Character Reference Letter 101 (Sample Template Included) (2024)

Character Reference Letter 101 (Sample Template Included) (1)By Mike Simpson

We are all familiar with the traditional reference letter (often referred to as a letter of recommendation). It is an employer’s note of your professional conduct.

While not always in letter form, providing professional references is a key component of any job application.

A lesser known variety of the reference paradigm is the character reference letter.

I can hear the sighs abound.

“Another reference letter? I have already spoken to every employer I have ever had. I have made a list of every address I’ve lived at and every landlord. Who do they want to hear from this time, the Queen of England?”

Worry not.

No one expects to hear from the Queen, though if you think you can get her on the phone it surely wouldn’t hurt.

The character reference is actually the least painful of all references. For once, you have significant control. The Queen need not make an appearance.

What Is A Character Reference Letter?

A character reference letter is written by someone who knows you personally. Instead of highlighting your professional skills and qualities, this letter is meant to speak to your personal qualities.

These are at least equal in importance, if not significantly more important.

You can teach skills on the job. Teaching character is a whole other animal.

When Are Character Reference Letters Used?

An employer can ask for a character reference at any time, but there are certain situations in which you should provide one independent of being asked.

A character reference is a great way to bolster an otherwise weak application. If you have little job experience or your professional references are merely good, a character reference can be the boost you need to land your job of choice.

They are also useful if you will be working with a particular set of people, such as children or the elderly, and do not have work experience in their field. A note about your abilities and experiences working with this demographic may be your golden ticket.

What Should Be Included In Your Character Reference

A character reference should include:

  1. Overview of how the writer knows you
  2. A listing of your positive characteristics with examples
  3. A general recommendation
  4. Contact details

You should mention these elements to your reference writer. It is especially important that you ask them to include examples.

A sentence that says “Tom is trustworthy” is not nearly as strong a recommendation as sharing a story about “that time Tom returned a suitcase of money he found in the street its rightful owner.”

Don’t worry – the story doesn’t need to be quite so heroic. Something simple, but illustrative will do the trick.

Who To Ask For A Reference Letter

Character Reference Letter 101 (Sample Template Included) (2)

Your reference letter should be written by someone who knows you well.

However, you want to avoid family members. As tempted as you are to call your mom, how valuable will her glowing recommendation really be?

A distant relative will work in a pinch, but better to choose a family friend or someone you’ve worked with in an informal capacity.

A volunteer supervisor, neighborhood parent for whom you have babysat, or close friend of many years would be excellent choices.

Best Tips for How to Ask for a Character Reference Letter

1. Be Gracious

It is a little known fact that people generally like to help each other out. Asking for help can be awkward, but is usually well received. This is especially true if the person you are speaking to likes you.

We highly suggest you choose someone who likes you to write your character reference letter. To be gracious is to be courteous, kind, and pleasant. These are always qualities to strive for, but especially so when asking for a favor.

2. Be Specific

Make sure that your reference writer knows the specifics of their mission.

  • When will you need it to be complete?
  • Where should they send it?
  • What is the job for which you are applying?
  • What attributes would you especially like them to speak to?

The more specific your request, the easier the task at hand. You are already asking a favor, so you should make your writer’s task as straightforward and easy to accomplish as possible.

3. Explain Your Choice

There is no greater motivator to help someone than a heartfelt explanation of why they are the best person for the job.

Explain to your writer why you have come to them and why you feel they are in a particularly good position to write your character reference.

As an aside, a tiny bit of ego stroking never hurt anyone. Just don’t lay it on too thick.

Tips On How to Write a Character Reference Letter

1. Provide Details About How You Know the Candidate

The very first part of your letter should show the employer that you are indeed a trustworthy source of information.

  • How long have you known the candidate, and in what capacity?
  • What makes you a good character reference?

If your history with the candidate does not make you an ideal reference, you should advice them to look elsewhere for their letter.

2. Get the Details of the Position

If you are writing the letter for a specific position, make sure to get the details and write your reference with the skills needed in mind.

A paragraph about the candidate’s creativity might be less relevant if they are applying to can avocados. Avocado canning is not a particularity creative endeavor, unless perhaps you know something about avocados that we have missed. Attention to detail, in this case, would be more appropriate.

If the job involves working with a specific group of people, such as children or the elderly, than a comment relating to their interactions with this group may go a long way towards helping them get the job.

3. Ask the Candidate What They’d Like to See

This is especially important when writing a general character references. Without a job description to guide you, there are innumerable qualities that can be highlighted in your letter.

Ideally, the candidate should know the types of positions for which they will be applying. This can help them to guide your emphasis towards the most appropriate and important qualities.

Even if your letter is for a specific job, you should ask the candidate what they’d like to see. Sometimes the most important qualities are not obvious from a job description, but may have come through in an interview. In this case, the candidate should be able to provide additional information.

4. Provide Examples

A picture is worth a thousand words. The same is true of an example. As mentioned, the way to drive home an important quality or characteristics that your candidate possesses is to show this quality in action.

Provide examples for your most important points. These need not be full-blown narratives. Simple examples will suffice.

5. Keep It Short

Your character reference letter should not be multiple pages long. One page is more than enough. Three paragraphs will be plenty in most cases.

Character Reference Letter Sample Template

Below, please find an example of a good character reference letter you can use as a template.

To Whom it May Concern:

I am writing to recommend Greg Sterling for any position to which he might apply. I have had the pleasure of knowing Greg for the last decade. I became Greg’s youth soccer coach when he was eight years old and he has since become my right-hand man on the field. Greg was a sincere, kind, and generous kid. He has since grown into a mature, responsible young man.

Greg has been volunteering as assistant coach for the past two years. He is excellent with the young players. He navigates their development, both in terms of practical skills and in terms of character, with the maturity of someone twice his age. He is fair, but also has high standards. He is the first to commend one of the boys for a job well done, and also the first to reprimand poor behavior. Teasing among our players has stopped since they have had Greg as a role model and leader.

Working with youth sports has also given Greg the opportunity to develop customer service skills. He has truly excelled. One parent arrived on the field scathing over his child being sat on the bench for the majority of the game, and left ten minutes later apologizing. Greg has a way with people and this shines through in all that he does.

Greg would be an asset to any company and to any team. I highly recommend Greg Sterling for any position to which he might apply. Feel free to contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx for additional information.

David Crone

Putting It All Together

A character reference is your time to shine. You control who writes it and can guide the writer towards the best possible letter for the position you hope to land.

In a way, this is even better than getting the Queen on the phone. She may be a reputable source, but she is just as likely to report the bad as the good.

You can easily ensure that your character reference letter is all good. This is why many applicants present a character letter without having been asked for one. It never hurts to have one more tool in your job hunting toolbox.

If you are looking for more information about recommendation letters instead, please check out our article Letter or Recommendation 101!

Mike Simpson( Co-Founder and CEO )

Co-Founder and CEO of Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at

His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others.

Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.

Character Reference Letter 101 (Sample Template Included) (2024)


What should a character reference letter include? ›

If you are writing a character reference letter for someone you know, follow these steps:
  • Add a heading. Address the letter to the hiring manager. ...
  • Be specific. ...
  • Include your relationship. ...
  • Give them a recommendation. ...
  • Provide your contact information.
Aug 30, 2022

What is an example of a character reference letter? ›

Character Reference Letter Example (Text Version)

I have known Jane Doe in a variety of capacities for many years. She has been my daughter's riding instructor for the past several years. In addition, she is my partner in a small business where she is responsible for writing and editing articles and website content.

What is the proper format for a reference letter? ›

Reference Letters: Structure/Template
  1. Addressee name and address (if known)
  2. Date.
  3. Salutation ('To whom it may concern', or 'Dear Sir or Madam', or 'Dear <title> <surname>')
  4. Confirm dates, job title(s) capacity, and salary and benefits details if required/appropriate.

What is usually asked in character reference? ›

Once contacted, the reference information is verified and / or completed while the following questions are asked: How long have you known the applicant? What can you tell me about the applicant's reason for changing jobs? If provided the opportunity, would you hire the applicant?

What does a judge look for in a character letter? ›

The goal of a character letter is to cast the defendant in the most favorable light possible. A character letter to a judge should establish your credibility, paint a full picture of the defendant and be respectful, among other things.

What are 3 examples of a good reference? ›

Here are a few examples of people who make great character references:
  • Coworker.
  • Co-volunteer or volunteer leader.
  • Coach.
  • Client or customer.
  • Vendor or business acquaintance.
  • Professor or academic advisor.
  • Personal or professional mentor.
  • Fellow student or graduate from an educational program.
Jul 21, 2023

How do you describe someone's integrity for a reference? ›

Trustworthy: Someone who can be trusted with a secret or who is reliable. Dependable: Someone who will always show up when they are expected to show up, someone who can be expected to deliver what they promise on time. Loyal: Someone who will be true in a relationship, who will not cheat.

What is the difference between a character letter and a reference letter? ›

While professional reference letters are typically written by previous or current employers or managers, character letters are written by anyone who is able to speak to your personality and abilities. People you may ask to write a letter of character on your behalf include: Neighbors. Friends.

How do you write a reference letter step by step? ›

Four steps you need to take to write a professional letter of recommendation.
  1. Address the letter. 1.1. Address the letter to the employer or hiring manager. ...
  2. Write an introduction. 2.1. Briefly discuss the purpose of the letter. ...
  3. Write about the applicant you're recommending. 3.1. ...
  4. Conclude your letter of recommendation. 4.1.

How should a professional reference letter look? ›

A reference letter should be about one page.

Your opening should explain who you are and your relationship with the person. Your body will identify their strengths while providing examples. Your closing paragraph should reiterate your complete support and that you can recommend them with no reservations.

What do employers look for in a character reference? ›

The individual providing the character reference may be willing to do it, but they might not know what it should contain. The character reference would usually contain details on how the person knows you, how long they've known you for and key elements of your personality. Of course, these should always be positive.

Can a friend be a character reference? ›

Personal references are commonly provided by teachers, lecturers, group or club leaders, neighbours, friends and family members. Those providing the reference should know you well and be able to give examples that back up statements about your character.

What do employers ask for character reference? ›

You can ask them questions involving the candidate's work ethic, collaboration skills and strengths or weaknesses. In this article, we explore what personal references are, why it's important to contact them and questions you can ask them.

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