I saw this harrowing tale about an internship gone wrong recently. I recommend reading it, if you want to know how badly these things can go.
But there was one complaint the poster had that I think is completely unwarranted:
What really pissed me off is she wouldn’t write me a letter of recommendation. She wanted me to write it and she just wanted to sign it. She really couldn’t just write one page?? How hard would it have been?
Do You Even Need a Letter of Recommendation?
In this business, you don’t really see letters of recommendation very often. I suspect it’s because we’re all looking for a new gig every two to eight months. You wouldn’t have time to do anything but write and request letters of recommendation.
That being said, it does come up occasionally. For example, several TV writing programs require a letter of recommendation. So does the DGA Trainee Program. And probably grad school, if you want to throw your money away like that.
How to Obtain a Letter of Recommendation
Always keep at the forefront of your mind that the person writing the letter is doing you a favor. They get absolutely nothing out of it, other than a warm and fuzzy feeling for helping you out. As such, you should do everything in your power to make it as simple and easy as possible for them to do you this favor.
If you have a close, friendly relationship with the person, you can casually ask in person (or via text) if they can write you a letter of recommendation. But don’t overwhelm them with anything more than the general purpose of the letter (i.e. a writing fellowship). Tell them you’ll email them with the details.
If it’s more of a purely professional relationship, shoot them an email. As always, keep it short. Just a couple lines telling them what you’re doing, and asking if they’d be kind enough to write the letter. Also, make sure the subject line is clear. Something like “Letter of Recommendation for Jane Doe.”
You Do the Work
Now, here’s where we get to the mistake the redditor above made. Once they’ve agreed to provide a letter of recommendation (whether it’s a friend or a professional acquaintance), you should offer to write it for them. Maybe don’t state it as baldly as that. Offer to write a draft for them. Or offer to provide a list of bullet points you’d like them to cover.
There’s a couple of reasons to do this. First, as stated above, this makes their life a lot easier. Most people don’t like writing; you’re asking them to write without any sort of compensation.
Second, if the recommender does like you, they’ll feel immense pressure to write a good letter. They don’t want to write a shitty letter that winds up costing you the internship or whatever. Besides, you know better thant hey do what the program is looking for. Your boss might think you make a mean cup of coffee, but you know that week you spent covering for the writers’ assistant is more relevant to the fellowship program.
If you draft the letter, it relieves both of those concerns.
The Hardest Part
It’s going to feel weird talking about how great you are. It can be uncomfortable, since we’re taught as children to be humble.
Too fucking bad. If that’s the most difficult aspect of your application, then you’ve got it made.