How to Write a Personal Reference Letter

How to Write a Personal Reference Letter

Knowing how to write a personal reference letter is very important because it enables you to recommend your friends for various positions including job and internship positions or college admission. A personal reference is also called a character reference letter. It is a personal recommendation in which the writer highlights the main, positive attributes of the subject, applicant or candidate- Essentially, this letter is different from an official recommendation letter because it opens with “To Whom It May Concern”. A recommendation letter is usually addressed to the recipient or a specific person directly.

You can write a personal reference letter for a friend, a former co-worker or employee who is seeking a job, internship or admission to a college or university. You should take a request to write this letter as an honor because the person who asks you to write it trusts your ability to describe them in good light. Therefore, present an honest and accurate portrayal of your friend in the letter. Always remember that a personal reference letter should be written like a business letter though it has a simple formula.

Guidelines on how to write a personal reference letter

1. Know the purpose of the letter and define it

A successful personal letter should be specific- Therefore, take time to talk with the person that you are writing the reference letter for or the applicant. Find out what position they are applying for and the qualifications that they would like you to emphasize in the letter. Also find out what skills and experience are important to their potential employer. If the person has asked you to write a general personal reference letter, ask them about their future dreams and goals and what appealed to them most while working with you. This will enable you to think about the letter and shape it properly. During your conversation with the applicant, ask them about where the letter should be sent. This is very important because most employers prefer having reference and recommendation letters sent to them directly to ensure that applicants do not change them.

2. Brainstorm

After knowing the purpose of the letter, brainstorm the traits of the applicants that you will mention in the letter. Ensure that your list of traits includes the ones that you have concrete examples for. Although you might not use all traits, listing them will expedite your writing process. Therefore, include all qualities that you admire about the applicant and incidences when he/she demonstrated desirable qualities such as leadership and competence.

3. Format the letter

How you format your letter shows whether you know how to write a personal reference letter or not. A personal reference letter should have a business style format. Start by writing the date and the address then move to the body of your letter.

Open the body of your letter with positive remarks. For instance, you can write, “I am glad to write this reference letter in regards to a job position that John Smith applied for in your company”. Include both the first and second names of the applicant and spell them correctly.

After the opening remarks, introduce yourself as well as your past relationship with the subject or the applicant. Describe your experience working with the applicant and what the applicant did at that time. Include the best qualities or traits of the applicant that he/she depicted while working with you. Be specific and provide positive anecdotes where possible to enable his/her potential employer comprehend the qualities and their importance in a real work station or environment. If the applicant has faults or weaknesses, include them and how he/she handles them and external correction. Conclude the letter by summarizing how well the applicant is suited for the job or position he/she is applying for.

4. Support your view of the applicant

Have a paragraph in which you mention various facts about the positive aspects of the applicant. This includes the accomplishments and the role of the applicant in community service or company. Make sure that you provide adequate facts to back your opinion about the person.

5. Discuss the personality and character of the applicant

If possible, provide examples that depict the positive traits or aspects of the applicant. This includes examples that show trustworthiness and honesty, responsible behavior and reliability of the applicant. You can also include examples of instances when the applicant depicted intelligence-

6. Other things to include

If the subject is applying for an award, high level position or other honor, you can include your qualifications. This will enable the award committee or potential employer to consider your letter within the right context. If for instance you award honors or hire high-level executives, mention it in the letter and how the applicant compares to others.

7. Final remarks

Include the final closing remarks in your letter. For instance, you can write, “I am confident that the valued contribution of John will always be outstanding wherever he goes. You will not regret for hiring him as your employee.”

8.      Proofread and edit

Review your letter thoroughly to ensure that it is free of grammar and spelling errors. This is very important because it gives your letter credibility.

Additional hints on how to write a personal reference letter

  • Include the right content

After writing a personal reference letter, read it to ensure that you have included relevant content only. A personal reference letter should basically tell the recipient who you are, your job and necessary qualifications. It should also tell the reader how you relate with the applicant and the duration over which you have known him/her. Your opinion of the character of the applicant should also come out clearly. Also include your view of what is going on in the life of the applicant if necessary. Remember that most of the content of a personal reference letter should depend on its defined purpose. However, these are the common elements of a personal reference letter-

  • Do not be vague

Make your personal reference letter direct and clear to show authenticity. Use wording and expressions that will not make the recipient struggle to understand the content of the letter.

  • Do not lie or exaggerate

Lying or exaggerating about the traits of the applicant will put the applicant at risk. Exaggerations will make the reference letter look less plausible. When you lie or exaggerate the traits of the applicant, you make the employer set higher expectations of the applicant. These expectations might be impossible for the applicant to meet.

  • Avoid being too brief

If your personal reference letter is like a quick note, it is likely to tell the recipient that you do not know the applicant well. Therefore, bring out the key traits of the candidate properly without being too brief.

  • Keep the letter active and close it affirmatively

How you start each paragraph of your letter shows whether you really know how to write a personal reference letter. Make sure that each paragraph starts with an active, punchy affirmation of the character or qualities of the candidate. While closing the letter, reiterate your recommendation for the applicant. For instance, say, “John is definitely the right match for that position.”

Sample personal reference letter

A sample letter should be your practical guide that will make knowing how to write a personal reference letter easier for you.

Here is a sample personal reference letter to guide you:

2550 Notre-Dame W

Montreal, H3C QC 1K2

July 30, 2015

To Whom It May Concern:

Re: Personal Reference- Justin Ken

I am glad to write this personal reference letter in regard to Mr. Justin Ken’s application for a training program in your company. Being the Administrative Assistant at Global Media Inc. where Mr. Ken has been working, I have known him for the last five years. Mr. Ken has been a close acquaintance, a friend and a colleague.

Over the last five years that Mr. Ken has worked with us, he has depicted excellent skills, honesty and organization in his work. His determination, self-drive and high integrity are some of the attributes that describe his personality.

A good example of Ken’s traits is his contribution in our recent public relations campaign. Most ideas of the campaign were generated by Mr. Ken. He worked with other employees as their leader including working for extra hours to accomplish the goals of the campaign. Mr. Ken is a person who will go that extra mile to ensure that every project that he is involved in succeeds.

I am certain that allowing Mr. Ken an opportunity to train with your company will grow him more. I can undoubtedly assure you that Mr. Ken will do an excellent job during the training program.

For more information about Mr. Ken, do not hesitate to contact me on (514)323-415.


Martin Biden.

If you have difficulties in writing a personal reference letter, follow the above guidelines and use the sample letter as your writing guide.

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