Importance Of Having A Character Reference Letter To Your Job Application

Importance Of Having A Character Reference Letter To Your Job Application
Writing A Character Reference Letter

An easy guide to the importance of character reference letters and how and why you should request them from your personal network.


What is a Character Reference Letter?

Character Reference Sample
Character Reference Letter Example

A character reference letter is a little different from a normal professional reference because it focuses on who you are as a person more-so than what you've achieved professionally. A character reference is often part of a professional reference letter, but many people fail to recognize the importance of having a separate character reference letter.

This type of reference letter is supposed to show potential employers, college admissions, loan officers, or anyone else that you are the kind of person they want to do business with. They can provide endorsements of previous work you’ve done or feats you’ve accomplished, but mostly they should describe your personal characteristics in a way that’s attractive to the letter’s recipient.

A character reference letter is a little different from a normal professional reference because it focuses on who you are as a person more-so than what you've achieved professionally. A character reference is often part of a professional reference letter, but many people fail to recognize the importance of having a separate character reference letter.

This type of reference letter is supposed to show potential employers, college admissions, loan officers, or anyone else that you are the kind of person they want to do business with. They can provide endorsements of previous work you’ve done or feats you’ve accomplished, but mostly they should describe your personal characteristics in a way that’s attractive to the letter’s recipient.


Why Use a Character Reference Letter?

There are many different reasons why you may be asked to supply a character reference letter. You can also include a character reference letter with your application even when it's not required.

Character reference letters are useful if you’re:

  • Applying for a new job
  • Applying to go to college or graduate school
  • Asking your bank for a loan or mortgage
  • Volunteering to work with children or the elderly
  • Moving somewhere with a condo board or HOA
  • Applying to serve on a Board of Directors for a nonprofit

A character reference letter shows an organization that you’re well-liked and make a good impression on people. If you’re applying to work with vulnerable populations or confidential information, a character reference letter will prove your trustworthiness.

Another reason to include a character reference letter is if you have a troubled past, whether because of a spotty job history or legal trouble or other problems. A glowing character reference can persuade someone to take a chance on you.


Who Should Write a Character Reference Letter?

There are clear guidelines for who should provide a professional reference, but with character references, it's a little murkier. Some experts still think a character reference letter should come from a former supervisor or colleague, while others say the letter can come from anyone in your personal life.

Some examples of people who you can ask for a character reference letter include:

  • Direct supervisors
  • Colleagues who worked with you closely
  • Neighbors
  • Business acquaintances
  • Teachers
  • Clients
  • Friends

While some people choose to have family members write their reference letters, we advise against it. Even if the letter is unbiased and 100 percent honest, the person reviewing it will likely assume your relative is just writing whatever you ask them to do for you. Play it safe and avoid it if possible.

man writing a letter

You should choose someone who is up-to-date on your accomplishments, career, and overall living situation. You’re looking for a reference letter that’s both flattering and accurate, so this person should also know you well and think highly of you.

If you need multiple character reference letters, try to make sure they come from diverse sources. If you provide three nearly-identical letters from within your immediate social group,

the recipient will probably assume you couldn’t get anyone else to do it. When your references come from multiple sources in different fields, you’ll come across much better.

You should also consider how reliable your chosen letter writer is. If you know someone is busy, forgetful, or slow to respond, you should try to get your reference letter from someone else. You also need the letter to be well-written, so the author should be someone who communicates clearly.


How to Ask for a Character Reference Letter

It can be tough to ask someone for a favor, so it's understandable if you're nervous about requesting a reference letter. Here are some tips on how to ask.

  • Methods of Communication
woman typing on her laptop

The best way to request a character reference letter is by email. Not only does this allow you to provide the person with all the information they need to write the letter, but it also allows them to take their time responding. They might need to consult their calendar to make sure they have the time or refresh their memory on the things you've accomplished.

Don't be alarmed if it takes a couple of days for your potential reference to respond. They may respond with the finished letter or ask for more information, or they might simply give their yes or no answer. Be patient, but also be sure to communicate any deadlines.

If you know your future reference-giver doesn’t check their email often, or if you don’t receive a response to your request after more than a week, then you should give them a call AFTER sending the email. It’s possible your request was overlooked or sent to the spam folder, so don’t always assume that a lack of response is deliberate.

If you're requesting a character reference letter from someone you're particularly close to, or who you speak with often, you should talk to them on the phone or in person first. This is a polite way to give them a heads-up and discuss the thing you're applying for.

  • Ask Your Question
Ask A Question

An important thing to remember as you look for people to provide a character reference letter is that you want the letter to be enthusiastic. You don’t want the person to feel pressured into writing it, or they’re likely to half-ass the letter or provide lukewarm praise.

Ask the person if they feel comfortable providing a strong reference. Give them the opportunity to say “no” if they want to, and preemptively reassure them it’s okay to do so. However, there’s a fine line between giving someone an out versus talking them out of it—resist the urge to be self-deprecating or provide hypothetical reasons why they might not be able to write your letter for you.

  • Include Any Information They Need
Include If What Is The Letter About

Tell your potential reference exactly why you need the letter, giving details about the job/loan/graduate program/etc., so they can tailor their letter to suit your needs. Provide job descriptions, links to the company's website or social media, or anything else you think is relevant.

If the person is unaware of any recent promotions, accomplishments, or other life changes, this is the time to update them on your progress. You don’t need to give a detailed history of everything that’s happened to you since the last time you saw each other, but a brief

overview of anything you think is relevant will help them write a meaningful character reference letter.

As we mentioned before, tell the letter writer what the deadline is. If it's open-ended, provide a general date range, so they don't put it off forever. You should include this deadline in the initial request, so the person can decline if they're unable to write the letter within your time frame.

One thing people frequently forget to do is letting the letter writer know how to submit the reference. Most of the time, you’ll need to do it yourself, so you can ask them to just send it to you directly. Some organizations require the letter to be sealed in an envelope and sent to them by the letter writer without your intervention, in which case you need to let the writer know what to do.

  • Send a “Thank You” Note
Thank You Note

Obviously, you should express gratitude to the writer as soon as you receive their letter. If you notice anything in the letter they need to change (like a factual inaccuracy, a misspelling, or other objective error), tell them as soon as possible so they can make the corrections.

You should also send a more formal thank you note later on in the process, preferably when you know the results. Let your reference know whether or not your application was accepted, thank them for their help, and offer to provide a reference for them if they ever need it (if you’re willing and able to do so).

This would be an important step even (or especially!) if your application were unsuccessful because you might need them to rewrite their reference letter for a future application. If you come across as ungrateful, they may refuse to do this in the future, and they could even tell other potential references.

Keep in mind that the vast majority of people no longer expects hand-written, snail-mail thank you cards. If your reference is under the age of 65 and seems to have no problem communicating with you via email, your thank you note can be in the form of an email as well. If they’re older or more traditional, a physical thank you card would be a nice gesture but isn’t required.


Final Thoughts

While character reference letters aren’t as ubiquitous as they used to be, you’re still likely to come across a situation where one is required or strongly encouraged. If you follow our guide, you should have great success in requesting a character reference letter that makes a fantastic first impression.

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