A character reference letter is usually written
for you by someone you know outside of work. This can be a friend,
neighbor or relative. It can also be a person with whom you have shared
an experience, such as a teammate or fellow volunteer.
Also known as a personal reference or personal
recommendation, a character reference documents your positive personal
attributes. This type of reference is important for non-employment related pursuits ranging from memberships and awards to
child custody and adoptions. Character reference letters can also
prove useful in landing jobs.
A good character reference letter from someone you know
can be helpful for job seeking when you
- Lack favorable references
from current or former employers
- Are starting out and have
no work history or have been out of the job market for a long time
- Have not attended college and
cannot benefit from professor recommendations
- Have a potential employer who wants to
better understand your background or better understand what you're
- Are seeking a position where
particular personal characteristics
With the advent of personal computers and
printers and the widespread practice of networking, character references are
more common than in the past. Nevertheless, they are more
important than ever.
Character references vs. employment
There are five distinctions between an
employment reference letter (from your boss) and a character reference
letter (from your friend). Character reference
letters are typically
- Less formal
- More personalized
- Not focused on an economic
- Subjective in what they cover
- More straightforward
reference is usually an official document on company letterhead. It is
written in a formal tone and frequently follows a standard, rather impersonal
Employment references are courtesies
extended in the business community. They are "report cards" written from
employers past to employers future. To have any use, they must
objectively appraise your job performance. This means they must
cover all relevant aspects of your work and address both your strengths and
Of course, employment references are unlikely to simply
spell things out. Most such letters contain organizational
doublespeak which makes the bad and the ugly sound good when the letters are casually read.
Character references on
the other hand usually describe your positive personal attributes.
They are written by people who are loyal to you-- friends, neighbors, family
character traits discussed in these letters are objectively
stated, but are subjectively chosen for inclusion. In other words,
the good things go in and the bad things stay out.
For the most part character reference
letters do not
pertain to an economic relationship. They are written less
formally and are by their nature highly personalized. At their best,
they are also quite straightforward.
A gray area exists between the two types
of letters when it comes to personal employment. However, usually a
letter for a babysitter, nanny, tutor, home caregiver, housekeeper or
similar personal service provider is more appropriately approached as a
character reference. While pertaining to economic relationships
these letters are most effective when personalized. As a practical
matter they are also informal, relatively straightforward and somewhat subjective in what they
Non-Employment Related Letters
Sincere, thoughtful character reference letters
can be essential to the success of a variety of non-employment related
- Child custody
- Court hearing
- Foster care
- Parole hearing
As far as how they are written,
these types of references should be crafted in the same manner as job related
letters. They should be personal, straightforward, relatively
informal, and positive. The
only difference should be in their closing section when the recommended course of action
is stated (see Writing Tips below).
These tips will help you understand how
to write a character reference letter. However, keep in mind the
strongest character letters are always personal and heartfelt. So
the more you can write yours in your own words the better it will be.
Organize your letter
rule, character references have three sections.
Opening. Usually a
paragraph of only a sentence or two, the opening explains who you are and how you know the
subject (person you're referring).
Body. The body is the
majority of the letter. It can be several paragraphs.
Here you make the case for your friend or relative-- describing your
experiences with him or her and giving examples of the subject's good qualities.
Closing. The last
paragraph reinforces your belief in your
friend or relative and contains your actual recommendation.
related character references are usually best when the recommendation is
as open-ended as possible. For example, your friend John
has asked you to write a letter because he hopes it will help him land a
sales position at the local hardware store. John is polite and out-going, and
you feel he'd be great in sales. When closing your letter which is
the better way to make your recommendation?
recommend John for a position selling hardware"
recommend John for any position where patience, courtesy and a winning
manner are important"
The second way would be
John could reuse the letter for other
job opportunities in the
future, jobs that might not involve hardware or even sales.
John's qualities drive the
recommendation (as opposed to his desire for a job driving it). This makes
the recommendation seem more sincere and therefore makes it more powerful.
Non-employment related letters are
usually written in response to special, one-time occurrences (scholarship
competition, child custody award, etc.) and the recommendation must reflect this.
That is, by necessity whatever you recommend must be very specific to be
Build your letter around specific
Identify your subject's positive attributes. Then
think of the traits that are important to the position, award, etc. he or
she is seeking. Construct your letter around 1 to 3 of the
attributes that overlap.
For example, suppose the person you're
writing about is friendly, witty, honest, intelligent, hardworking, and reliable.
Suppose also he or she is seeking a security guard's job. A security
guard should be, among other things, reliable and honest. So it's
best to build your letter around these qualities.
Here are some positive attributes often found in
character reference letters:
- Ambitious, wants to learn and grow
- Charming, has sense of humor,
- Committed, loyal, devoted
- Considerate, caring, empathetic
- Courteous, polite
- Creative, is a problem-solver
- Detail-oriented, punctual,
- Determined, persevering, goal-oriented
- Efficient, economy-minded
- Fair-minded, honest, trustworthy
- Follows instructions, aims to please
- Generous, giving, helpful
- Good leader, responsible, mature for
- Good listener, good communicator
- Hardworking, diligent, industrious
- Intelligent, is a quick study,
- Organized, methodic, orderly
- Patient, level-headed
- People oriented, easygoing, team
- Works independently, is a self-starter
Sell your friend by telling a short
The character reference writer (friend, neighbor or relative) is at a
disadvantage to the employment reference writer (supervisor) in several
respects. He or she is not reporting on verifiable work history and
is not carrying the authority of company letterhead. Most
importantly, character letter writers are commonly assumed to "pump up"
those they recommend.
To offset these disadvantages, your
character reference letter should provide evidence that your high opinion
of the subject is valid. This is best done by recounting specific
events concerning the person you are referring. In essence, your letter should
tell one or more short, believable stories that you know personally about
- The body should be a narrative that
recounts 1 to 3 specific incidents regarding your friend or neighbor.
- The incidents should demonstrate his
or her positive attributes. They should be examples of how he or she
If you can't say something
If you've been asked to write a letter by someone you're uncomfortable
recommending, it's best to come up with an excuse for not doing so.
If something must be written, construct a short letter basically
containing only the introduction and closing sections. In other
words, do not include examples of why the subject is worthy of the reference.
Letters for Character References
sister- Problem solver, committed
To Whom It May Concern,
I felt quite honored when my sister Barbara Jacobs
asked me to write a reference letter for her.
In addition to raising a family and being a good
wife, daughter and sister, Barbara has always found time to get involved
in life around her. Unlike many people these days, whenever she adopts a
cause or pursues a new interest she is guaranteed to be highly committed.
Barbara is only six years older than I, but in
terms of the influence she’s had on my life she might as well have been
my mother. She was an honors student in high school and studied Spanish
for five years. As a thirteen year old, I often went with her to a special
program run by our church that helped Hispanic immigrants learn to speak
English. I watched Barbara take a deep interest in the lives of many of
the people there. Sometimes she would bring me home, only to go back and
spend additional hours helping old and young alike with their personal
problems. By example, Barbara taught me not only the value of helping
others, but the importance of loyalty and commitment.
Barbara is also a problem solver. Much thought
goes into the things Barbara does, and she has an unusual ability to
notice what others overlook.
I remember one Christmas her women’s club took
gifts of food to families in need. Noticing that a number of the families
had been referred by the free clinic, she checked for cases of diabetes.
She found that several families had diabetics in them. So she carefully
replaced all high sugar foods with fresh fruits and vegetables- items she
I could continue with descriptions of Barbara’s
many other good qualities- her work ethic, her energy, and her
creativeness to name three. Instead I would simply like to say how much I
think of Barbara and how strongly I recommend her for any task that
requires problem solving and a high level of commitment.
babysitter- Diligent, caring
To Whom It May Concern,
Our babysitter, Sarah Anderson, is a delightful
young woman who has cared for our two children over the last several
Sarah is not your usual sitter. Our children do
not endlessly sit for hours in front of the television while in her care.
She goes to extra effort to bring books from the public library that both
of our children would enjoy. Sometimes instead of reading to them herself,
she will help our son Tom read a story to his young sister. Other
times she will bring board or card games to play with our son after his
sister goes to bed.
Sarah has even managed to convince Tom that carrot
and celery sticks along with an assortment of fresh fruits are really “fun
In addition, Miss Anderson shares her love of
music with our children. Her musical interests run from classical to
contemporary. Sometimes they all sit quietly and listen to music. On other
occasions you can find them dancing or exercising to their favorite songs.
Even though Tom is only six years old he enjoys singing. As a result of
this, Sarah teaches him little tunes that he proudly performs for us.
Often my husband and I return to find drawings,
paintings or small craft projects that the kids have made with Sarah’s
We have found her unselfish and diligent care of
our children a true blessing and confidently recommend her to you as a
Gary and Darla Benson
To Whom It May Concern,
I am very pleased to write a character reference
for James Norris.
James and my son are good friends and go to the
same high school. I have known James for seven years. During that time I
have always been amazed at his level of enthusiasm. Two years ago he
participated with my son in planning and financing a school club trip to
New York City. He not only raised enough money for his expenses but also
helped finance my son’s, along with four other club members.
Another example of James’ enthusiasm occurred
last summer. James cuts the grass and trims the hedges each week for the
Johnson family. When they went on a two week vacation they asked James to
cut the grass twice while they were gone. Even though they wouldn’t have
known if he’d only cut it once, he cut it twice. But not only that, when
he found out they’d be gone an extra three days he cut it a third time--
right before they came back so it would look nice for them.
James also washes and waxes cars for people. While
eating out recently I overheard two neighbors comparing their cars and how
good they looked. Neither knew at first that James did both of their cars,
and each bragged about a “super kid” that stopped at nothing short of
the perfect shine.
I would certainly recommend James for any task
where enthusiasm, hard work and trustworthiness are valued.
additional sample character reference letters*
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- References for childcare, home
healthcare, housekeeping, tutoring
- References for child custody,
adoption, foster parenting
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