One of the biggest surprises of my career -- as both a celebrity assistant and headhunter for the UHNW -- is how many celebrities pay cash for their staff. Some of the time, the staff is even working illegally. The celebrity hires a staff member as an "independent contractor," but rarely does the candidate meet the legal requirements to qualify as an IC. The celebrity employers know this, and that's why they pay cash because they want everything "off the books."
While working for a celebrity does have "job perks," those roles often pay far too less because the Hollywood A-listers know that there are people who will work for cheap just to have access to the lifestyle: red carpet events, private jets, exotic cars, etc.
When staff members get burned out from the 16-hour days, six days a week, they eventually quit. When it comes time to get a verifiable recommendation letter, that's where the former staff member gets a rude awakening: no letter and "ghosting."
The celebrity's agent, manager, or publicist will rarely -- if ever -- be willing to "vouch" that the candidate did in fact work for the Star because they don't want to put anything on paper that would verify the A-lister was breaking the law.
How can I get a work verification letter from a celebrity?
I've also been in situations where I did have a recommendation letter from a celebrity to confirm an assistant's employment, but it wasn't verifiable. It was written by some business entity affiliated with the celebrity, but when you call the number, you can't get anyone on the phone. Then I wrote to the address on the letter and didn't hear anything back. Basically, the celebrity gave a "bogus" letter to the assistant just to get rid of them, and then when it came time to have that letter actually mean something, everyone runs away, and the assistant is left "holding the bag."
I have also been in situations where the celebrity assistants were working legally, and did have legit recommendation letters, but they became "stale" and were not verifiable because the celebrities eventually move, change phones, get different agents, etc. Once that happens, A-listers are very difficult to reach. So those "glory days" as a celebrity PA can't always help your personal assistant career.
So, be warned. Make sure you are 100% legal and on the books. If so, at the very least you will have a paper trail (i.e., paycheck stubs) so you can prove that you worked for the celebrity. And if you do have a real recommendation letter, make sure you stay in touch with people and keep it up to date.
What is the "gold standard" for a recommendation letter?
The gold standard for recommendation letters, in my opinion, should have the following:
If you worked for a celebrity, high-net-worth family or billionaire, it's perfectly acceptable to have a business entity that represents the VIP write the letter for you: accountant, agent, business manager, etc.
I regularly get rec letters that are in a Word doc (no letterhead), and they aren't signed; nor do they have a company domain name for the email. Honestly, they are totally useless because when I call someone, I don't know if I'm talking to the candidate's best friend or sibling. It could just be someone posing as a former employer. And, yes, people have tried it.
Do you have a sample of an ideal recommendation letter?
Below is a sample of a solid recommendation letter that hits all of the points. It goes without saying that hitting all of the below standards when getting a letter from a celebrity or billionaire is next to impossible, but you want to get as many as possible (click image to enlarge to full screen).
Domestic Staffing Blog
Written for assistants and estate managers working for celebrities, CEOs, UHNW families, billionaires and royalty.