Character Reference Letter Writing Character reference letter writing is often approached with trepidation. Will I say what I mean? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I say something that isn’t true? What if I make a good person look bad? The fears and unanswered questions could be endless. Yet, if you know the person about whom you write, as an acquaintance, or business-wise, you’ve nothing to fear. When writing reference letters, whether for business or simply a personal character reference, follow the letter writing format below and study some samples afterward. 1 -Date 2 - Name and full address 3 - Re: You can put the subject of the letter. This is OPTIONAL. 4 - Salutation: Use first and last name of the addressee. Only use “To whom it may concern” if your letter is a blanket letter to be used for more than one person. 5 - 1st Paragraph: State how you know this person. 6 - 2nd Paragraph: State what you know about the person. If a personal reference, how you know them personally. If a job reference, state what you know about how they relate to the job for which they apply. The person will have told you for which type positions they plan to apply. 7 - 3rd Paragraph: Summarize how you feel about this person. If a personal reference, state how you like this person. If for business purposes, state how you feel they are qualified according to what you know about their qualification. 8 - Close with “Sincerely.” 9 - Your name 10 - Your title, if this will help the person for whom you write the letter. _______________ In the opening salutation, do not use “Ms.,” “Miss,” or “Mrs.,” or “Mr.” These will most likely be asked on an interview questionnaire (see below). They serve no purpose in the letter we’re discussing. For example, in character reference letter writing, you may want to write to someone named Terry Brooks by using “Mr. Terry Brooks.” Your letter will be laughable if Terry Brooks turns out to be a woman. “Mrs.” is the “old” form to denote a married woman and that title was usually added when the woman used her husband’s name, as in Mrs. John Doe. “Miss” was used to denote a single woman or a film star, who was supposed to at least be thought of as single and desirable. “Ms.” is a more recent title, created by women I believe, to use when marriage had nothing to do with whom the person was. Lots of men like “Mr.” but it is fading from use. It is too formal. In my day-to-day letter writing, I find that men prefer their first and last names. So both positive and negative connotations apply to these titles and have no meaning in character reference letter writing. Simply use both first and last names of the addressee, as in the samples below. In character reference letter writing, don’t be tempted to go overboard for a friend, or in your judgment of people in general. It’s fine to help someone, but stick to only what you know. Above all, be honest. State only positive aspects about the subject person. If you feel for any reason that you must include negative information, DO NOT write that letter at all. I always favor “Sincerely” as a closing on most of my letters, including character reference letter writing. It’s just a strange quirk with me, but every time I see “Truly yours,” or “Yours truly,” mentally I say, “I am not yours, but I am sincere.” The same applies to using words and phrases like “faithfully yours” or “very truly yours.” Does the word “very” make it more meaningful than saying “Truly yours?” Just me and my little quirks. I prefer to keep character reference letter writing more like serious business writing. What you say will be taken more seriously. Letter Writing Format Samples Let’s use a character reference for a person seeking employment as our first example. Date Jane Doe Company Name 1234 Fifth Street City, State, Zip code Re: Character Reference Dear Jane Doe, I met John Brown about five years ago. He is an avid gardener who took care of my neighbor’s yard. I asked for help and he made suggestions that helped me beautify my lot. John is organized and extremely competent. His knowledge of horticulture is astounding. He can name every plant or tree, blade of grass, and weed you point to. He also knows how to care for each or how to safely remove them without polluting. He’s very friendly to everyone and extremely detail oriented and caring about plants. I would highly recommend John for any position he chooses to pursue in his career field. His knowledge would be a valuable asset. If you have further questions, please contact me anytime. Sincerely, Your Name _______________ This letter can be written on personal stationery or plain white paper. In the above sample of character reference letter writing for someone seeking a job, stick to only what you know about the person as pertains to the job she or he wants. That person will have asked you for a personal character reference, and have already told you the reason. If you know some merits of the person and can say them in two or three words, include them in character reference letter writing. Just make sure you know what you write is true. Suppose you are an employer or the company’s person in charge of character reference letter writing. If someone asked you to write a personal character reference for him or her as they move on to a new job, or as they leave the area, use this letter writing format: (Date) To whom it may concern, John Brown was employed with our firm from (date) to (date, or to the present, if still employed). His salary was $80K per annum, plus benefits. He is/was Office Manager for our printing firm. He is highly skilled in day-to-day operations and management, assuring all employees duties meshed smoothly. He’s a quick thinker and great problem solver. I would gladly re-hire John Brown should he ever return to this area. Sincerely, Your Name Your Title _______________ This letter would be written on company letterhead. Notice that no Addressee appears in a letter writing format. You do not know to whom the employee will send your recommendation, so no addressee can be included. This is the time “To whom it may concern” should be used in character reference letter writing. Some people like to write it like a title: To Whom It May Concern. This is acceptable too. In the end you state that you would re-hire this employee. In truth, the only way you could do character reference letter writing for anyone you would not re-hire would be to state only the facts of their employment and salary. Federal law and laws varying per state have made it impossible to say anything negative about a person when performing character reference letter writing – when stating any kind of reference, for that matter. And, or course, if you would not re-hire this person, leave it off. The omission speaks for itself. Personal character reference writing includes various reasons for writing a letter or receiving one for yourself should you need it. When seeking referrals for yourself, I suggest that when you approach someone to write a personal character reference for you, that you offer to give them a sample. This will supply them with the brief letter writing format that is necessary. Some of the reasons for personal character reference writing are when a person requests to sit on company boards, or are applying to join private clubs or societies. In personal character reference writing, follow the same numbered format given above. Here’s a sample of a person applying for membership in a club: (Date) John Doe Club of Society 1234 Fifth Street City, State, Zip code Re: Personal Character Reference Dear John Doe, I have known John Brown for about thirty years. He has worked in the insurance industry all those years and has become known as an expert in his specialty, with many recognition awards. John handles all my insurance needs. I have known him to be exceptionally honest and helpful. He seems able to intuit my questions before I ask them. I can confirm that John is a person of unusual integrity. He is dedicated to both his work and his family, and writes children’s books as a sideline. The business I own for which John provides insurance coverage is a large day care center known as Kid’s Place. I’ve been in business for twenty years and chose John for insurance coverage since I already knew and liked him. Sincerely, Your Name Your Title _______________ This letter can be written on company letterhead, personal stationery, or plain white paper. Notice in the above example, John’s work and character are mentioned. A person’s line of work and how they do it says volumes about their character. You cannot say that you know how well he would fit in with the society or club, or how well he might serve as a board member. You don’t know what these secret societies and boards do. The letter would be quite different if John were applying for a job at an insurance company. All you do in personal character reference writing is talk about John’s merits. This example is only about personal character reference writing. It is not directed toward employment this person might seek. It’s open-ended personal character reference letter writing about his character. Notice also that it is wise to say something about you. You need to be a person of some substance yourself in order to be writing a personal character reference letter for someone else. Put your information in the last paragraph. Your paragraphs need not be long. In fact they should be short – two to four sentences. About Questionnaires Sometimes companies send out questionnaires regarding a person they wish to hire. That person may have used your name as a reference. Hopefully, the job applicant will have gotten your permission in advance to use your name. The form you receive will be different than letter writing format. It will have a list of questions about the same types of information you might put into a letter. It might be more thorough. However, it is still considered character reference letter writing. Complete as much as possible with short, succinct answers. Do not try to fill in responses for the questions about which you know nothing or are uncertain. Black spaces are expected. We never know everything about everyone. Again, write only positive comments. Leave the rest blank. A reason you may receive this type of questionnaire would be from companies seeking employment verification, if you previously employed the applicant in your company or office. Another reason for employment verification would be from those who do background checks, government offices would be one. In any case, these all fall under the category of character letter reference writing or personal character reference writing. Don’t be intimidated by the formal terminology. Some last thoughts about personal character reference writing: Many times people seek personal character reference letters from former employers but are uncertain what may be said about them. If this is the case, the person should consider also getting a few personal character reference letters from friends and those who know them outside of work. A combination of these could greatly enhance the way a person appears when the addressee reads the letters together. Let’s face it. Sometimes we need all the help we can get. And finally… It would not be wise to show your finished reference to the person about whom you write any personal character reference letter. If shown to that person, they may ask you to change something, or to include this or that. They may feel you didn’t rave about them enough. They might as well do their own character reference letter writing. I recommend that in character reference letter writing, that you get the information where and to whom you are to mail the letter. Write it and send it off. If you promise to do it, send it off without delay. Think twice about stating in any character reference letter writing that you can be contacted for more information. Sometimes you will want to do this, sometimes not. It’s a judgment call in each instance. Information contained in the letter writing format on this page should make the job of character reference letter writing a lot easier.