I receive about three unsolicited emails a week from students looking for work experience or employment. Some larger industry employers receive up to 250! If an email is well-worded, polite, and demonstrates that the sender has at least tried to make me feel like I am the only person that they have written to, I will respond, even if I have nothing to offer. The harsh business reality is that nine out of ten cold emails go unanswered. People are busy and simply cannot reply to every email. Professionals including myself regularly delete unsolicited emails. Here are a few thoughts on composing an unsolicited speculative email to stop that from happening.
• Get the name of the person you’re writing to. Ring the company if you have to. This shows initiative, and reads a lot better than “Dear Sir or Madam.” The amount of emails I receive addressed “Dear Sir or Madam” when my email is “paul@ . . .” is astonishing. If you must copy and paste, don’t make it obvious.
• Research the person / company you’re writing to. See what they do and how they approach their work. Do they have a particular work ethic or area of the business they specialize in? What is it about their work and yours that would make a good fit?
• Keep it short! This is important. They don’t know you, so why should they read your four-page life history and visit all seven 15-minute video links you’ve attached? What happens when you open an email and it’s very long? You have that “Ugh . . . what’s this?” feeling. Prospective employers are equally unenthusiastic about your novel of an email. Send one link, or ask if you can submit work and whether it’s best to do so online or in hard copy. Single-click email links are very popular, but some people like hard-copy DVDs to combat email overload.
• Introduce yourself and say what you want. It’s surprising how many don’t really do this. “My name is X and I’ve just graduated from XYZ University. I am writing to you to ask . . .”
• Mention something you like or have noticed in their showreel or on their website. This shows that you have at least watched their stuff. And be specific! I get so many emails saying, “I like your work, and think I would be a good fit for your company.” Or: “Your work is very interesting, stylish, and fresh . . .” This could be uniformly submitted to any company and hence stinks of “cut and paste.” If their showreel prominently features cars and driving, for example, detail how you shot your car footage. Maybe you recognize a location or a crew member, or are curious about a particular effect. Highlight anything that shows genuine interest.
• Follow up at a later date. I like to add in the email that I appreciate they are busy and if I haven’t heard from them, I’ll follow up in a month. This shows consistency and persistence. I also keep the email thread from all previous communications, guaranteeing ready access to all our previous conversations. They won’t be confused as to who I am or what we’re talking about.
• Proofread the email, sit on it, read it again, sleep on it, then send it the next day. If it’s an important email, take the time to read and read again. Don’t just skim; read. Don’t trust your brain to fill in blanks. It reads what it wants to read. I literally read the email very slowly, ONE WORD AT A TIME. I sometimes type “you” instead of “your,” so I double-check this in most emails. You might be brilliant and genuine, but it only takes a few spelling errors to convey a different impression. If you are dyslexic, get a family member or friend to proofread your email. There really isn’t any excuse. The pile of CVs must be thinned out, and grammar and spelling errors are the first things to get you axed.
"The pile of CVs must be thinned out, and grammar and spelling errors are the first things to get you axed."
• What’s the best time and day to send emails? Tuesday afternoon is a favorite. The thinking being, Monday morning is a time when people are catching up on the weekend and anything that has happened needs to be addressed in the office, so people’s focus is on that. Your unsolicited email is in danger of not being read or deleted immediately. Tuesday afternoon, however, allows them to sort their weekend business and for you to catch them after lunch the following day once the dust has settled.
• If you get a reply, even if it’s not what you were hoping for, respond and thank them. Say you’d like to contact them again in the future. This shows good manners and is respectful. A young producer once emailed me about observing a film shoot. I had nothing for her, but her email followed all the points above and was short enough for me to read! I responded, and she thanked me for the reply. A few days later I got a call from a director friend about a new shoot seeking an assistant. I forwarded her CV to the director, and she got the job.
CV / RESUMES
Here are a few thoughts on putting your CV together. We all need a CV or resume of what we’ve done, what we are capable of, and what we’ve studied. Most experienced freelancers in the business don’t include previous jobs that are not industry related, their degree, or their hobbies. It’s strictly their past relevant work, what they do, and what equipment or software they can use. In the early days of trying to get hired, you have not done much work yet. So you can include your education and past unrelated job information, as they are technically the last things you’ve done.
Keep your CV to two pages or less. If it’s longer than that, you need to look at what you can lose. People need to see if you can do the job; forcing readers to wade through blocks or paragraphs of CV text to find that information means they might not get to the end. Use lots of white space!
The title of your CV should be “your_name_your_job_CV.” Calling it “CV1” will not distinguish your submission from the other CVs sent to the same company.
Decide which role you’re pursuing and stick to it. Some students direct a film in college, edit someone else’s, get a runner job on a larger film, and elsewhere hold the boom microphone. Then their CV reads that they are a director, editor, runner, and sound recordist! Having done a job once doesn’t make you competent. Don’t invite trouble by saying you’ve mastered a role on a job application if you haven’t. A professional director or DP might well ask you to do something you can’t.
One final note, keep your CV updated with your skills regularly. Each time you learn something new, write it in there. It might the case that you are employed for a long period of time, and then have to open up your CV, dust it off, and send it out to new people when you look for new work. It's unlikely that you're going to remember all the new skills, software, awards, or qualifications you've learnt or received over the last few years all in one sitting, and it would be shame if you missed them off. Keeping it regularly updated will prevent this from happening.
I hope these tips help you next time your have to write to a prospective employer. Good luck!