Many organizations ask candidates to provide a character reference letter. Also known as a personal reference, it’s a request so the company can get a sense of what the applicant is like. If you’re listed as a reference on a resume, such as a colleague, friend or family, a business could likely reach out to you to provide a character reference.

Or, if you have somebody listed on your resume as a reference, the company you want to work for might reach out to them to learn more about you as a person. While it can be quite flattering, it can also be relatively nervy if you have never written a character reference letter before. 

If a company has reached out to you to provide a character reference letter and you have no idea where to begin, continue reading for our top tips and a sample you can use for inspiration.

What to include in a character reference letter

The critical thing to remember before you even accept the opportunity to write a character reference is if you can be positive about the person’s work ethic and personality. It’s an opportunity for the person to potentially land their dream role, so help them achieve that ambition if you can vouch for them.

If you can’t, don’t write the character reference letter and populate it with negative comments. If this is the case, reject the chance. However, if you can speak positively about them, here are some key elements you must include:

  • Highlight what your relationship is with the candidate. The company needs to know in what capacity you know the applicant to see if you’re best-placed to back their claims.
  • Also, mention how long you’ve known the candidate. The company wants to ensure you can vouch for them having known them for a suitable period, not over the past few weeks, so that you can give a true reflection.
  • The central part of your character reference letter should focus on a couple of the candidate’s strongest qualities and skills. Take your time to think about what makes them a great person or the qualities they possess that make them the perfect option and explain why.
  • When you mention specific skills and qualities, it’s a good idea to provide relevant, specific examples for each one to highlight how they showcased those skills and qualities in real-life situations.
  • Be sure to reaffirm that the candidate is a good fit for the position and you personally recommend them for the post.
  • Towards the end of the character reference letter, write your contact information that you’re willing to share on the off chance the employer needs to contact you again.
  • Before you send the letter, proofread and edit the character reference letter to appear professional and without any errors.

With these critical elements in mind, here’s a character reference letter example you can use.

Character reference letter sample

Remember, this is a character reference letter request. If you’re asked to create one, make sure to focus primarily on the person’s characteristics and personality, not necessarily from a work or professional setting, in case you’ve never worked with them before.

To whom it may concern,

I’m John Doe, Head of Innovation at The Software Development Company. I’m writing to you as I’d like to recommend David Mills for the Senior Software Engineer position at Another Software Development Company.

I’ve known David for five years now on a professional and personal basis, which leaves me best placed to recommend him for this role. David and I met when we were both attending a software development course when we ran into each other looking to expand our knowledge and boost our resumes during the winter.

David is one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met. Out of everybody on the course, he showed the most passion for this industry than anybody I’ve ever come across. As we got closer and recommended clients to each other, I witnessed his work ethic first-hand. He not only finds the time to do his day job, but he also somehow balances family life with courses and also volunteering.

He’s a great leader, too. He’s stepped up in times of need during group projects and facilitated sessions to keep them on track when it was needed. There was once an incident when the course leader couldn’t make it, yet David took it upon himself to continue the session on skills he had, but others didn’t, ensuring we all left with something valuable.

For all of the reasons I’ve mentioned, I highly recommend David once again for this position. I believe he’ll be a tremendous asset to your team and a great addition to the company. If you have any more questions or need more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me on [your phone number] or [your email address].

Kind regards

[Your name].”

The character references example above features all of the key elements needed to make it effective. When writing one, use this template and tweak it to suit the scenario and candidate you’re writing about.

Tips for writing a character reference letter

No two character reference letter is the same. There will be subtle nuances that make it tailored to a specific person, company or piece of experience that you may need to dive into. Before getting started, take a look at our top tips to ensure your character reference letter does the candidate justice — or share these tips with the person who has agreed to write one about you.

Don’t agree right away

Always think before immediately agreeing to be a character reference and if you’re asked to support the applicant with a character reference letter. If you’re 100% confident you can write one that’s positive and honest, then go ahead and write one. If you have doubts, then don’t do the candidate a disservice and avoid writing one altogether.

The last thing you want is to agree to be a character reference, only to write a weak or negative letter that jeopardizes their chances. If it isn’t for you, politely ask them to choose somebody else.

Gather all of the information

As exciting as it can be to help a friend, family member or colleague with a character reference letter, don’t let the excitement get the better of you. Instead, be patient and collate all of the relevant information you need. Some ideas include:

  • Do you know the job title they’re applying for?
  • Do you know the name of the company or the person you’re writing to?
  • Do you know the method of submitting the character reference letter?
  • Do you know when the deadline is?

Make sure you have all of this critical information on hand before writing the letter. It’s a good idea to get a copy of the person’s resume and the link to the job application so you can cross-reference the skills to pinpoint real-life examples to share. It’s also worth browsing the company website to find their values so you can explain why the candidate will be a good fit.

Always be specific

Being vague will only raise more questions from the hiring manager. Trying to cover a range of skills and qualities with little substance won’t make it a strong character reference. Instead, use the job listing to find the skills and qualities most important for the role and company and then touch on two or three with actual examples to support the candidate.

Make the recommendation

It sounds simple, but it’s often the one thing people forget to add when writing a character reference letter. In it, you’ll need to specifically state that you recommend the candidate — then explain why.

Keep it brief

You need to find the right balance of writing enough, so it showcases the qualities and personality of the candidate, but not so much that it becomes a chore to read. Try to keep it to one page and no more than five short paragraphs to get your points across. If there’s anything repetitive or irrelevant, take it out.

Edit with a critical eye

This isn’t a time to be sensitive to what you’re writing. Have somebody else read over your character reference letter, so you get a second opinion and enough time to make any necessary changes.

Final thoughts

When it’s your turn to provide a character reference, choose someone you know well enough and ideally in the same industry. Also, ask for a recommendation after each position, so you get written proof of your achievements, skills and qualities to show future employers.

Character reference letters are essential documents as it promotes qualities relevant to the role. The company wants to know they’re hiring a good, positive person that will be a welcomed addition to the team. The person submitting the request offers a different perspective and tries their best to essentially convince the reader to give the applicant the job.

When it’s your turn to ask for a recommendation, expect them to follow these tips and a similar format to help you land your dream role. For tips, tricks and advice on everything career-related, make sure to check out our blog today.

See 40 new senior developer profiles every 2 weeks and get notified about upcoming hiring events!

See 40 new senior developer profiles every 2 weeks and get notified about upcoming hiring events!

Subscribe to our newsletter

You have Successfully Subscribed!