What is a cover email?
In Hollywood, many job openings require that you apply via email. For these types of job applications, you should always send a cover email -- that is, a short email indicating your intention in applying and interest in the role. While a cover email is not a formally required piece of a job application (you’ll never see it requested in the application instructions), it is one of the most important factors in getting your resume opened by a hiring manager. Especially for freelance or entry-level roles that are posted widely, hiring managers receive so many job applications that they tend to consider only the candidates who have articulated their intention in applying in a concise and friendly way in the body of the email.
The good news is, writing a cover email is a quick and simple process! Ideally, you’ll address the email to an actual person (“Hi Jane,”), but if the email address is generic, “Hi,” or “Dear Hiring Manager,” is appropriate. Then, you’ll write a short paragraph stating your interest in a particular role, who you are/what you are doing now, any key selling points, and then indicate your desire to schedule an interview. In total, the cover email should be about 3-4 sentences. You can write conversationally – keep it professional of course, but the tone you would use in a regular work email will work here too.
We’ve found that a good cover email makes all the difference in your chances of getting an interview – no one likes opening an email from a total stranger that just has an attachment, or the very stand-offish "Resume attached." Make sure you don't skip this step when you apply for roles via email, even if you're also attaching a formal cover letter per the application instructions.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
There’s a lot of advice floating around the internet that suggests using bullet points in your cover letter to make it easier for hiring managers to read. And maybe this is effective in other industries, but in entertainment, it’s not the way to go. In our industry, if someone doesn’t want to take the time to read a cover letter, they won’t ask for one – simple as that! You’ll see a posting that says, “submit resumes to firstname.lastname@example.org,” and that’s all you should do. But if the posting is asking for a cover letter, they’re doing so for good reason, and a bullet point-heavy cover letter isn’t going to fulfill the intended purpose.
A cover letter is designed to give the hiring manager added context beyond your resume as to why you would be a good fit for the specific open role on their specific team at their specific firm. They want to understand who you are, why you’re interested in the role, and how your previous experience aligns with the role. If they wanted a list of bullet points, well, they could open your resume! Rather, they’re expecting to see how you communicate your ability to do the role. By crafting actual sentences that illustrate where you developed relevant skills, you’re showing the hiring team that you’ve taken the time to read the posting and concluded that you’re a good candidate. A list of bullet points with your top skills is too generic and cold.
Additionally, hiring managers who ask for cover letters do so to get a sense of your written communication skills. Can you compose well-constructed sentences? Can you tell a clear story of who you are? Can you summarize your experience in a coherent way? If your cover letter is just a paragraph followed by a few bullet points, you’re missing a valuable opportunity to convey your writing, communication, and storytelling skills.
As you apply for jobs, start a brand new document for each cover letter, and write three paragraphs explaining in sentence form why the employer should hire you. Save the bullets for your resume.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Why are cover emails important?
Imagine you’re a hiring manager looking to fill a new opening on your team. You’ve put up a posting on all the major Hollywood job boards and asked candidates to send their application materials to a dedicated email address. The postings go live, you open your inbox, and within 2 hours you’ve got hundreds of submissions. Overwhelming, but exciting.
You open the first application. It’s a totally blank email with a resume attached. Is this attachment spam from a spider that got a hold of your now very public email address? Even if it’s real, if this person can’t be bothered to compose a simple email like a normal professional when their own career is on the line, are they really right for your team? Maybe if you didn’t have 199 other emails to open, but you do. Next.
The next email just says, “Resume attached.” That’s better, you suppose. It’s not spam. But it’s not a shining endorsement of the candidate’s communication skills. You decide to see what awaits you in the other 198 applications.
You open the next email, and you see a short message. A greeting, followed by 3 sentences explaining who the candidate is and why they’re interested in the role. It’s pleasant and friendly in tone, there are no typos, and their story makes sense. You open the resume, and it looks good. You can only interview about 10 people for the role, so you reset the bar. Surely, you can find 10 qualified people in that stack of 200 who took the extra 5 minutes to compose a professional note.
Back to reality. When you’re applying for jobs, you want to stand out from the competition, and one of the ways to do that is to convey your professionalism, dedication, interest, and conscientiousness throughout the hiring process. A cover email is important because it does just that, and it takes very little time on your end! We’re not talking about a full, three-paragraph cover letter. You might need one of those, too, if the job posting requires it. That does not absolve you from the need for a cover email that’s a short-but-sweet introduction of yourself and indication of your interest. The next time you apply for a job over email, don’t forget this important step!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Cover emails are one of the most under-utilized elements of job applications, but they can make a huge difference for your candidacy!
First, let's clarify what a cover email is and when it's used. Cover emails are short notes -- 1-2 paragraphs, max -- that are written in the body of the message when you apply for a job over email. For jobs that don't require a cover letter and don't have a fancy portal through which you submit your application, you'll want to include a cover email that briefly contextualizes your resume. Often, these jobs are for production and writers' room support staff roles or for assistant jobs on the UTA job list. There are also jobs that require a cover letter but still indicate that you should apply via email, rather than through the company's website or LinkedIn. Those postings require cover emails, too, even if they seem redundant.
Consider the hiring manager's perspective. If they are accepting applications via email, they're likely not a recruiter or in HR, but rather a person with a totally different full-time job trying to fill a hole in their team or replace themselves as they wrap out of the role. Meaning, they are busy. These hiring managers -- especially when hiring for support staff roles -- get inundated with resumes within hours. They are looking for reasons to say "no" and move on to the next candidate, rather than reasons to say "yes" and bring you in for an interview.
As they look through their submission-filled inbox, they'll see some completely blank messages that just have an attachment. It's a little scary to open a random attachment, since spammers could easily find the email address on the posting as they crawl the web. Plus, this candidate clearly put in minimal effort -- not exactly what most hiring managers are looking for. These blank emails are often passed over in favor of candidates who tried just a little harder.
Some messages will come through with a simple, "Hi, my resume is attached!" That's better than a blank email, but not much. Maybe the hiring manager will open your resume attachment. But if they see a message come through with a short cover email that convincingly highlights why the candidate applied and would be right for the role, they're more likely to gravitate toward that candidate first. Simply by crafting a message, you're showing that you're a go-getter who's really invested in the position and that you can communicate professionally.
So what goes in this all-important email? Think about it like the first and last paragraph of your cover letter. Open with a greeting and an indication of what role you're applying for and where you heard about it. Then share your current status and goal ("I recently graduated from Syracuse University with a BA in Communications, and I'm hoping to begin my career in the industry as a PA working in TV comedy" or "I'm currently an assistant to a literary manager at 3 Arts Entertainment and am seeking a transition to a writers' assistant role as I grow my career as a writer.").
If you have a bit of an unusual circumstance to highlight, like you took time off to care for family or are pursuing entertainment as a second career, you can bring it up in the next sentence. You can also highlight 1-3 transferable skills if you're making a larger career transition and need to explain why you're qualified. Then, include a clause explaining why you're excited about this specific opportunity (if you can -- sometimes the job posting is so vague that you can't really express anything specific). That's it for your first paragraph -- 3-5 sentences! Before your sign off, express that you've attached your resume and formal cover letter (if requested) for review and would like to set a time for an interview. Close with a friendly "Best" or "Thanks" and your name.
It's a pretty simple process and shouldn't take more than a few minutes of your time. Totally worth it for something that can be the difference between the hiring manager reading your resume or ignoring it.
-- Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan
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