Character Reference

June 10, 2024
Reference Checks
Discover the essence of character references: how they influence hiring decisions, tips for requesting and providing them effectively, and their impact on your career.

Have you ever wondered what makes a job applicant stand out in a sea of resumes and cover letters? It's not just about qualifications and experience; it's also about character. Employers are increasingly turning to character references to get a deeper understanding of who you are beyond your professional achievements. But what exactly is a character reference, and why does it matter?

In this guide, we'll explore everything you need to know about character references – from what they are and why they're important to how to request them and utilize them effectively in the hiring process. Whether you're an employer looking to assess a candidate's suitability for a role or an employee seeking to bolster your job application with strong references, this guide will equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to navigate the world of character references with confidence. So, let's dive in and uncover the power of character references in shaping successful careers.

Understanding Character References

In the realm of recruitment, character references serve as windows into an individual's personality, ethics, and reliability. Let's delve deeper into what character references entail and their significance in the hiring process.

What is a Character Reference?

Character references, in essence, are testimonials provided by individuals who can vouch for your integrity, values, and interpersonal skills. Unlike professional references that focus solely on your work-related competencies, character references shed light on your personal qualities and how they translate into your professional conduct.

Importance of Character References in the Hiring Process

Character references play a pivotal role in the hiring process for several reasons:

  • Holistic Insight: While resumes and interviews offer glimpses into a candidate's professional persona, character references provide a more holistic view of their character and behavior.
  • Assessment of Soft Skills: In today's dynamic work environments, soft skills like communication, teamwork, and adaptability are highly valued. Character references help employers gauge these intangible qualities.
  • Culture Fit: Employers often seek candidates whose values align with those of the organization. Character references help assess whether a candidate will fit seamlessly into the company culture.
  • Risk Mitigation: Hiring decisions involve inherent risks. Character references can help mitigate these risks by providing assurances of a candidate's reliability, trustworthiness, and ethical conduct.

How is a Character Reference Different from a Professional Reference?

While character references and professional references serve a common purpose—validating a candidate's suitability for a role—they differ in focus and scope:

  • Character References: Emphasize personal qualities, ethics, and values. They are typically provided by individuals who have known the candidate in non-professional capacities, such as friends, mentors, or community leaders.
  • Professional References: Highlight job-related skills, accomplishments, and performance. They are typically provided by former supervisors, colleagues, or clients who can attest to the candidate's work experience and capabilities.

When are Character References Required?

Employers may request character references at various stages of the hiring process, depending on the nature of the position and organizational requirements. Character references are often sought for roles that demand integrity, trustworthiness, and strong interpersonal skills, such as positions in healthcare, education, or finance.

Legal Implications and Ethical Considerations

While character references can provide valuable insights, it's essential to navigate the process with legal and ethical considerations in mind:

  • Anti-discrimination Laws: Employers must ensure that their reference requests comply with anti-discrimination laws to avoid any bias or discrimination based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, or religion.
  • Privacy Rights: Candidates have the right to control the dissemination of their personal information, including reference checks. Employers should obtain consent from candidates before contacting their referees.
  • Truthfulness and Accuracy: Referees should provide truthful and accurate assessments of a candidate's character, avoiding embellishments or misleading statements that could compromise the integrity of the hiring process.

Components of a Strong Character Reference

Crafting a compelling character reference requires attention to detail and a deep understanding of the candidate's qualities and experiences. Let's explore the essential components that contribute to a strong character reference.

Personal Introduction

Introducing yourself in a character reference establishes your credibility and provides context for your testimonial. Start by stating your name, position, and how you know the candidate. Whether you're a former colleague, mentor, or community leader, briefly outline your relationship with the candidate to give weight to your recommendation.

Relationship to the Candidate

Clarifying your relationship to the candidate is crucial for validating your insights. Describe how you know the candidate and the nature of your interactions. Whether you've worked closely with them in a professional setting or have known them personally for years, providing context about your relationship helps the reader understand the basis of your recommendation.

Assessment of Character Traits

Evaluating the candidate's character traits requires thoughtful consideration and specificity. Identify the qualities that make the candidate stand out, such as integrity, honesty, reliability, and empathy. Instead of making broad assertions, provide concrete examples or anecdotes that demonstrate these traits in action. Describe how the candidate's character positively impacts their interactions with others and contributes to their overall effectiveness in various situations.

Specific Examples or Instances

Supporting your assessment with specific examples or instances strengthens the credibility of your reference. Recall memorable incidents or observations where the candidate demonstrated exemplary behavior or handled challenging situations with grace and integrity. Whether it's going above and beyond to help a colleague in need or displaying resilience in the face of adversity, these real-life examples add depth to your testimonial and paint a vivid picture of the candidate's character.

Contact Information and Availability for Follow-up

Concluding your character reference with your contact information demonstrates your willingness to provide further clarification or verification if needed. Include your phone number and email address to make it easy for employers to reach out to you. Express your availability and readiness to answer any questions or provide additional insights about the candidate, reinforcing the sincerity and reliability of your recommendation.

How to Write a Character Reference?

Crafting a character reference that resonates with employers requires careful thought and attention to detail. Here's how you can ensure your character references leave a lasting impression.

Selecting the Right Referee

Choosing the right referee is paramount to the effectiveness of your character reference. Consider individuals who can provide a balanced and insightful perspective on the candidate's character and abilities. Opt for referees who have known the candidate in various capacities and can speak to different aspects of their personality and work ethic. This could include former supervisors, colleagues, mentors, or even clients who have collaborated closely with the candidate. Avoid selecting referees who may have conflicts of interest or biases that could compromise the credibility of your reference.

Guidelines for Writing a Compelling Reference

When writing a character reference, adhere to the following guidelines to ensure your testimonial is compelling and impactful:

  • Be Specific: Provide specific examples or anecdotes that illustrate the candidate's character traits and strengths. Avoid generalizations or vague statements that lack substance.
  • Be Honest: Integrity is paramount in character references. Be truthful and transparent in your assessment of the candidate, highlighting both their strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Be Objective: Strive to maintain objectivity in your reference, focusing on observable behaviors and experiences rather than personal opinions or biases.
  • Be Professional: Maintain a professional tone and format throughout your reference, aligning with the expectations of the hiring process and industry standards.
  • Be Concise: While it's essential to provide sufficient detail to support your assessment, avoid unnecessary verbosity. Keep your reference concise and to the point, ensuring that every word adds value to your testimonial.

Dos and Don'ts of Character References

To ensure your character reference makes a positive impact, adhere to the following dos and don'ts:

Character Reference Dos:

  • Do provide specific examples or instances that showcase the candidate's character and capabilities.
  • Do tailor your reference to the specific requirements and expectations of the position or industry.
  • Do obtain consent from the candidate before providing their contact information to prospective employers.
  • Do maintain professionalism and objectivity in your reference, avoiding personal biases or exaggerations.

Character Reference Don'ts:

  • Don't include irrelevant or misleading information that could detract from the credibility of your reference.
  • Don't rely solely on generic statements or clichés that lack depth or authenticity.
  • Don't write a reference if you don't feel comfortable vouching for the candidate's character or qualifications.
  • Don't disclose confidential or sensitive information without the candidate's explicit consent.

Tailoring References for Different Situations or Industries

Adapting your character references to suit the requirements and expectations of different situations or industries is essential for maximizing their impact.

  • Highlight Relevant Qualities: Identify the qualities and experiences that are most relevant to the position or industry and emphasize them in your reference.
  • Align with Company Values: Research the values and culture of the organization and align your reference with those principles to demonstrate the candidate's compatibility.
  • Customize Examples: Customize your examples or anecdotes to resonate with the specific challenges or opportunities present in the target industry or role.
  • Use Industry-Specific Language: Incorporate industry-specific terminology or jargon where appropriate to demonstrate your understanding of the field and the candidate's fit within it.

By tailoring your character references to the unique needs and expectations of different situations or industries, you can enhance their relevance and effectiveness in supporting the candidate's candidacy.

Sample Character Reference Templates

Providing and requesting character references can be a daunting task, but having well-crafted templates can streamline the process and ensure clarity and professionalism. Below are sample character reference templates tailored for both employers providing references and employees requesting them.

Template for Employers Providing References

[Your Name]
[Your Position]
[Your Company/Organization]
[Your Contact Information]


[Recipient's Name]
[Recipient's Position]
[Company/Organization Name]

Dear [Recipient's Name],

I am writing to provide a character reference for [Candidate's Name], who [brief description of how you know the candidate and your relationship, e.g., worked under my supervision at XYZ Company for two years]. During this time, I had the opportunity to observe [Candidate's Name]'s [positive qualities, such as integrity, reliability, teamwork skills, etc.].

[Provide a specific example or anecdote that illustrates the candidate's character traits and suitability for the position.]

Please feel free to contact me at [Your Phone Number] or [Your Email Address] if you require any further information or clarification.

[Your Name]

Template for Employees Requesting References

[Your Name]
[Your Contact Information]

[Recipient's Name]
[Recipient's Position]
[Company/Organization Name]

Dear [Recipient's Name],

I hope this letter finds you well. I am currently in the process of applying for [position/program] at [Company/Organization Name], and I am reaching out to request a character reference from you.

[Personal introduction and brief explanation of your relationship to the referee.]

I would be grateful if you could provide insight into my [positive qualities, such as integrity, reliability, teamwork skills, etc.], as well as any specific examples or instances that illustrate these qualities.

Thank you for considering my request. Please let me know if you require any additional information or if there is anything else I can provide to assist you in writing the reference.

[Your Name]

How to Request and Handle Character References?

Requesting and handling character references require finesse and professionalism to ensure that both parties are satisfied with the outcome. Here's a detailed look at the process:

How to Request a Character Reference

When requesting a character reference, it's essential to approach potential referees thoughtfully and respectfully.

  1. Choose Wisely: Select individuals who are familiar with your character, work ethic, and personal qualities. Ensure that they are willing to provide a positive and insightful testimonial.
  2. Provide Context: When reaching out to potential referees, provide them with context about the position you're applying for and why you believe their insights would be valuable. This helps them tailor their reference to suit the requirements of the role.
  3. Request Permission: Before providing a referee's contact information to prospective employers, seek their permission and ensure that they are comfortable providing a reference for you.
  4. Follow Up: If a referee agrees to provide a character reference, follow up with them to provide any additional information or documentation they may need to craft a compelling testimonial.

Providing Guidance to Referees

To ensure that your referees provide meaningful and relevant character references, consider offering them guidance and direction:

  • Highlight Key Qualities: Share with your referees the qualities and experiences you'd like them to emphasize in their reference. Provide specific examples or anecdotes that illustrate these qualities to guide their testimonial.
  • Offer Suggestions: Offer suggestions for structuring the reference and provide templates or examples if possible. This can help your referees craft a well-organized and impactful testimonial.
  • Express Gratitude: Express your gratitude to your referees for taking the time to provide a character reference for you. Acknowledge the importance of their contribution to your job application process.

Handling Negative or Neutral References

While most character references are positive, there may be instances where you receive a negative or neutral reference. Here's how to handle such situations:

  • Seek Clarification: If you receive a negative or neutral reference, reach out to the referee to understand their concerns and seek clarification. Politely inquire about the reasons behind their assessment and whether there are any areas of improvement they suggest.
  • Provide Context: Offer additional context or information to mitigate any misunderstandings or misconceptions that may have led to the negative reference. Share your perspective on the situation and provide evidence or examples that contradict the negative assessment.
  • Focus on Positivity: Despite receiving a negative reference, maintain a positive and professional demeanor. Highlight your strengths and achievements in other areas and reassure prospective employers of your suitability for the role.

Ensuring Accuracy and Authenticity

To ensure that character references are accurate and authentic, both employers and candidates should take the following steps:

  • Verify Information: Employers should verify the information provided in character references to ensure its accuracy and reliability. This may include contacting referees directly to confirm the details of their testimonial.
  • Obtain Consent: Candidates should obtain consent from their referees before providing their contact information to prospective employers. This ensures that referees are aware of and comfortable with providing a reference on the candidate's behalf.
  • Maintain Integrity: Referees should maintain integrity and honesty in their character references, providing a truthful and objective assessment of the candidate's character and qualifications. Avoid embellishments or exaggerations that could mislead prospective employers.

By following these guidelines, both employers and candidates can navigate the process of requesting and handling character references with professionalism, transparency, and integrity.

How to Utilize Character References in the Hiring Process?

Character references serve as valuable tools for employers to assess a candidate's character, integrity, and suitability for a position. Let's explore how character references are utilized in the hiring process and how employers can leverage them effectively:

Role of Character References in the Hiring Decision

Character references play a crucial role in the hiring decision-making process for several reasons:

  • Insight into Personality: Character references provide employers with insights into a candidate's personality traits, work ethic, and interpersonal skills that may not be evident from resumes or interviews alone.
  • Confirmation of Suitability: By corroborating the candidate's claims and qualifications, character references help employers confirm the candidate's suitability for the role and assess their potential fit within the organization.
  • Risk Assessment: Employers use character references to evaluate the level of risk associated with hiring a particular candidate. Positive references can instill confidence in the candidate's reliability and integrity, while negative references may raise red flags and prompt further scrutiny.
  • Culture Fit: Character references help employers assess whether a candidate's values align with those of the organization and determine their potential for fitting into the company culture.

How Employers Evaluate Character References

When evaluating character references, employers look for certain key indicators and qualities:

  • Consistency: Employers assess the consistency of information provided in character references with other aspects of the candidate's application, such as their resume, cover letter, and performance in interviews.
  • Relevance: Employers evaluate the relevance of the reference to the position and industry. References from individuals who have directly supervised or worked closely with the candidate are often given more weight than those from acquaintances or personal connections.
  • Specificity: Employers value character references that provide specific examples or anecdotes illustrating the candidate's character traits and behavior. References that offer vague or generic statements are less impactful and may be viewed with skepticism.
  • Credibility of Referee: The credibility and reputation of the referee also play a significant role in how employers evaluate character references. References from individuals with established expertise or authority in their field carry more weight than those from less credible sources.

Addressing Reference Discrepancies or Concerns

In cases where there are discrepancies or concerns raised by character references, employers may take the following steps:

  • Verification: Employers may verify the information provided in character references by contacting the referees directly or conducting background checks to ensure its accuracy and reliability.
  • Interview Follow-up: Employers may follow up with the candidate during the interview process to address any discrepancies or concerns raised by character references. This provides an opportunity for the candidate to provide additional context or clarification.
  • Additional References: Employers may request additional references or testimonials from other individuals who can provide insights into the candidate's character and qualifications, especially if there are conflicting or ambiguous references.

Integrating Character References with Other Hiring Criteria

Character references should be considered as part of a holistic assessment of a candidate's qualifications and suitability for a position. Employers can integrate character references with other hiring criteria, such as:

  • Skills and Experience: Assessing the candidate's technical skills, expertise, and relevant experience through resumes, portfolios, and skill assessments.
  • Interview Performance: Evaluating the candidate's performance in interviews, including their communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and cultural fit.
  • Background Checks: Conducting background checks to verify the candidate's employment history, education credentials, and any criminal or financial records.

By integrating character references with other hiring criteria, employers can make more informed and well-rounded hiring decisions that align with the organization's goals and values.


Character references serve as invaluable assets in the hiring process, providing employers with insights into a candidate's integrity, reliability, and interpersonal skills. By leveraging well-crafted character references, both employers and employees can make more informed decisions that lead to successful and fulfilling professional relationships. Remember, character references are not just about ticking boxes or meeting requirements; they're about showcasing the qualities that make you uniquely suited for a role and demonstrating your commitment to excellence. So, whether you're on the giving or receiving end of a character reference, approach the process with sincerity, honesty, and gratitude, knowing that these testimonials can make a significant difference in shaping your career trajectory.

In today's competitive job market, the value of character references cannot be overstated. They provide a window into your character and help employers assess your fit for a role beyond what can be gleaned from traditional application materials. By understanding the components of a strong character reference, crafting compelling testimonials, and utilizing them effectively in the hiring process, you can elevate your candidacy and stand out from the crowd. So, as you embark on your job search journey, remember the power of character references and the role they play in shaping your professional reputation. With the right approach and mindset, you can harness the potential of character references to open doors to exciting opportunities and propel your career forward.

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