Character Reference (Personal Reference)

Definition

The term character reference refers to an individual that can provide a formal recommendation on the behalf of a job seeker.  Character references will oftentimes write a letter describing the job seeker's qualifications, potential, as well as their skills and knowledge.

Explanation

Also known as a personal reference, a character reference provides a formal recommendation to a potential future employer on behalf of a job seeker.  While the recommendation usually takes the form of a written letter, the reference may be called and questioned by the recruiter or a member of the hiring company.

Choosing the right character reference is important.  Ideally, this person would have worked very closely with the job seeker in the past and can attest to their qualifications, skills and knowledge.  The job seeker should also gain the permission (agreement) of the individual before their name appears on a list of references.

The format of a letter should be prescribed, and not free-form.  The information in this document should include:

  • The relationship between the reference and the job seeker.  For example, the reference may have been a coworker, supervisor, or mentor.  This information should be quite specific, so the reader understands how familiar the reference is with the applicant's performance.
  • An assessment of the job applicant's qualifications, potential, as well as their skills and knowledge.
  • The character reference's contact information, in case the reader has a specific question about the job applicant.

Ideally, the job seeker would have three to five individuals willing to help as a character reference.  The job seeker should also provide the reference with some context, including the type of jobs they're looking for, and their reason for leaving their current position.  Finally, the job seeker should notify their reference if they believe a recruiter or a representative from the hiring company will be reaching out to them.

Related Terms

resume format, cover letter, job interview, referral letter