How NOT to write a Cover Letter (and How to)

Let's flip the page and write something awful. *puke*


As we established before the holy triangle of any successful application is



Before we write a crappy cover letter let's have a look why we even need one in the first place and how it should look like:


"[The] Cover Letter is your opportunity to show us your personality. Who are you, what interests you, why do you want this job, what are your career ambitions? Nowhere else do you have the opportunity to really give us a sense of who you are specifically in a sea of applicants."

- Amy Smith (Framestore)



Next we look at a real but modified job listing to adjust our document to the specific position before we dive into the opportunity to show our personality:



Job Listing


Senior 3D Animator at ABC VFX Films


Animators produce the motions, gestures and expressions of three-dimensional computer graphic characters and objects for high-end VFX films.


Essential Skills:

  • Previous experience in a similar role

  • A thorough knowledge of Maya

  • An understanding of physical motion, weight, balance, texture and form

  • An understanding of rigs and typical rigging set-ups, animation pipelines and transferring data between tools

  • The proven ability to work under pressure

  • Being open to direction and able to embrace change

  • Attention to detail

  • Reliable, with good time keeping and the ability to meet deadlines

  • Excellent organization, communication and interpersonal skills

  • A demonstrable commitment to creative collaboration within a team and with other departments

  • Adaptability and the willingness to learn new processes and technical skills


Desirable Skills:

  • A working knowledge of Modeling, Rigging and Mel / Python scripting

  • Previous experience working with motion capture data

  • A traditional animation and / or art background

  • Knowledge of human and animal anatomy as well as life drawing skills



Dear XYZ Films,


the last 5 years I worked as an accountant for a small firm until I decided last year to make the switch to animation. Animation films had always a big place in my heart since I was 3 years old. Especially Disney und Pixar inspired me through out my life and it was always one of my dreams to work on one of their projects. After my bachelor degree in economics and hustling in an accountant company for some years I dropped my previous career to follow my real dream of working in animation. This was the day when I picked up animation in Maya and started to learn. For me creativity is one of the driving elements of this industry. To create new worlds which are only possible in CG and to express new, never seen stories.


I feel that I would be a good match for the junior animator position at the forefront of the film industry. I have no prior project experiences but I am self motivated, a team player, independent, open to adapting my style, trying new techniques and leaving my artistic comfort zone in the name of self improvement. I want to learn how to animate and I am sure I can grow at your company.


Your company is famous in the industry for their incredible VFX films while adding a lot of production value to the biggest blockbusters. I am very interested on working on your future films/series since I enjoy your work and it would be amazing to be part of it. With the combination of the obtained experiences and skills shown within my portfolio I believe I would pair well with a studio like yours that is looking to create high quality, immersive movies, with the goal of having fun in the process.


I’d be thrilled to learn more about this job opening and really hope that you give me this chance. Thank you for your time and consideration!


Sincerely,

Alex



What happened?


Writing a cover letter is not easy. Like the question about your strengths and weaknesses you have to understand who you are in this context. At the same time you have to avoid to say nothing by only expressing what you think the other side wants to hear from you. First and foremost a bad cover letter does at least one of two things:


1. It doesn't add something new to your application


2. or discredits your work and sometimes even your personality by unveiling bad habits and a clear misunderstanding of the expectations of this position.


We butchered all of these and even more in our cover letter above. Some parts are good in themselves and reasonable to write but are bugged down by the way we structure our letter and how we come off in the end. In the result it boils to give an impression of ourselves. Over crafting leads to cliche phrases which are hollow of any meaning while a lag of understanding drops down to blunt and repulsive statements which makes the reader question your ability of being able to do the job.


Here are my Golden Rules for the Cover Letter:


  1. Answer with "Yes, I can do the job because ..." (not literally)

  2. Show relevant skills (connect CV-Showreel and job listing)

  3. State only facts you can prove. (You're just stating you're a team player - not a fact.)

  4. How do you bring value to the company? (You instead of I need, I want, I feel, I, I, I)

  5. Why do you want to work for this company specifically?

  6. Be confident. (Don't be needy or baggy, pleeeeaaaasssse!!!)

  7. Have personality. (Don't be generic or boring!)

  8. Have goals ("I see myself learning Python in the near future to write simple scripts.")

  9. Proof-read (company names and spelling)

  10. Write in first (I) not third (he) person. ("Otherwise we think you're a serial killer.")

  11. No manifestos. ("Animation is an inspiring and unique way of expressing yourself ...")


A good practice here is to copy the cover letter above into a docs file and comment why specific parts don't support or even contradict the statement at the beginning. Next check with your own cover letter and ask the same question. Last but not least subscribe to the newsletter to access the (Pixar) cover letter template for a successful application.


- Alex


PS. Do you like to read more of these types of articles? Email me and let me know.

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