Most jobs will ask that you provide a reference – someone that can support your application, and give the hiring manager peace of mind that you are fit for the job. Employment references are most favourable, for obvious reasons, but in some cases, an employer will also accept a character reference. For instance, if you have never been employed, your previous employer is failing to respond or has left the company.
If you have been asked to provide a character reference, you might not know where to begin. In this blog, we will look at:
- What is a character reference?
- The difference between a character reference and an employment reference
- When you might need one for your application
- Who can provide a character reference
- What you should include in the reference
- Tips for requesting and writing a character reference
We will also provide templates that you can use as a point of reference.
Why do you need a reference?
When you apply for a job, you are likely to be completely unknown to the employer, so they are taking a risk by hiring you. In order to minimise the risk, they usually ask for a reference or sometimes two references to support your application. These would usually be from an employer, but sometimes character references are also acceptable. If someone is willing to back up your claims that you are “reliable, conscientious, great at your job” (or however you may be portraying yourself), the employer has some reassurance.
What is a character reference?
A character reference is a statement made by someone that knows you well and is used to support your job application. It is not generally provided by a close relative, but someone in a professional role who is willing to uphold your reputation, such as your landlord or university lecturer. Alternatively, you could obtain it from a family friend or neighbour.
If you’re stuck for ideas on who could give you a character reference, make a list of people you’ve had interactions with in the last few years. You will always find someone who is able to help.
What is the relevance of a character reference?
If you’ve already provided an employment reference, you would be forgiven for wondering why you need a character reference. There are several reasons why employers ask for a character reference.
1. Different Perspective
An employment reference is usually only geared towards how you work, which is only half the story for some employers. The right culture fit usually plays a key role in hiring an employee, and with a character reference, the employer can find out a bit more about your personality. They get a better insight into what makes you tick and what values you hold.
2. Support Application
As mentioned earlier, employers are often going on the basis of what you tell them and this holds risk when making critical hiring decisions. A character reference gives further credibility to your application, making it a more informed decision.
Most employers prefer to have at least two references as part of your application. The character reference may be needed if you only have one previous employer and the employer wants reassurance.
Employment reference vs. character reference
The difference between an employment reference and character reference is that a character reference is more aimed towards your soft skills like your reliability, values and who you are as a person. On the other hand, an employment reference is geared towards the way you work. Your key skills and experience. A character reference is usually only required if you are unable to provide an employment reference.
Can a personal character reference be a friend?
A character reference will always hold more weight if it comes from an individual who is not a close contact. The obvious reason being that a friend is more likely to offer a biassed opinion.
How to write a character reference
The individual providing the character reference may be willing to do it, but they might not know what it should contain. The character reference would usually contain details on how the person knows you, how long they’ve known you for and key elements of your personality. Of course, these should always be positive. If you have a bad relationship with your neighbour, for example, it probably isn’t a good idea to approach them for a reference. You can follow this structure for writing your character reference.
- Why you are writing the character reference: The character reference should have a short introduction with why the person is writing the character reference. For example, “I have been asked by Louise to provide a character reference and, as I have been her neighbour for ten years, I feel that I am in a good position to provide this.”
- Personality and soft skills applicable to the role: The next section should focus on what you can offer the company and role. The value you can bring. For example, “Louise is a great neighbour, who would do anything for anyone. She keeps to herself, but always helps out when needed. She has a vibrant personality and always has a smile on her face. She is well respected in our local community.”
- Contact details: The hiring manager may want to follow up on the character reference, so there should be contact details at the end, such as email or telephone number for the referee.
Make sure your character reference only focuses on the positive qualities you possess. Your weaknesses are not applicable here. Information that is irrelevant to employability should also be avoided.
Top tips for writing a character reference
The character reference should be written in a professional manner, even if the referee is a family friend. It should be around one page in length, and should focus on your strengths that are applicable to the role. For instance, your calm nature and ability to function under pressure, your caring personality and strong communication skills. Use the job description as a point of reference for writing your character reference.
- Ensure professional language is used in the character reference. Even though the relationship may be informal, the reference should be formal.
- Keep the character reference to a maximum of one page.
- Focus on qualities that are relevant to the role and keep it brief. For instance, instead of the referee saying ‘Lisa takes my bins out every Wednesday.’ It could read ‘Lisa is a caring person who is always willing to help.’
- Ensure the referee is willing to leave their contact details, as the hiring manager or recruiter may follow up to verify it.
- Write the reference yourself, without permission. If you get found out, you may lose your chances of getting the job. Worse still, if you have started the job, you could be fired if a reference is found to be dishonest.
- Mention any negative traits. The reference should be entirely positive.
What do employers look for in a character reference?
The employer is looking for an unbiased, positive assessment of the candidate, including soft skills that are relevant to the role. A character reference, together with an employment reference, gives the hiring manager a good overall perspective of the individual at work and in their personal life.
Character reference example
Dear Mr. Ewing,
I would be delighted to recommend Sally Livingston for the role of graphic designer with your organisation.
I have been Sally’s neighbour for almost 5 years and in that time, I have grown to know more about Sally and her character.
A quiet, confident individual, Sally is very much an independent person. She is someone I have entrusted to leave my keys with while I’ve been on holiday on many occasions.
She always has a smile and is well liked in our local community.
I have no apprehension in providing a reference for her, she would be an asset to any company.
If you wish to reach me to clarify any details, I would be happy to speak to you on the contact details below.
5 Ellerslie Place, Nottingham, NG1 1AN
0115 567 7000
How to request a character reference
It is normal to feel a bit apprehensive about asking for a character reference. Maybe even, a little embarrassed. However, you will probably find that most people you ask for a character reference, have already been asked at some point. If you know someone well on a personal level, for instance, a neighbour, it would be most appropriate to ask them face to face. However, if you are asking your university lecturer or someone else you know on a professional basis, you may feel more comfortable asking them via email or letter. Check out our sample below for an idea on how to request a character reference.
Dear (Referee’s Name)
I am currently applying for a job as a (insert job title) and I wondered if you would be willing to provide a character reference.
The reference only needs to be one page long and should focus on my attributes that you believe are relevant to the role (insert job link.)
If you feel you could be of assistance, I will provide your details to the company and they will follow up. Please don’t feel that there is any pressure to provide it though, I completely respect your decision either way.
Thank you for your attention.
- The character reference should contain information on the relationship and the key skills of the candidate.
- It should focus on those attributes that are relevant to the role. These can be found on the job description.
- Contact details should also be on the character reference, in case the employer wants to verify the information.
- The details within the character reference should be positive, don’t mention any weaknesses.
- You can request the character reference informally by speaking to the individual or more professionally via letter or email.