Cover Letter

Bryan writes in:

I have been out of work since December and I am dying to get back to work.  I read what you had to say about cover letters and it makes sense but  I am having a difficult time simplifying it.  I have been sending out resumes like a mad man and I haven’t gotten even one interview.  Is it the cover letter?

Who knows?  There are a thousand various reasons, ranging from bad timing to you’re not qualified to someone’s nephew got the job.

But, while I have mentioned cover letters before, now’s probably as good a time as any to go into some detail.  I’ll use your letter as an example.

Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name:

Nope.  No one uses last names.  I’d be on a first name basis with Steven Spielberg, if I ever met the guy.

Start with,

Hi, Firstname!

or,

Good morning/afternoon, Firstname!

I graduated with honors from Kean University with a B.A. in Media & Film with an emphasis in Broadcasting.  As an experienced and versatile media student, I believe that I would be an asset to your company.

Not bad, but keep it short.  This isn’t an industry for intellectuals, so “with honors” isn’t going to impress anybody.  “With an emphasis in Broadcasting” is equally pointless, bordering on redundant.

As you can see from my enclosed resume, I have completed an internship with Fuse TV followed by a PA position working on a benefit concert featuring Kanye West as well as a live concert with John Mayer.  As a student, I took part in many facets of what my department had to offer.  I was selected to be part of the university’s advanced production team, Production Company II, to help produce Kean’s professional soap opera, “Union.” I was a DJ for WKNJ-FM 90.3, Kean’s college radio station, and worked as a Distribution Supervisor for the Equipment Center.   I am also familiar with a variety of professional software including Final Cut Pro.

You better hope whoever’s reading this is thinking, “He’s a DJ and an editor?!  What a coincidence! That’s exactly what I was looking for!”  Otherwise, they’ll think you’re a jack of all trades, and a master of none.

Besides that, this paragraph is closing in on Anne Rice-length, at least by the standards of someone who reads scripts all day.

Since you’re writing to me, I’m assuming you’re looking for some kind of PA job.  Here’s how I would condense it:

As you can see from my enclosed resume, I interned at Fuse TV, followed by PA positions on concerts by such performers as Kanye West and John Mayer .  As a student, I [co-?]produced Kean’s soap opera, “Union.”

In what way is the soap opera professional, if shot by students?  Even if you have a justification for it, that’s what the employer is going to think.

I wouldn’t mention the equipment center or FCP unless it somehow specifically relates to the job you’re applying for (like a rental house or a post production facility).  Nor would I capitalize your title, like you’re writing in the 1700’s, when they capitalized fucking everything.

I look forward to having the opportunity of meeting with you and to further explore how I might be an asset to your organization. Thank you so much for your time and consideration and I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Bryan X

(Obviously, I changed Bryan’s last name for privacy.  Although, wouldn’t it be awesome if X was his last name?)

Boy, you don’t use one word when seven will do, huh?  Take Strunk and White’s advice: omit needless words.

Thanks for your time and consideration.  I look forward to hearing from you!

One important thing about what I did there, in case you missed it: I assumed that the employer is going to call me back, without being heavy handed about it.  I don’t know if that little nudge will work, but you never know.

Now, if any of you readers actually have hired someone (unlike me, who has only been on the being-hired side of the table), feel free to chime in with your comments on or disagreements with my advice.

40 Comments

  1. Holy wow. I just read the advice on the page, modeled my cover letter after it, sent an email and got a response within about twenty minutes. Amazing. Thank you SO MUCH.

  2. I have a question if any of you guys who have been on the hiring or been hired can give some tips. I am doing a career change (from retail/administrative field) and want to work in the entertainment field. I am applying for foot in the door jobs or internships that do not stress prior experience. However, they do want a cover letter stating why am I a good fit and why am I better than others. How do I answer this question? Not sure how I am to come across as having the necessary soft skills that those postings ask for but without sounding too boastful.

  3. How would you start a cover letter if you don’t know the name of the person it’s going to? I have looked all over the web for the production coordinators name, but can’t find it. “Dear ???”

  4. If anyone can advise on sending blind cover letters and resumes to production companies in a new area (just relocated), that would be great. My resume also, aside from acting, looks like a beginner’s Jack of all Trades resume. Some very legit projects, but an Assistant to the Producers here, a 2nd AD there. I excel at 2nd AD work, as I have an acting background, am great with people, and know the ins and outs of the paperwork including awesome call sheets. But I yearn for a little more and was promoted to UPM quite suddenly on one shoot because my mind is wrapped around everything and again, I’m good with people. I’d rather shoot for more PM work, but after having said all this, how do I go about getting the work. I’m in Boulder now, in case that helps. I’ve worked in Seattle and L.A

  5. Thank you thank you thank you! I took your advice and simplified my cover letter (I have a tendency to be a bit wordy) and it has made all the difference. Since I did that yesterday I have received three requests for internship interviews. Thanks again for the advice.

  6. I only have 2 credits for PA work. One was a music video, a month as post production assistant to editor and PA to producer–same project. The other was PA for one day on a short film.

    Here is my cover letter. Please tell me what to leave and what to keep since I have no experience.

    Hi,

    I found your ad on Craigslist. I have two credits for PA work and have helped out in Post. I really enjoy post production/production and its processes. My two greatest strengths are learning and helping others. My schedule is very flexible.

    Please let me know if you are interested in scheduling an interview. I can provide references. I am professional, positive and friendly, a problem solver, extremely reliable, pay attention to detail, get along with everyone, have a great work ethic, very computer savvy (Mac for 8 years and PC for 14), have an uncanny ability to stay calm in the midst of chaos, a photographic memory, a sense of humor, and possess a wide variety of skills. I have my own transportation, an iPad and an iPhone.

    Thanks for your time.
    Best Regards,
    Name
    Phone

  7. Thanks for this,
    I’m actually sending a cover letter looking for more Script Reading work, but the theory is the same – I want to guy to get to the end of the letter and pick up the phone, not toss it in the trash. I’ve been luckily enough to get email replies to email enquiries, but they’ve all been along the lines of “Thanks, but no.” I’m hoping this one will be different, since they have a live production that’s doing well…

  8. This has been asked before but no one has answered, so I’ll try it.
    I’m jumping into the entertainment production business and applying everywhere with no experience in the industry. I’m an experienced executive assistant and have a BA in theater. I know theater and film and extremely different!

    How do you say “I have no experience but I am willing to do any grunt work to get into the business!”?

    • ^ Say that. I would hire someone who was honest like that over someone who comes across as if they think they’re God’s gift to a radio because they’ve PA’d every show in town. But then again, I work in reality. We like it REAL, haha.

  9. Would you suggest attaching the cover letter to the email, or pasting it into the the body of the email and attach the resume?

    • I was thinking this exact thing as I read. Lately, I have been attaching my resume/cover letter as one attachment and I now realize that it IS probably a reason I’m not getting call backs. They most likely think:

      A) I didnt include a cover letter, or my one line salutation in my email is my cover letter and delete my email

      B) If I have a cover letter attached to my resume as a PDF, I must just send the same thing to everyone and they still delete it

      PS. I always aim to address my cover letters directly but it is often VERY difficult to locate the UPM/AD for films in pre-production. Any tips? Also, I have heard tons of mixed reviews as to who specifically hires Set PA’s or Camera PA’s… So I could use your advice.

  10. I have had no job in the entertainment industry and I am applying for internships that are this summer. Should I mention that I have never had any experience? Or would that hinder my chances? I’m kind of at a loss of what to do here and scared that I won’t even get considered for an office intern position.
    Any advice?

  11. Thanks for this post and all of the comments. I am a media student now and looking for internships in the field. I have been working on my resume and cover letter in between finals and classes, but I never know what needs to be included or omitted. This helps a lot!

  12. This was asked before, but what should I include if I’ve never been a PA? I’m doing extra work tomorrow (really just for the money and to get on set) and am hoping to slip the producer my resume. I have tons of experience in PR but none as a PA. What do I do??

  13. I would have to say the hardest part of applying for jobs out here is the cover letter. What frustrates me the most is not knowing whether or not it is too much or too little. I’ve been told that my cover letter is not passionate enough but here, it seems like the cover letter is nothing more than a required courtesy since your resume is going to do most of the talking.

  14. I have a specific question that may be erring on the side of quibbling about the small stuff: What’s the best way to write a cover email that already has your cover letter attached? I find myself repeating some of the same things in the body of the email that I’ve listed in the attached cover letter, and by the time I’ve gotten to cover email one million, I start opening with garbage like, “I would like to apply for this position because I’m [adjective], [adjective], and passionate about Film.” (Though it always sounds good at the time.) Any advice on this pickle would be amazing, thanks!

  15. Hi. thanks for a very informative blog about cover letter. I was looking for ways on how I will improve my written cover letter for my resume. Thank you. This was a big help.

  16. This is a great help because I have been scratching my brain as to why, when I apply for a job online that it’s like sending my resume into space. It’s my lengthy jargon filled cover letter and resume. I’m literally the girl who writes, “interacted with the public to facilitate the proper environment for the filming of crucial scenes”. Lol! But to our (newbe’s) defense, well to my defense, I have had countless people review my resume and they want you write more. Give more details! Explain, explain, explain. I’ve always thought that it may be too much but let their “superiority” in resume writing get the best of me.

  17. I’ve been stressing over a cover letter all week for a big production that I want to be a part of, and you guys have been the biggest help. Thank you all so much.

  18. Another thing to remember is that you need to taylor each cover letter for each individual position you apply for. If one is in post production and one is on set, they should read differently. People on set don’t care that you edited a full length doc and people in post don’t care that you ran the craft service table.

  19. For what it’s worth, I used to write cover letters about an paragraph or so in length. I rarely got called for an interview.

    In a bought of “I don’t give a shit anymore” frustration, I started writing cover letters that were literally: “Dear ____, I heard you had an opening for a _____ position. Please take a look at my resume, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

    After that, I got called in for A LOT more interviews.

    My guess is that whatever I was writing before made me sound like I was trying too hard or too inexperienced or sappy, etc. I think the shorter one wasn’t as off putting to the employer, plus it was vague enough that they’d actually look at my resume, which was pretty stellar (or at least looked that way).

    But that’s just my experience. Obviously, your mileage may vary.

    • Huh. I’ve always been taught to write cover letters that are ~3/4 of a page long that explain why I think I’m a good fit for the position. Granted, I’m in theater (stage management) and not film, but you’d think the two industries would have similar practices when it comes to cover letters.

  20. Raider,

    That sentence is an attempt to try to puff up having gone to school into more than having gone to school. If you’re just starting out and don’t have much/any professional experience, you’ll certainly have a line saying where you went to school and when you graduated.

    The person looking at your resume knows what going to school consists of. (If, on the other hand you won some award, had a company buy your student film, or negotiated the release of several wandering film students from North Korean captivity — extraordinary or relevant bits of info, feel free to point those out.)

    On a similar note, if you have experience as a Set P.A. doing lockups, you don’t need to explain how you “interacted with the public to facilitate the proper environment for the filming of crucial scenes”. We know what Set P.A.’s do.

    I hope none of that sounded too glib, but I’ve been in offices where we passed around resumes laughing at the most outrageous bits of attempted puffery. I’ll consider someone with little or no experience; everybody has to start somewhere. I trash resumes when it’s clear they’re just making up shit.

  21. Here’s one I thought would be obvious, until I got a ton of indistinguishable resumes and cover letters. INCLUDE YOUR NAME in the file title. (Don’t just send resume.doc, send name_resume.doc — PLEASE.)

  22. Emailed cover letters should be less formal/stuffed shirt-ish, but please please please – above all, remember that you are a professional! That means correct spelling, grammar and punctuation are still required. If I get a cover letter from a stranger, and it’s all lower case and txt spk and there’s no punctuation, I’m not giving it another look.

    Also, please remember to actually WRITE a cover letter instead of just attaching your resume to a blank email. That one gets deleted before I even look at the resume.

    If you want me to hire you, or recommend that someone hire you, impress me. Bare minimum effort does not impress me.

  23. I would have stopped reading after:

    Hi David!

    To my eyes exclamation marks are shrill and overly informal. At some newspapers they’re called screamers, because that’s how they make your writing sound. That’s fine if you have already established a relationship with the recipient, but would be a direct to bin mailshot if I received it.

    Your mileage may vary, of course…

    • Agreed. I’m a stage manager, and I rarely begin any of my emails with an exclamation mark–I only (occasionally) do it in emails to my production stage manager, or emails that stay within the SM team. It just sounds unprofessional and hyper. Also, the “hi” put me off as well. When I’m addressing someone in an email for the first time, I always use “hello”, at a minimum.

  24. As someone who does get resumes and hire people:

    1.) The advice is good. Learn it, use it, live it.
    2.) ” As a student, I took part in many facets of what my department had to offer.” That sentence would have been the end of my reading if I’d received that letter.

    • Thanks for the specific advice!

      I have an additional question–since a PA is an entry-level job, what can you include in you cover letter if you have absolutely no experience in the industry?

      Nathan – Can you clairfy on your second point? For me, the only industry-relevant “experience” I have is taking classes, so I include that in my cover letter. Should I leave it out?

      Thanks again!

      • Taking a stab at the second point (cause I had the same thought as Nathan) it’s just plain clumsy phrasing and makes me doubt the honors with which you graduated. Taking part in facets? No.

  25. This is a great article. I’m working in the production office on a show right now and we get resumes and cover letters sent to us every day.

    Something that I don’t see happen in any of the cover letters or resumes that we get is any indication of someone’s personality. Even in Brian’s cover letter, I can’t really tell who he is. I think that helps, though I’m not exactly sure how best to phrase things like that. For me, I’d use humor, but try not to make it read like a comedy sketch.

    • Clear, concise writing and a dash of personality is key. Novellas about your adolescent life and “comedy sketches” weren’t effective when I weeded through cover letters for interns. Also, throw a dash of industry jargon and look like you know what you’re doing.

      Bottom line, we’re making movies here, not running the government! We want someone fun/conversational to do bitch work with, not some debbie.

      • This is great, f’ing hire me then. I work in Norcross and they are filming huge movies and everyone seems so down to earth. Riding skate boards joking and having fun. Love to get in and work with a group of great and fun peeps.

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