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