We often see extremely lengthy “cover letters” -- particularly from current students and recent grads -- that wax poetic about the things that shaped their childhood and totally skip over the information that a hiring manager wants to see. These candidates typically have not been on the other side of the hiring process and think that their version of a “cover letter” is going to help them stand out. What they don’t realize is that they have actually submitted a personal statement for a role, rather than a cover letter, and unfortunately, it’s going to hurt their chances of getting an interview. Let’s look at the differences between the two documents:
-- Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan
The purpose of a cover letter is to give the hiring manager additional context beyond your resume about why you’re interested in a specific role and why you’d be a good fit. It’ll only come across as authentic if you take the time to write a new letter for each job application. But that doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel each time! You can follow a simple structure to clearly explain your intentionality to the hiring manager.
The first paragraph of your cover letter should indicate what role you’re applying for, where you saw the posting, what you’re currently doing or have been doing most recently, and why you’ve applied for this open role. It shouldn’t be longer than a few sentences.
In the main paragraph, highlight the skills and experiences you have that qualify you for the role. Look at the job posting for clues as to what’s most important to the hiring manager, and elaborate on how you developed the relevant skills beyond what’s on your resume. Avoid claiming soft skills without context; instead, share how you developed those soft skills by showcasing achievements where you utilized them. This is also a short paragraph, typically 3-4 sentences.
In the final paragraph, reiterate why your unique background makes you a fit for the role. Then, indicate that you’ve attached your resume or any other relevant materials (like a portfolio), respectfully request an interview, and thank the hiring manager for their time. This is also the paragraph where you’d include any random information the posting calls for, like if they ask for your top three favorite movies or your favorite utensil, which are questions designed to see if you’re following instructions.
That’s it! Follow this flow each time, and you’ll get into a rhythm where writing a strong, custom cover letter for each application is easy!
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 email@example.com,” 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