in Work

How to (and not to) write a letter to someone in Los Angeles asking for advice

Before I moved to Los Angeles, one of my professors gave me contact information for several alumni who were already living there. Meeting some of those contacts resulted in me getting my first job, as well as many subsequent jobs.

Emailing someone you don’t know can be stressful. How do you phrase your email without sounding like you’re just using them to get work, when, in actuality, you’re using them to get work?

Being employed in Hollywood is all about who you know. Relatively speaking, though, meeting people is the easy part—if you know how to get in touch with them. Let me share an email I recently got from a fellow University of Central Florida alumna:

Hi Jesse,

I’m a recent graduate of UCF’s film program, and a good friend of [professor]. She sent me your contact information as one of her “all-stars” out in L.A. I just recently moved out west, and am looking for any P.A. work. If you, or anyone you know needs help with any projects, definitely let me know.

Thanks so much.

This is a good example. Of what not to do.

To contrast, there’s another email I recently received:

Hello Jesse,

I’m a fellow UCF graduate that is moving out to the Los Angeles area. I graduated with a degree in television production and worked as a freelance production assistant in Orlando for the past year. If you are available, I would love to meet and buy you lunch or coffee to talk about work, Los Angeles and any other advice you may be willing to share.

I will be available to meet starting July 24th. You can e-mail me back at this address or call me at [phone number]. I understand if you are busy, but thanks for taking the time to read this e-mail.

The latter email is a clear and substantial improvement over the first email’s not-so-subtle “can you get me a job?” vibe.

Some pointers when constructing your own letter:

  • Get to the point. Tell me why you’re writing in the first few lines of the email, if not the first line.
  • Keep your emails short. There’s rarely a good reason to write more than 120 words.
  • I love the line in the second email: “I understand if you are busy, but thanks for taking the time to read this e-mail.” This is reverse psychology at its finest. The person understands that I’m busy and appreciates that I’ve given their email my time and attention. I’m more inclined to meet with people who understand that my time is valuable.
  • If you’re asking a stranger to meet with you and share their life experiences, the least you can do is offer to buy them lunch. “But Jesse, hold on! Moving is expensive,” you say, as you promptly throw down $50 for a night out on the town with your friends and eat out 7 nights a week. Moving is expensive. And part of the money you have set aside to move should be for networking as well. Besides, it’s just classy to offer, even if the person you’re meeting with doesn’t take you up on it.
Ultimately, people will likely meet with you if your letter is considerate. Why? Because in this industry, you are always looking to meet people who you can help, so they can one day return the favor. I was recently able to edit a short film for someone who recommended me to one of my first jobs. What went around, came around.