How to write a reference letter (with examples)

How to write a reference letter (with examples)
SEEK content teamupdated on 01 May, 2024

Wondering how to write a reference letter? Perhaps a friend has asked you to provide a reference letter as part of a job application, or maybe you need one for yourself. Whatever the case, it’s worthwhile learning how to write a letter of recommendation that says all the right things in the right way. 

A reference letter for a job application is an endorsement of someone’s skills, experience and personal attributes. It’s an important letter that should provide a glowing first impression of a job seeker. In this guide, we provide tips for writing a reference letter as well as a reference letter template, so you can cover all the important points in a concise and impactful way.

A personal reference letter, also known as a character reference letter is a written recommendation or testimonial vouching for someone’s qualities and character. This reference usually just focuses on personal attributes, rather than job skills and work experience. It can be used for professional, academic and personal purposes, for jobs, university placements, or rental property applications.

A job seeker may be asked for a reference letter as part of a job application if they don’t have much work experience or if they’re applying for a role at a school or volunteer organisation.


Different roles call for different types of reference letters. Personal or character reference letters and professional references are the most common. 

Character reference

Character references are provided by people who know you well on a personal level but haven’t necessarily worked with you. This includes friends, family, religious leaders, coaches and mentors.

Character references are often requested for volunteer positions, housing applications, legal proceedings, or situations where your trustworthiness and overall character are important.

Professional reference

A professional reference focuses on your work performance and skills. It highlights your abilities, accomplishments and work ethic in a professional setting. They are usually written by former or current employers, colleagues or supervisors. 

These are requested for some job applications, though many employers prefer to call your references as part of a standard background check. They help employers get a sense of your capabilities, how well you work with others, and how you might perform in their company.


Knowing what to write in a reference ensures the best chances of making a positive impression on the hiring manager. If you’re not sure where to start, follow our standard reference letter format, with all the main components outlined below.

1. Standard components of a reference letter

A character reference letter is basically a testimonial of someone’s personal attributes and qualities, using examples that demonstrate those qualities in action. Make sure your character reference letter includes:

  • An introduction of who you are and how you know the person
  • An honest opinion of what you believe are the person’s strengths and traits
  • Examples of how the person has used those strengths and traits
  • Why you believe they’d be an asset to the hiring company

It’s important that each component is specific rather than vague and generic, so it reads as sincere and paints an insightful picture of the person. 

2. Formatting tips for clarity and professionalism

As with any job application document, a reference letter should be laid out in an easy-to-read and consistent manner. Neat formatting conveys professionalism and trustworthiness. Lay out a reference letter like a traditional letter, incorporating:

  • A greeting or salutation to the reader (by name if possible)
  • An introduction, detailing your background and relationship with the person
  • The body of the reference
  • Your signature
  • Your contact details

Use formal or semi-formal language and tone, to convey professionalism and sincerity.

3. Reference form vs free-form letter

Sometimes organisations will provide references with a questionnaire or form to fill out about the job applicant. This can help them find out the exact information they need to know, regarding specific skills or character traits. 

A free-form reference letter is more flexible, and allows you to share your opinion without being constrained to certain questions. If you receive a reference form and feel you have more to say, you can also submit a free-form letter to supplement your answers. 

Have you been asked to write a character reference? Knowing how to write a reference for someone is a good skill to have, as it not only helps others but can also benefit you if you need one in the future.

1. Write a compelling introduction

Begin by introducing yourself and stating your relationship to the person. Mention any accomplishments or qualifications you have, to establish your credibility.

2. Describe their qualities 

Outline all the good qualities of your reference person, focusing on a few specific attributes, like integrity, resilience and accountability. Use real-life examples or anecdotes to illustrate how the person has demonstrated these qualities.

3. Conclude with a strong endorsement

Summarise their good points at the end of your recommendation. Provide your contact information and invite the reader to reach out to you for follow-up questions.


For an idea of how to format your letter, here are some character reference examples and professional reference examples. These examples can be customised to different letters and applications.

A character reference template 

Dear [recipient’s name],

I am writing to provide a character reference for [name of individual], whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for [duration of time known]. As their [colleague/teacher/manager/etc.], I can personally recommend them for the role of [job title].

In the time I have known [name], they have always shown the utmost integrity and accountability. They have proven themselves dependable and willing to go the extra mile to help me and others time and again. They have shown determination and motivation throughout their studies and in their personal life, as demonstrated by their high academic scores and many sports achievements [for example].

[Name] is an intelligent, compassionate and competent person and I believe they’d be an asset to any team and successful in any position to which they aspire.

Please feel free to contact me at [phone number] or [email address] if you require any further information.


[Your name]

A character reference template for professional use

Dear [recipient’s name],

I am happy to provide a recommendation for [name of applicant] in support of their application for [university/job/rental property]. I have had the privilege of knowing [name] for [duration of relationship], during which time I have come to admire them for their exceptional qualities and achievements.

As their [teacher/manager/colleague/friend/etc.], I have witnessed [name’s] dedication to their [academic/industry] excellence, and passion for [area of study or industry]. They consistently show a strong work ethic, critical thinking skills, and a genuine interest to learn and grow.

[Name] has shown a remarkable ability to [insert top skill], through [example of use of skill or ability]. I believe this will serve them well as a [student/employee] at [university/business]. I cannot recommend them enough.

Should you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at [phone number] or on [email address].

Kindest regards,

[Your name]

A character reference letter for an entry level role with no experience

Dear Hiring Manager,

I'm writing to recommend Maya Sato for the role of Customer Service Assistant. I have been a teacher of Maya’s for the past three years and have been consistently impressed with her dedication to her work, and could not speak more highly of her.

Throughout her studies with me, Maya has shown a keen willingness to learn and a positive attitude that inspires those around her. I’m confident she will be a valued team player who can quickly master any responsibilities thrown her way.

If you need further information, feel free to contact me personally.


Bradley Beedle

A character reference letter for an entry level role with some experience

Dear Ms Dawson,

As the supervisor to Tom Nguyen for the past year, I am confident of their success in the role of Sales Agent at Property Real Estate. Having worked with them for 10 months, I can attest to their positive customer support skills and believe they have natural sales abilities.

While Tom may not have extension experience, he has always shown incredible aptitude for picking up new skills, whether that’s implementing new software systems or acting as assistant team leader. I’m always impressed by his positive attitude and ability to consistently upsell to our customers.

If you need further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Lazar Petrovic

A character reference letter for a colleague switching companies

Dear Mr Cassidy,

I am writing to recommend my colleague, Sam Aziz for the role of lead designer. Having worked closely with him for the last six years at ABC Company, I can personally vouch for his skills as a UX designer and team trainer.

Over the past six years, I have worked in the same team as Sam and on the same projects, and can confidently recommend his mastery of Figma, InVision and Adobe Creative Cloud in UX and UI design experience. He is a valuable team member and recently has acted as an inspiring and competent team leader. He is very positive and takes the time to ensure everyone feels heard. I am confident he would make an ideal team lead at your company, even though I will be sad to see him leave.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any further information.

Kind regards,

Karryn Goodall

A well-written character reference letter is an important part of the job application process for some employers, especially in the education and humanitarian sectors. With these tips and personal reference templates, you can write a letter that highlights the best character qualities of a job seeker, and give them the best chances of getting a callback. When customising the template to suit your reference letter, remember to use specific examples that demonstrate the applicant’s strong points and ensure the hiring manager knows how much of an asset they’d be. 

What is the difference between a professional reference and a character reference? 

A professional reference letter is from someone who has worked with you (typically a manager). It focuses on your work ethic, performance and technical skills. A personal reference letter is from someone who can vouch for your character, and focuses on your best attributes and qualities as a person. 

What are the different types of reference letters? 

The three types of reference letters are: professional, personal and academic reference letters. 

How long should a reference letter typically be?

A reference letter should be no more than one page long. Focus on a few key qualities in a couple of concise paragraphs rather than detailing every positive attribute.  

How can one ensure a reference letter is both positive and realistic?

To ensure a reference letter is both positive and realistic, be honest and accurate about the person, without going over the top. Include examples of the strengths and attributes you mention, to justify why you’ve highlighted these qualities. Be complimentary, but don’t use hyperbole (best, smartest, most amazing, etc.) in your recommendation, as it seems insincere. Don’t include anything in your letter that you don’t believe or that isn’t true or likely. 

What should you do if someone requests a reference letter, but you don’t feel comfortable writing one?

If you don’t feel comfortable providing a reference letter, be honest with the person and tell them the truth. Let them know that you feel someone else would be able to provide a more positive reference letter. 

Can the same reference letter be used for multiple applications?

Yes, a reference letter can be used for multiple applications if it makes sense for the different roles. It’s best to advise the person writing the reference letter when you will be using it, in case they are contacted for more information.

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