Resumes & Cover Letters

What is a Character Reference Letter? (With Tips and Samples)

May 27, 2021

A character reference letter gives companies a third-party corroboration of an applicant's character traits and personal attributes. Application documents such as resumes showcase professional qualifications, while a personal or character reference letter elaborates on traits that help a person do well in their job. In this article, we provide examples and tips to help you craft a helpful character reference letter or request someone to give you one.

What is a personal or character reference letter?

A personal or character reference is a testament provided by a person known to the job applicant that serves as an affirmation of the aspirant's personal attributes. It is typically written not by persons who have worked with the applicant professionally, but by people who can vouch for the candidate's character and abilities such as a family friend, volunteer leader or coach. This gives companies insights into the candidate's traits and personality, and helps them understand if the aspirant would be able to fit in culturally in their enterprise.

Some employers may ask applicants to provide a character reference along with their application. They may request references before interviews or afterward as a step before making a role offer.

Related: Personal vs. Professional References: What's the Difference?

How to craft a character reference letter

If a contact asks you to give a personal reference for them, accept their request only if you know enough about the individual to vouch for them. You should have positive things to say about the applicant's job-related personal qualities.

Include the following five elements in the personal reference letter you provide:

1. Explain your relationship with the applicant

Elaborate on how you know the aspirant. Be specific and say, for instance, “I was a volunteer along with John in a charity organisation,” or “I know Lauren as she stays next door and has worked as a babysitter for my children.”

2. State how long you've been acquainted with the applicant

State the number of years you have been acquainted with the person. For instance, “I have known Shawn for over five years, including four years in college," or “Eileen and I worked in the same office for three years.”

3. Share positive qualities with examples

Share a few personal traits that can help the employer understand the applicant and how they can benefit the company. Include qualities and pertinent soft skills like commitment to quality, efficiency, positive attitude, leadership abilities, communication skills, dedication and others.

4. Offer a recommendation statement

Close your letter by declaring your recommendation. For instance, “Based on her attributes, I recommend Emily for this position as I feel she can be a valuable asset to your company.”

5. Provide your contact info

Offer your contact details like your phone number and email address so the employer can get in touch with you if they deem it necessary.

Related: How to Ask for a Character Reference

Sample personal reference letters

Review these examples of well-crafted personal reference letters that showcase the applicant's best traits with solid examples while ensuring the message is impactful and brief:

Sample 1

Dear Hiring Manager,

I have been acquainted with Michael Chang for over four years. We met while volunteering for a local charity club and he also worked as a consultant for my business, assisting me to improve the web traffic of my website.

Michael is an innovative, hardworking and dedicated person. He is kind and compassionate and does his best to help people in need. During our volunteer days, an events coordinator fell sick which put a planned children's party in jeopardy. Michael stepped up to accept the role and ensured the party went off well. He even worked late and during weekends to get the job done.

Michael has a contagious positive attitude and you can rely on him to remain cool even in stressful situations.

For the above reasons, I recommend Michael for the position of marketing manager and assure you that he will be a worthy asset to your organisation and team.

You can contact me any time to get answers to your questions.


Emily Yang

Phone: +65 XXXX XXXX


Sample 2

Dear Coordinator,

Sue Wong has played in our club's soccer team for the past few years. I am also a friend of her family.

I know Sue well and can vouch for her positivity, dedication and self-discipline. She has a passion for camaraderie and teamwork which has boosted our soccer team. For instance, when we lost a few games, Sue thought our team should re-focus on the main things. So, she organised teambuilding activities to bring the players closer. This proactive attitude and action immensely helped our team regain the winning touch.

I was happy when Sue told me she wished to volunteer at your social organisation. I assure you she is enthusiastic and committed towards this wonderful opportunity. I recommend Sue for the position as she can deliver valuable assistance to your cause.

I'm willing to answer any questions you may have, so feel free to get in touch with me.

Best regards,

Shanti Ponmaran

Phone: +65 XXXX XXXX


Tips for a strong reference letter

Keep the following things in mind when you're creating a letter for a contact or asking an acquaintance to craft a testament for you:

  • Keep it positive. Avoid listing the person's professional or personal shortcomings in the letter. Applicants should choose references who can speak well about them. References should agree only if they think they can genuinely authenticate the applicant's best qualities.
  • Give specific examples. It's essential to include detailed and helpful examples that illustrate and support the contact's qualities to help employers understand how the applicant may perform in different real-life situations.
  • Keep it concise. Ensure the letter is just a single page as hiring managers and recruiters are busy people who consider several applicants for an open role. Keep the letter brief but descriptive to ensure it is read entirely by employers.
  • Avoid private information. Do not provide details about the contact's intimate matters or personal struggles that they may not want to share with prospective employers.

When to request a personal reference

Personal reference letters can be asked by professional organisations, volunteer opportunities, universities or employers.

You can offer a character reference to your prospective employer even if they don't request it. This additional info can be handy if you are applying for your first job and thus don't have any professional references to provide or if you're reentering the workforce after some years.

Who to request a personal reference

You can ask someone who knows you relatively well personally or professionally to provide a character reference for you. The following people can generally offer excellent personal references:

  • Friend or neighbour
  • Fellow student in your college
  • Professional or personal mentor
  • Academic advisor or professor
  • Business acquaintance or vendor
  • Customer or client
  • Volunteer leader or co-volunteer
  • Coach
  • Coworker

Avoid selecting someone in your family like your in-laws or spouse as their references may not be considered objective. Character references from a colleague or teacher are therefore preferable as they will be taken more seriously.

Help your contact prepare a relevant personal reference letter for you by giving them details about the job and your recent resume. Let them know in advance so that they get enough time to craft the letter. After they provide your personal reference, thank them with a call or email.

How to Craft a Personal Reference for a Friend

If a friend asks you to prepare a personal reference for them, follow the below steps:

1. Ensure you are qualified

Accept the responsibility only if you are confident you know the applicant well enough to vouch for their character. Speak on the subjects that you know about regarding the candidate. If you have known the person for some time, elaborate on how their personality has grown and improved over time. If you are colleagues at work, explain a situation when your friend proved their character in the office.

2. Learn about your audience

Ask your contact if they plan to submit the letter for all their role applications or to a specific employer. Learn about your audience, so you can customise the reference accordingly, similar to a resume. For instance, if your contact is applying for the position of a teacher, you can detail their approachable personality, patience and kindness.

If your friend is applying to study medicine, you can emphasise their positive attitude, moral values and work ethic. If the reference is intended for general utilisation, you could include a range of comments that can be used for multiple job fields and industries.

3. Be honest

Try to remain objective and honest even if the person is a close friend. Do not give false impressions about them but craft a sincere letter about their admirable qualities. If you exaggerate their traits and skills, you might end up hurting their chances as the employer might not believe you.

Start by recalling particular examples where you saw certain good elements of your contact's character, then briefly narrate an instance that shows their selflessness, generosity or integrity so that the employer can understand how you've assessed your friend's character.

4. Make it simple to read

As hiring managers read numerous character references, they will know how to quickly scan letters to find the needed information. Therefore, write a well-structured and concise letter that clearly communicates your message and engages the attention of the reader.


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