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Intern diary: I asked for a letter of recommendation and was told to write it myself

Blow your own trumpet

Blow your own trumpet

I’m spending this summer interning in the wealth management division of an investment bank in New York City. This is the second installment of weekly intern diary.  

So, this past week I asked my managers to write me a letter of recommendation (a reference, for UK readers) and was asked to write one myself! The trouble is that many of my team members have tight schedules. One is studying for the CFA, which is a lot of extra work, and so they don’t have too much time for writing letters on behalf of interns.

After I’d written the letter, my supervisor suggested that I email it to him for his approval. This seemed strange and new and put me in a difficult position. On one hand, I didn’t want to put myself on a pedestal by writing a recommendation letter which was too effusive. – What if he thought I’m not that great, but didn’t want to say so? What if my letter had to be toned down? What if I didn’t sell myself hard enough?

If there’s one thing that this internship has taught me, it’s that if I have to dive in headfirst – even if the waters look murky. So, I wrote the letter.

My first draft was terrible and dull. I opened every, “how to” page I could find on Google and nothing sparked any inspiration. I ended up simply listing what I’m doing at the wealth management company I’m interning for. In other words: prospecting clients, pre-qualifying them over the phone, organizing their information for future use in order to maintain relationships and assigning them to the correct financial advisor.  That didn’t make me stand out. So, I decided to list all the compliments I’ve ever been given in a business setting and then apply those to my letter. – After all, it wasn’t me who said them, right?

The letter took a while to write, but in the end I had something which made me look good but wasn’t me blowing my own trumpet. My supervisor signed it and didn’t seem to object to what was in it.

Any movie about Wall Street will tell you that it’s a dog-eat-dog environment and you need to promote yourself to win respect. I consider myself humble, so I’ve had to work on the self-promotion. The letter has boosted my self- confidence in a business setting and helped me come up with ways to advertise myself to future employers. By delegating writing the letter to me, my supervisor actually taught me a lot about getting ahead. People in finance are smarter than you think. Banking internships may involve you doing the admin work, but you can learn from that.

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How to ace an internship at Goldman Sachs

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