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If you’ve been asked to write a personal reference for someone, they’re counting on you to represent them through the written word. It’s essential that you read up on how to write a character reference, as it can have a huge influence on their application.
The person receiving the character reference will make a judgement on the legitimacy and level of professionalism displayed in writing. So, make sure you follow a guide and only include accurate, relevant information.
What is a character reference?
A character reference should capture someone’s personality traits and characteristics, coupled with real-life examples. It should help to build a picture in the reader's mind of that person and provide them with all the information they need to make a decision.
For this reason, a character reference must be written from the perspective of someone they know, either in a professional or personal environment.
Who can write a character reference?
A character reference will often come from someone in a position of authority, such as a teacher, parent or senior colleague. But, as long as they’ve spent enough time with someone, they’ll be able to draw upon their experiences and provide a detailed reference. Here are some examples of the sort of people who usually get asked to write character references:
- Doctor, solicitor, teacher, dentist etc.
- Family member
What to write in a character reference: Formatting the top
Top right: your details in this order
- Full name and title
- Job title (where applicable)
- Full address
- Today’s date
a. Use the full date without abbreviations i.e. February 25th 2019
- Email address
a. Use an email address associated with your position where possible. For example, if you're a teacher, use your .gov.uk registered email address, it adds legitimacy.
- Phone number
a. Include your work phone number where applicable
Left-hand side: recipients details in this order
- Your company logo or letter headed paper.
- Full name and title
- Company or organisation
- Full address
- Recipients title (where applicable)
- Recipients full name
Tip: If your referee hasn’t given you the receivers full name, write ‘Dear Sir or Madam’.
What to include in a character reference: Formatting the body
Your opening paragraph should set the scene and explain your relationship with this person.
It needs to be apparent that you’ve had enough experience to provide an accurate reference, so include how long you’ve known each other and who you are to them (employer, teacher etc).
This is your chance to focus on their characteristics and personality traits. Make sure you include at least 3 points (timekeeping, patient, understanding, customer relations, work ethic, teamwork etc.).
This section will help build up a picture in the reader's mind of what this person is like, and whether they’re a good fit for the application. If you’re struggling with this section, follow this as a rough guide:
a. I.e. My experiences with Liam have been second to none, he has shown…
- Characteristic 1
a. I.e. An excellent attention to detail, and can offer a unique perspective…
- Example 1
a. I.e. This was apparent during our routine stock check, where Liam…
- Characteristic 2
- Example 2
- Characteristic 3
- Example 3
“Don’t just stop at 3 points if you’ve got more to say. Equally, don’t just list everything you can think of. Make it to the concise with great real-life examples”
Tailor your summary to the person receiving the character reference. For example, if it’s to support a job application, research the company and make connections between the characteristics you’ve mentioned and the look/feel/values of their business. Ultimately, you’re trying to make it easy for the reader to build an image of this person in their head.
I’ve witnessed Liam display a wide variety of skills and character qualities during our relationship. His ability to deal with customers, work effectively within a team, and his unrivalled work ethic makes him an invaluable asset. I can picture Liam working in an organisation that pushes employees and supports their growth, such as...
Including a closing statement adds professionalism and validity to the reference. Not only that, but if there’s something you haven’t covered, you may receive a phone call that gives you the opportunity to provide an even better character reference. There are several ways to do this, but here’s our example:
Closing statement example
Please do not hesitate to contact me; I would be happy to go over these points or discuss the other skills Liam possesses, and explain why he would be a great addition to your company.
Remember, you’re aiming for a professional tone that adds authority to your character reference. We recommend that you only consider formal ways to ‘sign off’ using these examples below:
- Yours sincerely
- Yours respectfully
- Yours truly
- Yours faithfully - appropriate if you don’t know the recipient’s name
- Kindest regards
- Kind regards
- Yours appreciatively
We highly recommend including your signature on any character reference. You can either do this in pen after printing, or use this tool to create your digital signature. Again, it adds an air of legitimacy to the character reference.
Write a professional character reference by avoiding these things:
- Spelling and grammatical errors - We highly recommend that you use Grammarly to proofread your work.
- Contractions - i.e. ‘i’m’ should read ‘I am’. ‘That’s’ should read ‘that is’.
- Drawing attention to the wrong skills - If in doubt, research who you’re writing too and imagine what sort of qualities they’ll be looking for
- Overselling the referrer - While you need to draw upon their skills, it won’t be received very well if it sounds like you’re overselling them. Be professional, and focus on 3-4 key points.