Everybody talks about CVs, how they have to be perfect, well, we have put together a comprehensive guide to CVs, cover letters and interview tips. On top of that, check out the example CVs which can act as a template for your own one.
As you embark on your career in the film industry, your CV, not your showreel is going to sell your talent to potential employers; which is why a CV is so relevant. Even as you progress your career in production, your CV as a grip, focus puller, or 1st AD will still be your calling card, that and your impressive list of credits on IMDB. The good news is, creating a CV will be exceptionally easy to do if you follow our CV advice below. The trickier bit is filling your CV with relevant experience that will enable you to find sustainable paid work.
We have seen many CVs pass through the digital doors of MFJF; many going on to achieve success, others will fall short of the required standard. Just a word of warning now, if you are too lazy to customise your CV before each job application, then it’s not going to make it past the employer's inbox, they can spot a waste of time at one hundred paces. On average 15 people each day apply for our jobs, 10 of those will not have made an effort to customise their CV or researched the role. That leaves you a 1 in 5 chance that your CV will catch the eye of the recruiter.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the coordinator or office manager and their personality. However, before you commit finger to keyboard, remember, you are the one that has control over your CV. You can determine how much effort and thought you want to put into it. Those who have read the application and understood the role they are applying for, stand a higher chance of success than those who are too lazy to care - or think that their education entitles them to work in one of the most competitive industries in the world. Do you want to work in the film industry? Then you’re going to have to get smart and work hard on your applications.
In some regions of the film industry, it’s acceptable to create a CV that goes against the traditional format. In the Art Department, for example, there is a certain amount of creative leeway within your CVs appearance. The majority of the industry, however, favour a standard format that tells you what you need to know while scanning the details. This does not mean it should lack creativity; you just need to think about how to effectively communicate your personality and creativity to employers via the written word. There is an expectation that the following criteria shall be present, such as:
Remember to keep it concise and don’t ramble, try and keep the length of your CV down to a page, two maximum. When you find yourself with a three page CV, look at your formatting and think about how you can condense it without it looking cramped. Maintain the same style throughout, and follow through with the same font and format on your cover letter. Steer clear of fonts that make your text illegible. Having a film themed font will not make your CV stand out, it’s the content of your CV that needs to be outstanding.
The majority of employers will not be looking at your hobbies and interests unless, of course, you can make them significant to your application. Any of the following can be of interest to the production depending on the shoot and their requirements.
On average, your CV has around 10 seconds to impress the reader before their attention is turned to the next resume on the stack. During those 10 seconds your CV should tick off relevant skills and career focus, so your CV can transition to the possible pile, rather than the bin. Read the following advice and guidelines, then go and create an eye-catching CV that incorporates what the employers want to see; don’t forget to add a spark of your personality in there too.
Full name at the top of your CV is a good start. If you prefer Tom to Thomas, put that down. If you get the job, you don’t want to spend the next year telling everyone to 'just call me Tom'.
This is vital, your job title on the top of your CV needs to be the same as the position listed, and your CV needs to back that up. Do not make the classic graduate mistake of referring to yourself as a HoD, director, producer, or worse - filmmaker. Obviously, your studies have been an essential part of your experience to date, and it is not uncommon for graduates to elevate their status to that of the individual who is currently reading their CV.
Contact information should be laid out on your CV. You can attach your full address to your cover letter and just keep the simplest form of communication - phone and email - at the top of your CV. Make sure to lay out your mobile number correctly; you do not need to give the dialling code for the UK if you’re in the UK, applying to a UK company. Tell them where you're based and if you have places to stay in area.
Key skills and qualifications
Employers and coordinators will be looking to see if you have a driving licence and your own car for most jobs. All junior positions will be sent on errands, so a driver's license is pretty much essential in the film industry, especially if you want to enter an area of production. Other things to list would be:
A personal profile is one for you to decide upon, it should be around three sentences in length and snappy. A short profile can be advantageous if used in the correct way, such as; "An experienced floor runner, who has been engaged on the main unit of ten feature films and multiple commercials over the past four years".
If you’re going to use it to say you are a “skilled communicator with exceptional organisation skills”, then leave the profile out of your CV. Profiles require a certain amount of effort to make them noteworthy, so think about whether it’s right for you at this stage of your career.
Link to your online portfolio
If you want to begin a career in any of the following areas, you should have a website, with a link to your site on your CV, which you continually upload your best work to:
Although this will not guarantee you work, or even the employer viewing it, it demonstrates your talent and desire to progress in that area of the business.
This is the meat of your CV, and what can often make or break an application. Relevant experience in the same field of the industry as the job, be it work experience, voluntary work, internships in film - or another area of the industry such as TV - are what sell a CV to recruiters. You need to demonstrate some career focus, even in those early stages of your career.
It is entirely understandable that many of you just want a foot on the ladder, especially if you’ve been applying for jobs for months, and no longer care where you end up; you know you just want to work in film! If you have this attitude, you will either continue to be met with rejection, or wind up working in an area of the industry you don’t enjoy. That's not to say you can’t switch careers at any time, but if you have worked as a post-production runner for two years and wanted to be working on set as a sound trainee, you'll have to start all over again. You will have industry experience behind you, but sadly, it’s the wrong type of experience.
When you get to this part of your CV make sure you understand the job description, then dissect the advert to determine what is relevant. Research the company if they are listed in the advert, know who works for them and what they do. Look at what they're asking for:
So break it down for yourself before you start writing, and find ways of demonstrating your suitability for the position. Just saying you have skills is rarely enough, you have to give examples and get specific. If you’re at stage one with no professional experience to date, you can draw on past customer service experience in retail or hospitality, such as bar work, temp, or waiting tables, for example.
If you are applying for a production role make sure you only include production credits that match the job role, again keep it relevant. If the title on your CV reads floor runner, and you can only provide production runner credits, you're going to need to put some thought into transferring those office skills to the set. It can be done, but it will take some thinking about.
This is where you can list your proficiencies, giving examples of how you have used the equipment and how familiar you are with it. NEVER embellish on your technical proficiency and knowledge, you will be making a rod for your own back. There is no such thing as ‘winging it’ when it comes to kit, do you want to be faced with transferring data from card to hard drive for the first time on set?
Keep it brief, listing your university or college, subject (s) taken and grade. You do not need to add your GCSE’s, if you do you could say “8 GCSE’s over C grade”, for example.
Ideally, you need two references who are working in the industry. The film industry is very compact, and most people have a good working knowledge of other companies or freelancers within each area of the business. If you have a reference, it’s entirely possible the reader may know them, and your CV gets put onto the possible pile. Remember to ask people if they will act as a referee, don’t assume it will be OK for you to use their name. At stage one of your career, your tutor will do just fine, but you want to be adding an industry member to your CV ASAP.
A reference adds many layers of credibility to your CV, which is why it's so important. It means someone is prepared to vouch for your work ethic, which your CV on its own can not. You don’t need to give away their contact details or even their name, list it as 'references on request', or 'contact details on request'.
Sending a generic CV to companies who may, or may not, be looking for staff will undoubtedly hinder your chance of finding employment in the film industry. For example, sending a CV for a job at a post-production company and listing your ambitions to work in film production in your profile is a major no-no. It wastes everyone’s time, yours included. Think about this for a minute, why would they hire someone who has no interest in progressing in that area of the business.
Throughout the film industry, junior level jobs all require a degree of apprenticeship, so why waste the effort on someone who is going to jump ship as soon as the next opportunity comes along. If you are applying for a role in production, remove any traces of non-production experience, you don't want to leave any doubt in the employer's mind that this area of the business is your sole focus.
This is not the only reason to customise your CV. Every job will be different, and recruiters will always be looking for different qualities in their candidates for the role. So, look at what they are asking for and make specific skills or credits more prominent within the body of the CV. Remember that 10-second scanning, use your formatting to draw attention to the relevant information.
Your experience is inferred from the credits you present on a CV for a production role. Many freelancers are vying for work in the film industry, and the truth of the matter is if you’re not very good at your job - and that includes runner roles - then you will simply not be hired again. The more experience you have on professional productions, even for a day, means you’re doing something right. If you have worked on a few features, of any budget, and have a reference from one of those productions, coordinators or HoDs asses, you have the required skills and aptitude for the work. A CV for a production role should include a list of credits, which state:
Be cautious about listing your student productions, or try to pass them off as professional experience. Even though the hard work you put into them means you may class them as professional, the industry will not see it that way. A few days work on a professional production of any type is worth more than a list of student films you have personally made. If you do choose to list your student work, make sure you create another heading to avoid confusion.
A non-production CV should be based on the traditional format, and you should observe the formatting advice listed above. You will also need to lay out your stall by highlighting your skills and suitability for the role.
It may feel as though your CV should contain everything a recruiter needs to know. However, there are some details you may not wish to divulge such as:
Date of birth. There is no legal requirement to include your date of birth. Some employers may look at your age as a way of gauging how much experience you have acquired in your time in the film industry, but it’s not essential.
NI Number. There is no reason your National Insurance number needs to be on your CV.
Address. You do not need to add your full address to your CV; it should be in your cover letter. You should mention where you are based, however.
Pictures. This is a personal one, but in the main, we would advise staying away from submitting pictures of yourself on your application. Firstly, employers don’t care. Secondly, it makes the layout of your CV look scruffy.
Do not embellish. That goes for skills, qualifications and your job title. When you are fresh out of school or a filmmaking course, think about who is reading this CV. Professionals with significant experience within the industry who can spot a graduate a mile off. If you state you have ‘extensive filmmaking experience’ your CV will go in the bin. You might be the best candidate for the job, but you have just blown it by giving the impression you know it all.
Spelling and grammar. Do not rely on a spell checker, you and your are both spelt correctly, but you may not notice when you misplaced a letter, neither will the spell checker. Employers value attention to detail, if you are sending out applications with errors what message does that convey?
Overstating your qualifications. You shouldn’t take up an extra page on your CV with GCSEs and the grade you achieved. Keep your education concise and neat at the bottom of your CV.
Concise does not mean vague. Within your CV you need to be specific, try not to elongate it and keep to the facts. The obligatory ‘excellent communication and organisational skills’ are so vague it’s meaningless without specifics. What tools or software do you use to remain organised, how have you had to liaise and interact with others to produce the excellent communication mentioned.
Email your CV in an unrecognisable format. A .pdf document is the neatest option and a universal format and will open if you are using a Mac or PC. Save your CV file as "Your Name - The Job Title - Company Name, " i.e., "Tom Hanks - Production Assistant - Bobs Film Company"
Using the three-stage plan, let’s discuss the types of CV you’re most likely to create if you’re reading this advice.
Having left education, or decided upon changing careers, the likelihood is you’re not going to have any professional experience to date. Unless that is, you have taken work experience placements during your holidays to equip yourself with contacts, knowledge and a reference. So what do you put on your CV if you have no experience?
Think about the experience you have and use your education to form the basis of your CV, but use your experience to highlight the skills needed for the work experience or internship you are applying for. You can also refer to any societies or clubs you joined, organised or created while studying. Voluntary roles you may have undertaken, or any part-time work should also be mentioned. Working as a runner, in production and non-production areas of the industry, requires many skills associated with bar work and waiting tables; it is all transferable experience such as:
If you're deciding to pursue a career in the film industry as a career change, then you're in a strong position to use your skills and experience, again referring them to the role you are applying for. Being able to demonstrate your expertise and abilities while maintaining an attitude that says you are willing to learn can be quite a delicate affair. Humility is always rewarded in these instances, and employers would be glad to have a proactive, switched on runner, no matter their age; just make sure you can live on the dramatic pay cut for those first few years.
During your stage 1 experience, you should have been adding to your CV with work experience and collaborations. You may now possess a relevant set of skills and knowledge, but you need professional credits to add to your resume. With this fuller CV, it’s time to look for an internship, and junior level roles, such as runner or trainee positions.
Research companies, and studying job descriptions should give you all the material you need to tailor your CV to every job adequately. For the majority of entry-level roles, it’s attitude and your career focus that can swing it for recruiters. So find out what it is they are asking for and reinforce this in your CV - repeatedly.
By stage three you should have a strong resume filled with relevant experience, credits and developing skills. All the additions to your CV listed in the previous two steps, significantly enhance your chances of becoming a successful candidate for employment. So apply for those junior roles and draw on your experience and knowledge of the industry to create great applications.
If you are working in production, stage three will signify the end of your traineeship, and the opportunity to find regular work via your network of contacts in the industry. Use your experience and credit filled CV to branch out into other areas of the industry to maximise your chances. Keep your CV up to date with credits and newly acquired skills.
So many people still think they can send out generic cover letters and CVs. At MFJF we see this time and time again, CVs with mismatched cover letters, or even cover letters that have received tailoring, but to another role. Rarely will a few sentences be enough of an opening gambit to your application, so, to give yourself the best possible chance of success you are going to have to spend time and effort on all areas of your application. If you don't, you are not only wasting your time but any potential employers too.
Once you have worked your CV into shape for the job you’re applying for, it’s time to look at the cover letter or email. This is your opening pitch, where you can display some personality and tie in your experience with the requirements for the role on offer. Don’t leave it to the last minute; your cover letter is just as important as your CV.
Planning out your cover letter is vital, you need to think about what to say to your reader to catch their attention. Every employer is different, some are guided by the covering letter, some go straight for the CV; and if that ticks all the boxes go back to the cover letter to make an assessment of the candidate's personality and aptitude for written work. If you have sent your application via email, then your cover letter is crucial; ultimately it’s what’s going to tempt them to open up the attachment containing your resume. If you are sending out speculative CVs, then research the MFJF career guides or online to ascertain what companies are looking for in junior members of staff, then present examples of how you have used those skills in previous roles.
If in doubt stick to a relatively formal style, especially if you’re applying for roles within the business area of the film industry. You are, however, applying for jobs in a creative industry, which can allow you some poetic license. Throughout the MFJF site we do refer to the film industry as 'personality driven', so if you can manage levity without it sounding too unprofessional, it could be what catches a recruiter or coordinators eye. Use your judgement, and give yourself enough time to edit your cover letter if you change your mind.
Think about how many CVs the recruiter will be reading; it’s your job to try and engage them from the very beginning; so if you can find other ways of saying you have 'exceptional communication and organisational skills' make sure to do so. Saying you have 'strong communication skills' is a very blanket term; and conversely, demonstrates that your communications skills aren't all that! It is possible to be creative within the structured confines of the cover letter, which is what recruiters pick up on.
Covering letters should be formal in their layout, take a look at some of our examples below. If you’re sending in your application via post, your name, address, telephone, email and website (if you have one) should be written out at the top of the page. If you’re applying for work outside MFJF, then make sure you take the time to find out who to send your CV to. All it takes is a phone call or a few minutes on Google. Taking the time to find out this information signals a sense of resourcefulness to potential employers. The next thing you want to look at is your reference line, which is where you give a clear indication about your subject, i.e., the job title you are applying for, the company and if it lists one, a reference number. Make sure your job title matches that of the role you are applying for. If you title your application ‘videographer’ and the job is a production runner, your application is not going to get very far. If you are sending an email, make sure all your details are on your CV, and your reference line is stated on the subject of the email.
Cover letters are usually never longer than a page; as a guide, you want to be writing between 300-500 words. Be mindful of your spacing, if your text is cramped or visually unappealing, then you are doing yourself a disservice. If there are topics you wish to cover, you could use headings to draw the employer's attention to your suitability for the role.
If you are applying for work experience or internships with little experience to draw upon, think about any voluntary roles or part-time jobs you have taken. If you have nothing but your degree, then pull on elements of your course that provide you with some appropriate skills; were you asked to analyse data, make presentations or write up a synopsis of a script?
Look at the company, or area of the film industry, the work experience is offered; other than someone who makes a good cup of tea what skills would they require. A covering letter attached to a CV that is thin on experience is going to need to be well thought out to make you a contender for the placement.
Your CV should present all your relevant experience to date; in your cover letter, you are going to let them know how that experience makes you a strong candidate for the job. Your covering letter should accompany your CV, not regurgitate it.
Your opening paragraph sets out your stall; you want to be telling them why you are applying for the position, and why your background makes you the ideal candidate for the role. The opening paragraph is where you can add some figures, such as “I have been working in the industry for a year and have worked on ten short films and one micro-budget feature”, for example. Make that opening paragraph punchy; it should encapsulate all the essential criteria.
Within the body of your cover letter, you want to make mention of the following things:
The company or area of industry the company is involved with, such as film sales or marketing, for example. Again, your researching skills come into play here; you can showcase how proactive and eager you are, while also demonstrating your knowledge of the industry. If the company is listed in the job spec, refer to their back catalogue of work or any project that had resonance for you. It’s about making a connection with them and demonstrating that you have placed time and effort in your application.
Use the job spec and identify the key criteria the employers are looking. This is where you highlight the experience listed in your CV with what the company's requirements. You need to present your suitability to them on a plate, so, again, research and thought are required here. You don’t need to dedicate a whole paragraph to each skill; you need to be concise and informative.
Make sure you highlight your availability, and if you need to be a certain age for insurance purposes list your date of birth so recruiters can tick that off their list straight away.
Your final paragraph should mirror your first in its decisiveness. You want to reaffirm your suitability for the role, keep drawing on your experience, or if you are applying for internships or work experience, refer to skills that can be transferred into the environment. Some good ways to sign off would be "I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the role further".
Once you have written your cover letter take a few moments to look at it as an employer would and work your way through the checklist:
At the beginning of your career, the prospect of being asked in for an interview can be exciting and nerve-wracking. As you wait for the interview date, a host of scenarios will buzz through your mind. What questions will they ask? Will they require you to demonstrate your incredible Excel skills? Will you freeze up? Not understand the question? Cry?
Fear not. Interviews can induce a lump in the throat and a dry mouth, but you need to remember your CV has got you this far, so they must be interested in what you have to offer. When you're reading your invitation to attend, or you may get a phone call, make sure you ask some questions to help with your interview prep such as:
Make sure to double check the date and time if you are accepting an invitation on the phone. If you have been asked by a member of production to meet up, ask if they would like to see your portfolio; the answer will usually be yes. Make sure you have an up to date portfolio ready to go at all times, you never know when you will need it. You may not be able to demonstrate professional experience, but if you have a defined aptitude for the work, it can be enough for many HoDs if they are looking for work experience candidates.
As ever, the more knowledgeable you are about the company and the role you are applying for, the more confident you will feel when you go into the office to have a chat. Take some time to explore the company's website, look at their slate and find out who works for them. If you've been sent information go through it with a fine-tooth comb, you don’t want to miss a thing. Then you need to take a good look at your CV; think about the questions that will arise from the information you have given.
Some of the topics they may choose to focus on are:
Your studies. If you are looking for work experience or internships with a sparse CV, your education and aspirations may provide the basis for your interview.
Voluntary roles. Any relevant experience such as film festival ushering can open up another area of conversation.
Work experience or internships. Think carefully about what you learnt and how that experience best qualifies you for a paid role.
Your knowledge and understanding of the industry. If you are applying for a job at a production company, do you know how a film gets from script to screen? Likewise, if you are applying for a job in distribution, do you understand that particular companies model, are they investing in films too? Do you know how the relationship between film sales and distributors work?
When you are considering these questions, try not to formulate your answers silently in your mind. If you have the opportunity, vocalise your answers. What sounds smart and sassy in your head often sounds stilted when you’re playing it out in real time. So find an interview buddy, this could be a parent, friend or lecturer. Ask them to throw you the odd curve ball and see how quick you are at thinking on your feet.
The evening before your interview, you should have formalised your travel plans and chosen what you want to wear. Clothes can make all the difference; you don’t want to be overly formal, but you do want to create the right impression. Smart casual is always a safe bet. Try not to go with the jeans and t-shirt combo. Equally, you don’t need to break out the suit. Even film finance, which has the closest links to the traditional business world, will not require a full suit and tie for everyday office wear.
It’s unlikely that the DoP, gaffer, grip, production sound mixer or production coordinator will look at your showreel; it’s your CV and location that will interest the production office most.
You may be asked for an interview, but a phone conversation or an informal meet up will be more likely; which is why you need to demonstrate some insight into your chosen department. Ask about the equipment you will be working with; if you have experience with that particular piece of kit mention how it was used, and how you were involved. If you have a window before the job starts you could offer to visit a facilities company and familiarise yourself with the equipment before the job starts.
Positions come up and need to be filled very quickly in production; you may get a call asking you to be at the location at 5 am the next day. In whatever area of the business you’re working in, your phone manner is going to be crucial, especially if you’re being sounded out for a potential job. Keep it light, friendly and relaxed. Make sure you ask them to send you an email with all the relevant information you may need, and get them to confirm the rate in writing if it’s an offer of a day or two’s work. If you are being sounded out for a job ask questions about the production, who you'll be working with, what should you bring with you, etc.
Whether you want to work in production or the business sector of the film industry, one thing you are going to realise quickly is the film industry thrives on personality. Interviewers will be assessing your suitability for the role; they also want to ascertain whether you can fit into an already established team.
During your interview or chat if the company have decided to keep it informal, you are going to need to do three things.
In many interviews for junior roles, your CV will form the basis of your interview. You’re going to be asked to elaborate on areas of experience, be able to answer some questions about your future and how you see yourself becoming a part of the company. If you have taken work experience and listed tasks you were involved with, practice talking about this to a friend or, if you are still studying, lecturer.
Your interview will begin with a handshake. The handshake is your first impression so make it count. Head up, eye contact as you say hello and state your name, smile, a ‘please to meet you’ always goes down well, and a firm few shakes of the hand. Simple. Do not look at your shoes and mumble into the ground; employers want to see you have poise and that you mean business. If you aren't offered a seat, ask them where they would like you to sit.
Once you’re in that office or have been taken out for a coffee, think about your body language as you sit down. In these situations you can become acutely aware of your limbs, do you cross legs, keep your feet on the floor, what do you do with your hands? Relax, find a comfortable position; if you feel like the chair is far too close to your interviewers, move it back a foot or so. Despite the office being their territory you can take some control of the situation too.
If you have prepped for your interview, you need to take a deep breath and just relax, take comfort in the fact that they have picked your CV from many. If you let fear get in the way, you may not do yourself justice during the interview. Fortunately, interviews are universally regarded as potentially stressful situations, so this is a splendid time to demonstrate how unflappable you are. So, calm your mind and think about it like this; you are just talking to other people about a subject you feel passionately about. Yes, it may be your first interview in months, and you desperately want the job, but the more relaxed you can be the easier it is for you to focus on the task at hand, rather than worry about the fact you are worrying.
There are a few interview no-no’s that you should be aware of which are mainly common sense, but it’s always useful to remind yourself of what not to do.
If you are being interviewed by a senior member(s) of the team, they should give you enough scope to elaborate while also giving you a clear direction in the question. Listen very carefully to questions; you should be able to get a feel for the answers they're searching for. There is a fine line between elaborating on a reply you have given in an application, and rambling on; so try and keep your answers concise and don’t stray from the topic. An experienced interviewer will prompt you to give examples, remember, they want you to be the best version of you too. Some of the questions you may be asked are:
The last question is vital; you should have a few questions up your sleeve. If you have been asking questions throughout the interview and have genuinely had all your questions answered, then let them know. However, you may want to have some questions lines up about the company, their position in the industry or some of the projects they are involved with.
Everyone has a different approach to the aftereffects of interviews. The most healthy thing you can do is take a deep breath and move on. If you can leave the building feeling as though you have done yourself justice, then you should be proud of yourself. If you don’t get the job don’t be disheartened, there can be numerous reasons for this, especially if you were being interviewed by a panel.
Congratulations if your interview was successful! If you have been unsuccessful one of the best things you can do is ask for feedback. MFJF will always ask recruiters for feedback, as we believe it’s vital information for job seekers to know why they were unsuccessful. If you are applying for a role outside MFJF, give the company a call and ask if you can have some feedback. It may not be what you would like to hear, but it is what you need to hear. Embrace it, and if the feedback refers to a better interview manner or lack of experience, act on it as you move forward.