Have you ever filled out an application and been unsure what they wanted because everything seemed too similar? What is a character reference, and how is it different from a personal reference, an employment reference, or a letter of recommendation?
Here's the easiest answer: a character reference is also called a personal reference. When someone asks you for a character reference or personal reference, they are asking for you to get someone (verbally or in writing) to vouch for your character. Usually you'll want to ask a friend, family member, pastor, colleague, neighbor, or former employer to talk about what you're like as a person.
A character reference should talk about your personality traits and how those traits make you a good, trustworthy person. If you're trying to get a reduced sentence in court, a good character reference might talk about your remorse, your determination, and your strong support network. If you're trying to get a scholarship, a good character reference might describe your ambition, your work ethic, your sense of fairness, and passion for certain subjects. This isn't a resume—a character reference shouldn't be about your accomplishments or professional skills. It should be about (for example) your integrity, your patience, your kindness, and your dedication.
A letter of recommendation, on the other hand, is all about qualifications. A recommendation letter is a specific, targeted account of your professional traits and skills, and how those skills apply to your application. If you're applying for graduate school, the letter of recommendation should provide detailed examples of your talents, skills, and good traits, and how those qualities will make you the best candidate for the graduate program. Professional accomplishments tend to be more important than personal traits in a recommendation letter, but personality can be mentioned as long as it relates to the application at hand.
Somewhere in between these two form types is the employment reference. An employment reference is similar to a character reference letter. It's written by a former employer, colleague, or employee, but it avoids accomplishments and professional qualifications. Instead, it's all about how you conduct yourself at work. Are you a fair, communicative boss? Are you a courteous colleague who can self-start but still work as a team? Are you a punctual, honest employee who works hard every day? The way you conduct yourself in a professional setting can be a huge factor in getting a new job, and that's what employment references cover.
Index of Character Reference Letter Examples