Character reference: definition, examples and writing tips

Updated 21 July 2023

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A person sits and writes on a piece of paper under a heading that says, "character reference letter sample and tips" between this text:

Only write a character reference for someone whose qualities you can speak to directly

Ask for an up-to-date resume and details about the opportunity for which they need a reference

Get submission details including the recipient's name and email and the due date

Include specific examples of how they've displayed relevant qualities and character traits

A character reference gives employers a third-party perspective of your strengths and qualities when they're considering you for a role. While CVs are great at highlighting key work experience and qualifications, a character reference focuses more on the personal traits that benefit the candidate in a professional setting. In this article, we explore what a character reference is, why they're important and how to write one with tips and samples.

What is a character reference?

A character reference, also known as a personal reference, is a letter written by someone who knows you and can attest to your personal qualities. Usually, a character reference is written by someone who has not worked with you on a professional basis, but knows you on a personal level and can speak for your abilities, such as a friend, teammate or coach. This helps employers get a better picture of who you are and helps them to know whether or not you would be a good fit for the role in question.

Why is a character reference important?

There are lots of benefits in providing a character reference for an application for a job or another academic or professional opportunity. These include:

Promoting qualities that are relevant to the role

Character references can be adjusted in terms of the job or position you're applying for, highlighting the relevant personal traits that will benefit you most within the role. Someone who knows you personally can promote you in this way, providing examples of how your characteristics make you a great candidate for the job or role.

Providing a different perspective

While other documents like your CV and cover letter are written from your perspective, character references are great when it comes to an employer finding out more about you from someone else's point of view. Whether it's endorsing your reliability or discussing your work ethic, the character reference will give a strong insight into all your best qualities.

Backing up what's in your other documents

In your CV and cover letter, you probably mentioned plenty of personal qualities and skills that would benefit you in the job. A character reference is a great way of backing these claims up from the perspective of a third party.

How to write a character reference

A character reference should be professional and concise, covering around one full page. You should only accept a request to provide a character reference if you know the applicant well enough to speak in a positive manner about their traits and qualities that relate to the job or role in question.

Generally, a good character reference should include the following five pieces of information:

1. Start off by discussing your relationship with the applicant

In the first paragraph of the character reference, introduce yourself and state how you know the applicant, being as specific as you can. Explain in what capacity you know them and what makes you qualified to write their character reference.

2. Establish how long you have known the applicant

Next, state how long you have known this person as accurately as possible. Link this in with the option above, stating first how you know them and then how long you have known them.

3. Talk about their positive qualities and give examples

Provide three to five personal qualities of the candidate. A few examples of positive traits are strong communication skills, a good work ethic, a passionate and dedicated attitude and commitment to a particular cause. Back each statement up with an example of how the candidate has demonstrated these qualities.

4. Finish with a recommendation for the position

Conclude the character reference by reaffirming that the candidate is a good fit for the position and state that you personally recommend them for the role.

5. Include your contact information

Before you sign the character reference, include at least two pieces of contact information, such as your personal phone number or email address, stating that they are welcome to contact you if they have additional questions or require further information.

Who to ask for a character reference

You can ask anyone to write you a character reference if you are confident that they can speak positively of you and provide examples to back up their claims.

Here are a few good examples of strong character reference contacts:

  • Teacher

  • Coach

  • Co-worker or co-volunteer

  • Friend

  • Neighbour

  • Classmate

  • Customer or client

Choosing the right character reference is essential when applying for a job or other position. If you're chosen to be someone's character reference, carefully write your letter to set out all the good qualities the candidate can bring to the employer.

Tips for finding a character reference

If there comes a time when you need to ask someone to provide a character reference for you, here are some tips to help you decide on who to ask:

  • Choose someone who knows you well enough. When deciding who to choose to write your character reference, opt for someone who knows you well and can talk confidently about your personal strengths.

  • Choose someone in a relevant industry. If you can, use a person as your character reference who is in the industry you are applying for. For example, if you're applying to a graduate job in journalism, a strong character reference contact would be a journalism tutor or someone who worked alongside you in the university newspaper.

  • Obtain recommendations after every position. You should ask for recommendations straight after leaving a position or course, particularly if you worked well with the person in question. This is a great way to obtain written proof of your achievements within a certain role, to show to any future employers.

Character reference samples

Here are two examples of strong and impactful character references that demonstrate the applicant's personal qualities:

Character Reference Sample 1

To whom it may concern at Timworth Publishing,

I'm Laura Davies, a volunteer at the local library. I am writing to you to recommend Mark Turner for the position of Publishing Assistant at Timworth Publishing. I know Mark both on a professional and personal basis and feel I am qualified to recommend him for this role.

Mark and I met through volunteering at the library every Saturday two years ago. On top of this, Mark has helped me on a personal level to establish my blog and boost traffic and engagement to my website.

Mark is one of the most dedicated people I have ever met and he has a passion for publishing stronger than any I have ever encountered. He has an exceptional work ethic, never missing a day of volunteering at the library in the time that I have known him.

He is also a strong team player, having often volunteered to cover additional shifts at the library when it was needed. Once, there was an incident at the library in which a fellow volunteer was injured. Mark stayed with him until the ambulance arrived and worked later than required to cover the missing volunteer's tasks.

For the above reasons, I recommend Mark once again for the position of Publishing Assistant at Timworth Publishing. I believe he would be a valuable asset to your company and a fantastic addition to the team.

If you have any additional questions or require any more information, please feel free to contact me on [phone number] or [email address].

Yours Sincerely,

Laura Davies

Character Reference Sample 2

Dear Hiring Manager,

My name is Andrew Baker and I'm writing this character reference for Gina Nici to recommend her for the position of P.E. Teacher at Grimsbury Grammar School. Having known Gina on a personal basis for a long time, I feel I am the right person to recommend her for this position.

I met Gina five years ago when I joined her weekly fitness class, and have remained close friends with her ever since. I also still attend the fitness class.

Gina is a reliable individual who is dedicated to helping people in her class achieve their goals, going above and beyond to assist them, which I feel will be a crucial characteristic within this role. In addition, Gina has strong communication skills and gives instructions clearly and concisely, another quality that is essential for a teacher. She is also a kind-hearted and considerate person who cares deeply for others. For example, Gina once stayed behind with me and dedicated a further half an hour of her time to help me perfect a certain routine that I was struggling with.

Therefore, I am again recommending Gina Nici for the position of P.E. Teacher at Grimsbury Grammar School. She would be a valuable addition to the school's staff and an excellent teacher to the pupils there.

Please contact me on [email address] or [phone number] if you would like any more information.

Yours Faithfully,

Andrew Baker

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