your student showed initiative by creating a school newspaper. Perhaps you saw your previous co-worker demonstrate leadership skills by taking control of the company’s social media image.

    Tangible achievements and actions show the candidate’s potential.

  3. The official recommendation. The closure of your letter should be for summarizing the points you’ve made to reach the final conclusion: you highly recommend this person for the position.

    Try to relate the characteristics you’ve covered to the specific position the applicant is going for, whether that be a job, graduate school, or another opportunity. Leave the reader knowing the applicant has your full support.

Before Writing a Personal Reference Letter

Before you sit down to write your personal reference letter, have a conversation with the person you’re writing it for. Ask them what traits, skills, and experiences they’d like you to highlight.

If it’s for a job application, go over the job description together. Keep an eye out for soft skills to start brainstorming ideas for what to write about. For example, if the job description says that the job requires interdepartmental collaboration, you could write about a time your friend organized a club or brought a team together.

If you’re writing a personal reference letter for admission to a school, look over the program details. See what kind of qualities the school values most based on its mission statement and its interactions with the public through social media.

Arming yourself with knowledge about what the letter’s recipient wants to hear can make it much easier to start generating ideas for your personal reference letter.

10 Tips for Writing a Personal Reference Letter

  1. Be sure you’re the right person to write the letter. The team requesting a personal recommendation is looking for valuable insight into an applicant’s personality characteristics. You must be very familiar with the person in order to provide this effectively.

    If your description of the candidate is vague and lackluster, this can actually work against the candidates and decrease their chances of securing a position. It’s best practice to turn down writing a personal reference for someone who you don’t know well enough to speak to their good qualities.

  2. Know the deadline. It’s likely that there’s an application deadline in place. Make sure you know when it is and that you have enough time to complete the letter by the deadline.

    If you think that you might not be able to finish the letter in time, urge the applicant to find another personal reference. It’s better to give them time to find another recommender, as opposed to waiting until the last minute and realizing you can’t finish by the required deadline.

  3. Be honest. A personal reference letter for your student, friend, or co-worker is not the space for exaggeration or falsities. Regardless of the ethical concerns, a hiring manager or admissions counselor can sniff out when a referee is stretching the truth.

    This will reflect negatively on the applicant and lessen the recommender’s credibility. You can still express your friend as an outstanding candidate, without going over the top.

  4. Focus on positive attributes. Everyone has their weaknesses but when sending or writing a reference for employment, it’s best to stick to the strengths.

    Be candid with your recommendation. If you’re finding that the short-comings of the applicant are outweighing their strong points, someone else in their network should probably be writing the recommendation.

  5. Keep it brief. A personal recommendation letter shouldn’t be a full-length biography. Even though you have a lot of awesome things to say about the applicant, admission and hiring teams have a great deal of paperwork to go through for every candidate.

    The shorter and more straightforward your reference is, the more of an impact it will leave.

  6. Avoid getting too personal. This may sound like an ironic concept when discussing a personal reference letter. There is a difference between knowing a person’s characteristics well and divulging unnecessary personal information.

    Don’t include anything outside of the personality qualities and achievements that are relevant to the opportunity.

  7. Be polite and professional. While there are many possible reasons why a candidate might need a personal reference, all of them require a professional tone. Format your letter accordingly.

    This is especially important when you’re writing a recommendation for a friend. Avoid sounding too casual. It could come across as disreputable.

  8. Give specific examples. When showcasing the applicant’s skills, make sure that there’s evidence to back it up.

    If you’re saying that your student was hardworking, include an instance of when they went above and beyond on a project. If you’re stating that your neighbor is very responsible, tell them about the time that she watched your children for the weekend while you were out of town.

    Giving specified examples shows the hiring committee that these are not just free-floating concepts. The candidate has shown these characteristics in their achievements.

  9. Focus on relevant information. It’s easy to get into the positive personality traits of the person you’re writing a recommendation for. While it’s beneficial to bring up these qualities, be careful not to get lost in irrelevant details.

    Some things that you may think are special about the candidate may not be helpful in the context of their new job. Be sure it makes sense.

  10. Cater the letter to the desired position. Tailoring your recommendation to the desired position of the candidate goes hand-in-hand with relevant information. Try to get as much information about the opportunity as possible from the applicant. Some qualities may be more relevant in a particular position.

    For example, it may not be relevant for the average job-seeker to include that they have a pet or love animals in their letter of recommendation. However, if the position directly involves animal care, such as a veterinarian or a dog trainer, it may be very valuable information.

    Consider the relevance of the traits you’re including.

  11. Bonus tip: don’t forget to include your contact info. While you’re in the midst of considering all the things that will make this a winning personal reference, don’t forget to include your contact information.

    You never know if the hiring manager will need any additional information. It’s important for them to have a way to get back in touch.

Personal Reference Letter Template

Dear Mr./Ms. [Last Name],

My name is [Your Name]. I am reaching out to give my strongest recommendation for [Referee’s Full Name] for the [Job Title] position at [organization/company/university’s name].

I have been [Referee’s First Name]‘s [your relationship to the referee] for [how long you’ve known the referee] at [where you know them from]. During that time, I had experience working with [him/her/them] on [shared experience #1] and [shared experience #2].

During the years I’ve known [Referee’s First Name] as a [position of referee relative to you], [he/she/they] demonstrated incredible [soft skill #1], [soft skill #2], and [soft skill #3]. [He/She/They]‘s greatly improved [his/her/their] [skill referee has improved]. In [year], [Referee’s First Name] accomplished [significant accomplishment] with these qualities.

During the time I’ve known [Referee’s First Name], [he/she/they] has grown into a professional and capable individual with enormous potential. I believe that [his/her/their] tenacious personality and hardworking attitude will drive [him/her/them] to success. I know [he/she/they] will continue to do great things, and I highly recommend [him/her/them] for your [organization/company/university/etc.].

Please contact me if you’d like any further details.


[Your Full Name]
[Your Phone Number]
[Your Email Address]

Sample #1: Personal Recommendation From a Teacher

Subject Line: Personal Reference Letter for Anna Jacobs

Lindsey Stapleton
117 W California St.
Denver, CO, 80402

September 4, 2020

Benjamin Smith
Director of Admissions
Boston University
233 Bay State Rd.
Boston, MA, 02215

Dear Mr. Smith,

My name is Lindsey Stapleton. I am reaching out to give my strongest recommendation for Anna Jacobs to be accepted into Boston University for the Fall 2021 term. I have been Anna’s High School English teacher for the past two years at Merrick High School. Prior to that, I had experience working with her on the student government and the swim team.

During the years I’ve known Anna as a student and athlete, she’s demonstrated incredible leadership qualities, a caring demeanor, and a dedication to her education. She’s greatly improved her writing and reading skills. By her senior year, she secured the position of swim team captain with these qualities. On student government, she created a dance-a-thon fundraiser for breast cancer awareness.

Throughout her time at Merrick High School, Anna has grown into a professional and capable young woman with enormous potential. I believe that her tenacious personality and hardworking attitude will drive her to success. I know she will continue to do great things, and I highly recommend her for your university.

Please contact me if you’d like any further details.


Lindsey Stapleton

Sample #2: Personal Recommendation From a Friend

Subject Line: Personal Recommendation for Luke Barnes

Christopher Kelly
416 Memphis Ave.
Denver, CO, 80903

September 4, 2020

To Whom It May Concern,

I have known Luke Barnes as a close friend for the past twelve years. For the first five of those years, we were coworkers together at Lexington & West Bank. Over that time, I got to know Luke very well.

Luke is one of the most considerate and kind-hearted people I’ve ever met. Everybody loves to be around him, whether it’s in a work capacity or otherwise. Besides being an overall pleasant person, Luke is an excellent communicator. He’s never failed to soothe an angry client or expertly outline a proposal. Luke uses his sociability and communication skills to be an outstanding leader to his co-workers and friends.

For these reasons, I recommend Luke Barnes for this position wholeheartedly. I am positive that his work style and personality will exceed your expectations and help drive the success of your company.

If you have any other questions, please reach out.


Christopher Kelly

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Sky Ariella

Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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