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
Cover letters should be simple and to the point -- they are not college admissions essays, and they should max out at half a page. A good cover letter concisely explains how your skills and experiences align with the most important qualifications of a role. A great cover letter includes all that and a little "something extra" -- a single sentence that explains why you'd be a great fit.
Employers want to hire people who are excited about working for them, but they're not going to assume you're legitimately enthused simply because you sent in a resume! They also don't want to spend valuable time reading a suck-up style sonnet about how great they are -- they know they're great and are trying to determine if you're qualified. That's why you just want one simple sentence at the end of your opening paragraph indicating what moved you to apply in the first place.
The best version of this sentence is something specific, like calling out your alignment with the company's mission. For instance, if the company is dedicated to social justice, and you've been volunteering at an organization dedicated to social justice for years, mentioning the connection will give context to your enthusiasm, show that you might bring some useful knowledge to the team, and indicate that you’ll be committed to the company’s work. Or maybe you're passionate about the genre of content the company produces -- if you wrote your senior thesis on the impact of science fiction on real-world technology, it's a no brainer that you'd be applying for an assistant role at a production company specializing in sci-fi! If there's not anything that specific -- either because the posting is too vague or your interest in the company is more broad, that's okay, too. Explain what led you to apply, even if it's just as simple as "I'm looking to take the next step in my career as a creative executive at a network."
A different way to include this "something extra" is to highlight an element of your personal or work history that could bring added value to the company, regardless of whether it’s listed in the job posting. Perhaps you are a non-traditional candidate, but the work you’ve done in a different industry (or side of the industry) will give you perspective that a more obvious candidate might not possess. For example: Someone coming from the healthcare world who wants a writers' room support staff role on a medical drama would bring knowledge to the room that someone with a purely entertainment background wouldn’t have. The thing that sets you apart won’t always be that apparent, but considering that no one has your exact work and life experience, there’s always something to draw from that could help you stand out. Think about what you could do for a company that they might not have even realized they needed, and make that argument in your “something extra” sentence. Just make sure it’s relevant!
But remember: We're talking about one sentence -- not a paragraph, a lengthy diatribe, or a bullet list. The bulk of your half-page cover letter should be about your qualifications for the role, and you want to make sure that information isn't buried too so far down the page that the hiring manager never gets to reading it. Keep it short, simple, and specific, and you're good to go!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
When it comes to writing cover letters, many people find themselves at a loss, wondering, "How can I write something that will stand out from the crowd?" Funny enough, it’s not flowery language or an elaborate life story that’s going to set you apart. The most effective cover letter is one that the hiring manager reads and understands with ease. All you have to explain is: Why does it make sense for them to hire you? Here’s a simple structure you can use to get this information across in a clear and concise way:
1. Greeting. “Dear Hiring Manager,” is a safe bet for opening your cover letter, but can you do better? Conduct some research to learn who might actually be reading this letter and try to address it to that person directly for a more personal touch.
2. Intention. The first paragraph of your cover letter should address your intention in applying for this job. Consider the following questions:
3. Qualifications. You’ve probably heard someone say that cover letters are about what you can do for the company, not the other way around. While it’s important to express enthusiasm for the role when you state your intention, you also have to convince the hiring manager that you have the right skills for the role. Take a look at the job posting, and try to figure out what skills the hiring manager values most (hint: they’re usually listed near the top). Then look back through your own experience and explain specific responsibilities and achievements from previous roles that demonstrate those skills. Be selective -- you don’t need to write a novel here. Two or three sentences will do.
4. Wrap up. End your letter by summarizing one or two key points that show how you will be an asset to the team. Indicate that you’ve attached your resume and are interested in discussing further. And sign off with “Sincerely,” or another professional close.
And that’s it! No need to regale us with tales about your childhood dreams or four pages detailing your entire work history. By following this simple structure, you’ll be able to create a persuasive argument that will give the hiring manager the exact information they need to understand your resume, no more, no less
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
The job search can be frustrating -- especially when you feel like you’ve been submitting tons of job applications and aren’t getting any bites. But if you’ve sent out 50 applications and haven’t heard a word on any of them, it’s likely that you’re doing something wrong. Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you assess the problem:
Are you qualified for the jobs you’re applying for?
Go back and take a look at the jobs you’ve been applying for. Re-read the job descriptions -- do these jobs actually make sense for you? Will the skills and experience you put in your resume prove you can do the job? If you’re an assistant applying for director-level jobs, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get any calls. It’s okay to reach a bit, but be realistic with your expectations. Conversely, you don’t want to apply for jobs you’re overqualified for either. If you’ve been an assistant for five years, it’s probably time to start looking at coordinator positions -- employers aren’t interested in hiring people who will get burned out quickly or start asking for a promotion after three months. Besides, you start to seem desperate if you’re applying for jobs that are too far below your level. Compare your resume to the job postings to see how well they align. If you don’t have a lot of the key required skills or are already doing work beyond what’s asked for, you may not be applying for the right jobs. Be a little more selective with your search, and try to focus on those jobs that match your qualifications.
Are you excited about the jobs you’re applying for?
Aside from being qualified for a job, it’s also important that you’re excited about a prospective position. It’s easy to spot a generic cover letter from someone who isn’t particularly passionate about the role. So don’t waste your time with applications you’re not excited about. A good test to figure out which opportunities are right: Try writing your cover letters from scratch -- you’ll find that they’ll flow much more easily for the jobs that really are a fit. Then, focus on those opportunities. You’ll have more luck if you’re going for quality over quantity.
How are you actually applying for these jobs?
If you’re both qualified and excited about the jobs you’re applying for but aren’t hearing anything back, you may be going about the job application process wrong. In Hollywood, most people are hired through referrals or promoted internally, so if you’re only using the online application to submit your resume, that’s probably your problem. Try to find a direct contact that can get your resume into the right hands. If you don’t know someone at the company or in the department you’re applying for, you can use LinkedIn to try to find a connection. Ideally, you’ll find someone who knows someone who can pass along your resume, but if this isn’t possible, a cold email can work too. Make sure you’re taking extra steps to get your resume to the hiring manager -- it will help prove how much you want the job.
Do you have a strong resume and cover letter?
If you’re doing everything above right, your problem is probably your resume or cover letter. A disorganized resume or cover letter with typos and poor writing is obviously not going to get you an interview, but that’s not the only thing that can make for a bad resume and cover letter. Do your resume and cover letter tell a story? And is that story one that shows you’re right for the job? You MUST tailor your resume and cover letter to the job posting. You should always try to create a new cover letter for every job application, and sometimes, you should create a new resume as well (or at least make some tweaks) -- especially if you’re applying for executive level jobs. Take note of the nuances in the job posting, and make sure your resume and cover letter reflect the core skills of the role. A strong resume and cover letter match the job posting and demonstrate why it makes sense for the company to hire the candidate.
We recognize that all of this may sound like a lot of work -- and it is. But if you can be a little more targeted in your search and thorough with your process, you won’t have to send out nearly as many applications to secure an interview, and you'll be less stressed out in the process!
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan