Especially in Hollywood, where so many job openings are found in “unofficial” locations like job lists and tracking boards, it’s important to know what type of cover letter to send with your resume when submitting an application. Sometimes you’ll want to send a formal cover letter, and other times it’s better to send a cover email. If you’re applying through a company’s careers portal, you’ll most likely be uploading a full resume and cover letter (although if at all possible, try to get your resume into the hands of a real person in addition to applying online!). But if you’re submitting a resume via email, things can get a little more tricky.
First and foremost, you should always follow the directions on the posting. If the listing says “email resumes to email@example.com,” you should do just that. Send a short cover email and attach only your resume. Remember, this is an exercise in following directions, and that’s just as important as your qualifications. If a posting asks you to email both a resume and cover letter, you should attach your resume and formal cover letter, and you’ll also want to include a brief cover email, just in case no one reads the cover letter (a likely situation). “Attached please find my resume and cover letter for your consideration for the assistant position” is not sufficient. Write the CliffsNotes version of your cover letter in the email to help frame your application.
So how is a cover email different from a cover letter? The short answer: It’s about half as long. A cover letter will ideally be no longer than half a page—three short paragraphs: intro, relevant experience, and summary. A cover email will only be one paragraph—probably about four sentences. If a hiring manager isn’t asking for a cover letter, it’s because they don’t want to spend the time reading one. But it is good to express your intentions, especially if it’s not completely obvious from your resume why you’re applying for the job. So in a cover email, you should name the position you’re applying for, describe who you are, and state why you should be considered for this role. You’ll attach your resume, ask for an interview, thank the person you’re writing to for their time, and that’s it, you’re done. Make sure you keep it brief — hiring managers love candidates that can get their point across in a concise manner.
One final tip: Your cover email should be even more conversational than a cover letter. DO NOT copy and paste cover emails for multiple applications. It’s pretty obvious when you do this in a cover letter, but it’s impossible to ignore in a cover email. Open a fresh email for every application, and start from scratch — you’ll sound less like a robot and are a lot more likely to get a call.
This is a guest blog post by screenwriter Robert Boesel, author of the funny and informative new book Adult Stuff: Things You Need to Know to Win at Real Life.
You just graduated from [insert prestigious university], majored in [film/theater/some liberal arts degree], and now you’re moving to Los Angeles! It’s so exciting! You’re finally going to apply all the artistic knowledge you’ve gleaned over four years at college (between drinking, naps, and trips to the cafeteria). As soon as you get off the plane at LAX, success will come to you. As you wait for your luggage at baggage claim, you’ll strike up a conversation with a movie producer, who happens to be in need of a [writer/actor/director/producer] for his new hundred million dollar movie. He’ll recognize your innate talent and hire you on the spot. SMASH CUT TO days later, when you’re sitting on set in your personalized director’s chair. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with the Who’s Who of Hollywood, and it’s all because you deserve it.
The only shoulders you’ll be rubbing will be your massage clients at the spa you’ll have to work at. Because guess what? Odds are, your first job in LA will not at all be related to your fancy and overpriced undergrad degree.
Also, you don’t deserve success. No one deserves success. The worst thing you can do as an LA noob is feel entitled. You might have been top of your class and got that grant for your black & white senior thesis film about tortured youths smoking cigarettes in an abandoned warehouse, but thousands of other talented twentysomethings are moving to LA, too (and at least a third of them produced that exact same senior thesis film). This is a “big fish / small pond” situation. Now you have to stand out amongst the most talented people in the world. No pressure.
Basically, it boils down to this: You’re not as good as you think you are.
And that’s okay. You just need more time to incubate that talent buried deep within. But don’t think your writing sample or acting reel from college is at the level of quality where executives will actually consider you for anything creative. They’ll maybe consider you for picking up their dry cleaning. Mayyybe.
And how do you even get that job? How do you break in? That’s the big question and probably the only reason why you’re reading this. Everyone’s story is different. What seems to be common, though, is the timeline of jobs. Anecdotal evidence supports this general timeline:
First 3-5 Years
You’ll work jobs that suck, either in the entertainment industry as an assistant or in the service industry as a barista. You’ll be treated unfairly, people will exploit you, you’ll question your hopes and dreams, and you’ll seriously consider moving back home to live with your parents.
About 5 Years In
At some point around the half-decade mark, you will have a tiny zygote of success, something so insignificant it might not even look like success. But it will keep the kindling of your dream alive enough so the flame doesn’t burn out.
You will see a steady increase in success, which will give you more confidence to achieve more success.
You might actually be at a place to start feeling like you could do this for a living. It’s still going to be difficult but not as difficult as when you began.
So that’s the basic timeline: about ten years to gain serious traction in Hollywood. Of course, there are outliers who achieve success much quicker. But don’t cling to the fact Josh Schwartz sold The OC and ran it when he was 26. Thinking about that doesn’t help you at all. Every once in awhile, someone wins the lottery. The rest of us have to work for a living. And that’s what you’re going to have to do.
Just Do This
People have said this so often it has become a cliché, but if you can be happy doing ANYTHING ELSE with your life other than entertainment, please do that. Seriously. It’s extremely competitive, and few people ever get rich and famous. Most people cobble together a sustainable life with the few jobs they end up getting. You need to reframe “making it” from “making it big” to “making enough money so you don’t have to move back home and live with your parents.”
And the “how to break in” question needs its own blog post, but here are two quick tips:
And once you get that entry-level job, keep your ego in check. Higher ups can smell your sense of entitlement. Don’t pout when the coordinator asks you to pick up coffee. That’s your job. Thousands of other recent grads would kill to get coffee.
And keep writing or directing or acting or doing whatever you want to do professionally. It’s exhausting working a full time job and then having to be creative after work, but you need to do it. No one in Hollywood cares if you succeed or not. It’s all on you. And as far as writing goes, your first 5-7 writing samples out of college will be very, very bad. But you still have to write those so you can get to the very, very good ones.
Listen, this blog post was a buzzkill. Noted. But you should know what you’re getting into. You need connections, talent, hard work, and patience. Here’s the kinda sorta silver lining: a lot of success in Hollywood is about atrophy. If you stick with it long enough, the weaker people will give up or get fired, and you’ll still be standing with that hard earned experience you learned through the years.
You moved to LA for a reason. Now get on out there and patiently make your dreams come true.
So you’ve been an assistant for a year or two, and you feel ready to make the jump to coordinator. But for some, that next step feels like an impossible hurdle. It's very common for Hollywood hopefuls to get stuck in assistant positions for years, but that doesn't have to be you. If you plan carefully, you can get the promotion you deserve.
But that’s the key: deserving it. Type “entitled millennials” into a Google search, and before you get to the second “l” of millennial, you’ll find an autofilled result for “in the workplace.” Now, as hardworking millennials ourselves, we’re not big fans of that stereotype, but we do understand it exists and have seen entitled folks of all generations think they deserve a promotion simply based on the length of time they've spent at a job. In order to convince your boss that you’re worth a title bump and a raise, you’ll need more ammunition than, “I've worked here a while, I’m bored, and my rent is high.”
Luckily, you can prove you’re capable of a coordinator title before it’s ever offered to you. Simply take the initiative to do coordinator-level tasks, even if they aren’t requested. You'll have to do some badass multitasking, since you can’t let your assistant duties slide, but it’ll be worth it (and you might even learn something!). Start compiling grids, obsessively read the trades so you can share hot casting or pickup news, offer your opinions on scripts, and ask for an intern so you can showcase your management skills. As you volunteer for tougher projects, always keep a passionate smile on your face instead of letting the overwhelmed assistant blues sink in.
After you’ve proven that you can do more than answer phones and schedule meetings, set a meeting with your boss and go over your accomplishments. Print out a list of all your responsibilities, and make note of the tasks you have taken on that are above your pay grade -- if you can clearly make your argument on paper, it will be hard for your supervisor to claim that you aren't ready to move up. And then, ASK FOR A PROMOTION. If you don't ask, it won't happen -- no one is going offer you a promotion out of the blue, so don't be shy.
If there’s room for you to move up in the department, you'll most likely get the promotion, and your boss will hire a new assistant (maybe even that intern you positioned so well earlier). It's also possible that you’ll get the title and/or pay bump, but you'll still have to handle assistant duties, and that’s okay -- at least you’ve made some progress and can leave with a higher title if you ever decide to move to a new company.
But sometimes, things don't work out quite as nicely. You may be denied a promotion because there's someone in line for coordinator ahead of you, or your boss may be too short-sighted to realize just how much you contribute to the team. If so, you should start looking elsewhere for your title bump -- there’s no sense in answering someone’s phones if it’s not going to lead you somewhere. But don't think you have to take another assistant position at this point. They may be a little harder to come by, but you should apply for coordinator-level positions at other companies -- try not to make a lateral move. For example, two years as an assistant at a network can easily be leveraged into a coordinator role at a production company. Just make sure you update your resume to reflect the coordinator duties you took on in your previous position. If you're qualified and deserving, someone will eventually take a chance on you.
LinkedIn is one of the most valuable tools for both networking and searching for jobs. We’re big fans of LinkedIn and have used it many times to land interviews or make professional connections (and to help our friends do these things!). The site makes it easy for you to identify potential contacts at companies you want to work for or partner with, so it’s essential to know how to use it. Here are a few tips for making LinkedIn work for you:
1. Complete your LinkedIn profile. At minimum, you should include a picture (very important!), your current job title or a headline describing your primary area of expertise, the company names and positions of all your previous jobs, and your education. If you're looking for a wide range of jobs, you can keep your profile sparse or your descriptions very broad, so as not to be pigeonholed into a specific type of position. In general, it's helpful to include a brief description under each section of your work experience, and filling out the summary section is a great way to set the stage and introduce yourself to the LinkedIn community. Just remember, LinkedIn is not your resume. You want to write in a conversational tone and try to express a “what I can do for you” sentiment as you phrase your descriptions.
2. Connect with everyone you know. If you have fewer than 500 connections on LinkedIn, you need to step up your game. Use the “People You May Know” tool to identify new connections. Spend five minutes each day going through this list and connecting with everyone you know, even if they work in a different industry. But don’t connect with strangers -- they won’t be able to help you in the long run, and too many spammy requests can actually get you kicked off the site. If you want to connect with someone you don’t know for an actual business purpose (and don’t already have a connection that can make an introduction), be sure to include a note explaining your intentions. Many people won’t reply to strangers even with a note, but you’ll up your chances of getting a response significantly if you can communicate a strong reason for reaching out.
3. Use LinkedIn to search for job postings. Tons of companies post for jobs on LinkedIn, and it’s a great, centralized way to search for new openings. The site allows you to create saved searches and get email notifications for new jobs that match your search terms, which will help you with a lot of the heavy lifting. Plus, you’ll often be able to see who created the job posting and can reach out to them directly to follow up on an application.
4. Identify possible contacts for informational interviews. The ability to search for people within a specific company on LinkedIn is invaluable. If there’s a company you’re really interested in, you should be able to find at least one person at the company that can help you. Look up the people at the company and see if you have 2nd degree connections with any of them. Politely ask your contact if they might be able to make an introduction for someone in a relevant department, and go ask for help! You can also search by job function. For example, if you want to be a development executive or writers' assistant and want to meet someone in that coveted role, search by job title and see who you know who knows someone you can talk to.
5. Figure out who’s hiring for a specific job. Most HR recruiters are very active on LinkedIn, so if you’re applying for a job, see if you can reach out to the recruiter to try to get a leg up. If you have his or her name, you may be able to figure out the company email format and send an email, but if not, you can always send a message through LinkedIn. Even better, see if you know anyone in the department who’s hiring (or someone that can pass along a resume to one of their connections). Any opportunity to get your resume into a real person’s hands instead of an application database will give you a huge advantage during the job search.