6 tips and tricks for writing a reference for someone else

Once in a blue moon (whatever that means) someone, a friend or co-worker or step-child, may ask you to submit a reference for them. These are known as character references in the biz. As funny as it would be to go into great detail about their fictional past as a spelunker, employers take these references pretty seriously.

People tend to use character references as the cherry on-top of their employment references. The latter is insurance that you can do the job, the former is insurance that you will do the job while being an all-round chill person.

But how do you even go about writing a reference for someone you know personally? Most people just save their one compliment a year for special occasions like birthdays or late Bar Mitzvahs.

Here are some tips and trick for writing a character reference (without things getting weird).

1. Explain how you know the person

First things first. Tell the interviewer where you met them (with appropriate detail) and for how long. If the truth is something like “three weeks, I only met them in the kitchen and we spoke for like two minutes” then make something up or refer to point six. This kind of honesty will make the interviewer think that this particular person has no friends. Which they probably don’t in this example.

2. Share your contact information

It’s simple but I’m sure people forget to do this. Provide a way for the employer to contact you if they need to follow up with any information. Stick your phone number and email at both the top and bottom of the page.

3. Ask them what they want from you

Ask this friend/co-worker what kind of job they’re going for and to send over the job listing. Write with the same tone and use the same language that is most likely going to appeal to your friend’s potential employer.

4. Use a reference letter template

Don’t just try and wing it. You’re guaranteed to go way over the word count, put in the wrong stories and miss vital information. There are dozens of great templates online – make use of them!

5. Stay positive

Leave the deprecation to them when they modestly describe their weaknesses in the interview. I’m sure your friend/co-worker won’t appreciate the fact that you’ve spent time highlighted their flaws in the 250 words you were allowed to sing their praises.

6. If you don’t think you’re up to it, say something

I once worked bar at a wedding where the best man had only known the groom for eight months. The two worked together. I thought this was really strange. The speech was great but I couldn’t help but wonder whether the best man just didn’t have the guts to suggest someone else for the job. Only agree to giving a reference if you think you can, honestly, say why they’d make a great employee.