Thursday, September 22, 2011

Outreach Materials

This is the first in a series of articles devoted to helping you craft your outreach materials, including resume, vita, cover letter, website and optionally, a business card. This week we'll start with the cover letter, as many of you are preparing for graduation this fall.

Your Cover Letter: Make It Interesting

Keep in mind that HR personnel sift through tons of material every hiring cycle. You'll want to make sure that each component of your outreach package serves its specific purpose without being redundant. There's nothing as tedious as reading the same material over and over again.

As I taught in my favorite BFA Portfolio Course, and later in the Professional Practices class, the entertainment industry cover is unique to our field. Applicants need to be succinct and interesting in order to lead the reader from first paragraph to last. Your hope is that by the time they read your fourth paragraph, they are pulling out your resume and navigating to your website. They want you to be a solid communicator, fun to work with, and most importantly, interesting. You're applying for a job, certainly, but the fact is, you're asking to be part of a community of artists. You must stand out in a way that appeals to this sense of family.


Keep in mind that the cover is simply a support component of your outreach package meant to augment your reel. Clearly, even if you are terrible at writing but have a brilliant reel, there is hope for you. Communication skills are valued, but ultimately it's your reel that will win you the position. I think that many of you are straddling the fence, especially as young interns, apprentices or junior artists trying to break in. A weak cover can't destroy your chances, but a strong cover can tip the scales in your favor.


As your cover is meant to support your resume and vita, avoid overlapping data on theses document. Your resume and vita should present the FACTS of your career, both professional and academic. Your cover should help explain your passion behind the career decisions you've made. We'll go into your resume and vita next week.

This is the basic cover formula that I've developed over the past twenty years, first with my own cover, and later, while I reviewed submissions for the various companies I worked for, I began to note those letters that resonated with me...

Salutation: To Ms. or Not To Ms.

The best way to approach a company position is through an inside connection. If you have a good friend already in a company, have them provide a name, and if possible, have them hand your materials directly to them. Some companies offer bounties for inside recruitment of quality artists.

If you don't have a connection, see if you can find out who the head recruiter is from LinkedIN. Address the chief recruiter if you can identify who they are from your research, otherwise it's best to use the generic Recruiting Department title. Use Ms. instead of Mrs where applicable.

Paragraph Uno (Declaration)

Your declaration paragraph should simply help the reader sort your job aim. Address your goals with the company and where you found your job listing. A simple sentence like: "I would like to apply for the position of character animator posted on Craig's List." A short qualification sentence may follow this one, speaking to why you feel it would be a good fit for your skill sets. Keep it short. You have three more paragraphs with which to wow them.

Paragraph Two (Company)

This paragraph should provide a deeper insight into your understanding of the company, their products, their history, their community and the way they do business. DO THE RESEARCH. Find articles about the company, their principles and the work, and make sure that you are able to provide some small bit of interesting information about the company as it relates to your, your work, and your own history.

Simple pleasantries and blatant fawning is so transparent. You don't want to lavish them with praise. That's what a fanboy/girl does. Your a professional now. You need to treat with your future employer as a professional designer might. Three to four sentences are more than enough.

If you craft paragraph two properly, you'll draw the reader into paragraph three, the most important paragraph of your cover.

Paragraph Three (You)

This paragraph should help the reader understand the path that you've taken (recently) in preparation for this position. Make sure that you focus on the support aspects of your training, not just the technical material. You'll have a technical listing on your resume. Show the reader that you've benefited from your advanced education in design, theory, and practicum. Make sure that you mention (drop names) of a few of the more important mentors in your academic path (put company references in parenthesis after the names). Using names of your important teachers as your inspiration helps leverage your cover with the careers of your mentors, and most likely the reader will have some knowledge (or can find information) about your teachers philosophy, background and qualifications. This is important. Keep this paragraph to no more than six or seven sentences.

Paragraph Four (Special Qualifications)

This is your final paragraph. If you have served in some interesting jobs prior to school, were in the military, worked at another company, had another career, this is where you can mention how this experience will help in with respect to your new position. Be brief. Tantalize them. Use this paragraph to explain odd gaps in your resume or other 90 degree career path swings.

Here's are two versions of the same cover letter. Which do you feel is more compelling?




  1. The dreaded five paragraph essay for a cover letter? That's a lot. I usually just give the recruiters 3 paragraphs. Is there a reason why the cover letter should be so detailed? It isn't as thought an artist will be at the ILM for the rest of their lives. Aren't most gigs just two to six months now?
    Shouldn't an artist's portfolio and reputation speak for itself? Why write a long cover letter as though your were joining a law firm or preparing your writing sample as a college admissions candidate?

  2. Four paragraphs at most. An opening statement followed by a "hook" paragraph that helps place your interests in the company. A supporting paragraph that provides a deeper understanding of your recent course of travel, the "passion" behind your resume data. A fourth paragraph to cement your qualifications should you have prior industry or other related experience.

    It's not difficult, but it's necessary to support your vita, should it be wanting. If you feel that you have enough experience in your vita to skip the cover, that your vita answers any initial questions they may have, then you're betting everything on your resume. I wouldn't make that bet. A cover is a good way to insure a phone call. The formula works. Try it.

  3. Ok, Vince. I'm still skeptical about submitting that much to a company, but for someone you really want to work for, in my case, Julie Taymor. Yeah, all of these materials are necessary.
    But, just to work at Nickeodeon? Frankly, I don't think the Sponge Bob directors care. They're more concerned about how you interpret the studio test.

    However, you are speaking from an ILM perspective and Lucas keeps his people. Therefore, applying to the ILM is analogous to applying to Harvard where they will want stellar writing samples in addition to a polished portfolio.

  4. Hey, you know what? I just ran across an old cover letter I wrote to Dreamworks and sure enough, it's a four paragraph essay.
    I stand corrected!
    Then again, Nickelodeon would've gotten bored reading it. I keep tv cover letters short and always get a response. They chew you up and spit you out anyway.

    Anyhoo, carry on!