Protect your data

We use cookies to provide our services, improve the user experience, for analysis and marketing purposes. By giving your consent, you also agree that your data may be transferred to the USA by the use of cookies. You can revoke your consent at any time.You can find further information in our privacy policy and cookie policy.

  1. Career Advice
  2. Resume & CV's
  3. The complete guide on character reference letters (With examples!)
The complete guide on character reference letters (With examples!)
Profile Emma Smith

Emma Smith

The complete guide on character reference letters (With examples!)

Artwork by: Alexandra Shevchenko

  • All you need to know about character reference letters
  • How do you write a strong character reference?
  • How do you ask someone to write a character reference letter about you
  • Example of writing a character reference letter for someone
  • Key takeaways

Character reference letters are more simple than you think. Follow these guides on how to write one, and how to ask someone to write one for you.

Character reference letters are more common in the professional world than you might think. Often referred to simply as reference letters, they are a tool to gauge a candidate's culture fit, motivations, personality, and more. 

In this article we’ll discuss:

  1. Frequently asked questions about character reference letters

  2. What to include in a character reference letter to make it stronger

  3. Guide on how to ask someone to write a character reference letter for you

  4. Example of a character reference letter

All you need to know about character reference letters

These frequently asked questions will help provide a template of what a character reference letter should look like. 

What is a character reference letter and why do employers need them?

When employers want to gain better insight into a candidate, they frequently will request a character reference letter. Employers might look for details such as timeliness, organization, and motivation. Having the ability to preview what an individual will bring to the workforce is a huge asset. It is not uncommon for a manager to be presented with two candidates for a position. Time and time again, we see that regardless of the level of qualifications an individual has, it is their ability to adapt to the workforce that creates the ideal candidate. Reference letters are a way to check this.

How long should a character reference be?

There are no set guidelines for the length of a character reference letter. However, it’s suggested that the letter should not exceed two pages. 

The value of a character reference letter is determined by the quality of its message. Therefore they should typically be longer than one paragraph. A one-page character reference letter is the most commonly found. Two-page letters usually indicate a highly experienced candidate. If you are not a highly experienced candidate, then a two-page reference letter might indicate lengthy and run-on messaging, which is not the best way to sell your professional skills. 

Who is allowed to give one?

The majority of the time, character reference letters will be requested from past employers and colleagues. It has also become common practice for potential employers to ask for a split, such as two professional references and one personal reference. 

Your personal reference can technically include family and friends, but if you have someone in your life who has acted as a mentor, that would be a superior choice as they will be less biased. Think of professors, coaches, teachers, mentors, or anyone who has worked with you in a capacity where you take on responsibilities or face challenges and growth. 

Can a friend be a reference?

Yes, a friend can write a character reference letter on your behalf. However, keep in mind that if you’re using the reference letter for a professional purpose, then it would greatly benefit you to have some overlap between the things that your friend has to say about your character, and what it means about what you’ll bring to the table in a professional realm. If your friend’s greatest testament to your character is that you’re an excellent cook or really fun to be around, those don’t quite translate to the professional realm. 

How do you start a character reference?

Character reference letters should always begin with a professional heading. If you haven’t written a professional heading before, do some research first, as it is more specific than simply using professional language. One of those items, as you’ll see in the examples below, is to use a colon instead of a comma after your salutation. 

If you know the name of the individual requesting the character reference letter, you can use it in the following format. 

Dear Ms. Hedwig:

If you do not know the name of the individual, you can use the following general salutation.

Dear Hiring Manager:

Expert Tip

Avoid using the outdated salutation, “To whom it may concern”. 

How do you write a strong character reference?

A character reference letter will be strongest if it includes the following details. 

Your relationship with the candidate

Describe the context of your relationship and how long you’ve known the candidate. If you know them in a personal and professional capacity, it’s best to skip the personal details. 

Include details that help paint the picture of your dynamic. Was either of you in a superior role over the other? Did you collaborate on projects? Elaborate to strengthen your reference letter. 

Positive personal encounters with the candidate

This is the most important part of the character reference letter. Staying positive indicates that you are giving a general recommendation for hiring the individual. Any type of hardship you describe should be tweaked to represent a beneficial outcome. 

Be mindful of making comments that are intended to be silly. A character reference letter can be a high-stakes document. 

If you were to say, “It was the start of the day, I had just gotten to the office, which means Dan would have shown up sometime in the next ten minutes”. You’d be accidentally throwing Dan under the bus for being consistently tardy. Every word and every sentiment counts in a character reference letter. 

Only accept the invite to write a character reference letter if you mean it 

We all want to show up for our community when called in as support. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a lot is riding on the reference letter, so you need to be critical about the information you have to offer. 

If you know you like and respect the individual, but don’t have much experience witnessing their growth, then you need to be honest about it. Tell them that you want to assist them, and tell them the first couple of things that come to mind. Let them decide if they want to go forward with the reference letter after hearing what you have to say. 

Alternatively, if you know you have nothing good to say, then just don’t agree to do it. This is not an appropriate platform to display your superiority. 

How do you ask someone to write a character reference letter about you

So you’ve found out that the employer you’re hoping to land a job with is asking for a character reference letter? How do you go about acquiring one? You have to ask a peer to write one on your behalf. 

When you go to ask someone to write a character reference letter for you, it’s important to give them some context. Tell them about the position, explain some of the duties or skills that you are hoping to highlight, and if you feel comfortable with it, give some examples of topics that you hope will be discussed. 

Try saying:

I am applying for a new position and have a lead on a job that I’m really passionate about. I have gone through two interviews already and now they have asked me to provide a character reference letter from a peer or colleague. I thought of you because we experienced and overcame a lot of hardship together. Some of the points I hope to highlight, if it feels appropriate to you, are my ability to problem-solve in stressful situations, my excellent communication skills especially in conflict resolution, and my affinity for organization. Are those topics you would feel comfortable writing about me? 

Example of writing a character reference letter for someone

If you have been asked to write a character reference letter for a peer or colleague, take the time and reflect on what message you want to send before you begin writing. Use the following example to help guide your own letter. 


Dear Hiring Manager:

I am excited to share my recommendation of Toby Butch for the role of front-end developer at Google. 

Toby and I met seven years ago while working at IBM. He was in an entry-level developer role, and I was his project manager. Throughout our years working together, I witnessed Toby develop confidence and passion in the field. He is consistent in the work he produces and displays a genuine understanding of computer processing. Toby is endlessly curious about computer languages, and his drive to answer his own questions makes him a constantly evolving asset. 

In addition to his work ethic, Toby is also a really enjoyable person to be around. He is thoughtful, patient, and kind. He is gentle with himself even in the most stressful situations, and he is always willing to share a smile. 

It would be my honor to give a reference for Toby, as I am certain he will benefit whatever team he becomes a part of. 

If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact me. 

Kind regards,

[Your Name]

[Your contact info]

Key takeaways

  1. Character reference letters provide you an opportunity to shine in a way your resume doesn’t allow. 

  2. Reference letters should always remain positive. 

  3. Use these guides and examples to create a strong reference letter. 

Profile Emma Smith

Emma Smith

Emma is a certified employment specialist with over 6 years of experience in career mentorship and employment training. With an affinity for technical writing, Emma is passionate about developing training manuals, policy and procedures, onboarding documents, and fiscal management systems. In 2020 she helped design Colorado’s first state-certified training program for people with disabilities entering the workforce.

Share this article