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How to write a character reference

Updated February 21, 2017

At some point in your life, you're bound to be asked to write a character reference for a friend or relative. A character reference is more informal than an employment reference and allows you to focus more on a candidate's personal attributes. Despite this air of informality, writing your reference will require some planning.

Request information about the person who asked you to write a character reference. You may know a lot about his activities outside of work, including any organizations he is a part of or hobbies he participates in, but make sure to have a copy of his resume as well. Knowing all of this will give you a well-rounded picture and may give you insight into talents and skills you didn't know he had.

Request information about the job. Knowing the roles and responsibilities of a position will allow you to elaborate on how your candidate's traits will help fit with prospective employers' needs.

Address your letter as personally as possible. While there's nothing wrong with starting a letter with "To Whom it May Concern," a personalized greeting makes a more powerful impression, as does the appearance of your letter. Make sure it's typed and proofread.

Identify your relationship with the person you are recommending. Specify how long you have known her and in what capacity, as well as how that relationship qualifies you to write a character reference on her behalf. Explain what you think qualifies her for this particular position and why you are willing to recommend her, backing up your words with specific examples.

Be detailed in your description of the job candidate's positive attributes, choosing your words carefully. Speaking of the applicant in too many glowing terms may make a potential employer wary of the legitimacy of your recommendation, while using weak adjectives like "nice," "good" and "satisfactory" don't convey a sense of confidence in your candidate.

Highlight a variety of traits deemed important to employers. These include, but are not limited to, the candidate's ability to communicate, his self-confidence, interpersonal skills, flexibility and leadership.

Close the letter by offering to provide further information if necessary and providing a way to get in touch with you.

Tip

Before agreeing to write a character reference be certain you have positive things to say. It's better to decline to write a letter than to write an insincere one.

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