The job posting says "Send resume and cover letter." So, should you send your cover letter as an attachment or copy and paste it into the body of your email?
I asked two resume writers on my team, Beth Brown and Sharlene Silva, what they recommend. Here's the "best of the best" of their tips.
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Sending Your Cover Letter as an Email Attachment
Having a separate, attached cover letter suggests that the resume and cover letter are coming from a professional who should be taken seriously as a job candidate. There are, however, cases when it's best not to send an attached cover letter.
If the job posting asks for both a cover letter and resume, that's a strong hint that the employer or recruiter wants both documents sent as attachments. That way they can enter them into their Applicant Tracking System (ATS), scan them for keywords, and print them out for job interviews.
Sending your cover letter as an attachment is an opportunity to make a professional impression. Your resume and cover letter will likely be given (either electronically or as print-outs) to others involved in the interview/hiring process. By using the same letterhead and style/font for both attached documents, you can create a complete "job search package" and provide a consistent "brand identity" to your readers. That's an opportunity you would miss if you didn't attach your cover letter since a print-out of a cover email would look unprofessional and might lack formatting such as your letter head, font choice, bullet points, and other features that sometimes get lost in email transmissions.
Here are a few tips for your cover letter attachment:
- Follow the employer’s instructions regarding what file type to use (MS Word or PDF), which are usually found in the job posting. By following these instructions exactly, you'll ensure that your resume and letter can be opened, read, and processed successfully by the employer.
- Create similar file names for your resume and cover letter attachments. Start both of the file names with your name, written exactly alike for both. That way, when the two get placed alphabetically in a folder on the employer's hard drive, your resume and cover letter will be right next to each other because both of your documents start with the same two words: your first and last names.
- Write a short email message to introduce your attached resume and cover letter. For guidelines on writing a good cover email, see my article 6 Email Cover Letter Tips to Make a Good First Impression, which includes how to write a good email subject line.
- Run an email test. Send the documents to yourself and to someone else you know to make sure the formatting holds and you have sent the correct documents. It's helpful if the other person has a different email system than you have (for example, if you're on gmail and your friend has a yahoo account) since the two email systems may handle your document transfer differently.
When to Copy and Paste the Cover Letter into the Email
There are times when it makes sense to copy and paste your cover letter into the email message. For example, if:
- The job posting states “No attachments,” copy and paste your cover letter and resume into the body of the email.
- Your cover letter is not a long one (roughly 300 words or less), you might copy and paste it into the email message AND attach it to the email.
You can learn more about Beth, Sharlene, and the rest of my Job Search Team by clicking on "Personal Help" in the footer of this page.
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When it comes to making a job change, getting it right truly matters. You need to get the keywords right, the messaging right, the formatting right. You’ve got to find the right people to endear yourself to, and the right words for your cover letter and follow-up correspondence.
And, for the love of it all, you’ve got to nail the approach.
But, my oh my, there are so many considerations—so many things we all second guess ourselves on when applying for a job.
Should you make the cover letter the body of the email, or attach it separately? (Or both?) Do you address the person by first name, or go with Mr. / Ms. So-and-So? (And, does same rule apply for both?) How casual or formal do you need to be? Is there a right or wrong format for cover letters and emails? Does the cover letter need to be a page or less? How long should the intro email be?
Holy Hannah—it’s enough to make the coolest cucumbers among us start to feel like crazy people. And that’s even before you’ve made an introduction.
Deep breaths, everyone. Deep breaths. Let’s break this cover letter stuff down into manageable chunks. Here’s what you need to know:
Should the Cover Letter Be an Attachment or Just the Body of Email?
The short answer is: either. Not both, either.
If you ask 10 recruiters of hiring managers which they prefer, you’ll probably get five who say attachment and five who say email. But here’s the good news: Nearly all will report that it’s not going to make or break you either way. So, don’t let this topic unravel you.
I happen to be a proponent of “cover letter as body of the email,” and here’s why: It gives you the opportunity to make a strong, memorable first impression the millisecond that reviewer’s eyes open their inbox. You can draw someone in with an incredible opening line, and then showcase the ways in which you could contribute to the team.
If, instead, you decide to go with cover letter as attachment, you should be brief and point the reader to the attachments.
I’ve learned you are seeking a senior project manager with e-commerce experience and knowledge of Jira. That’s me. My attached resume and cover letter outline my qualifications for the role. Thank you very much for your consideration. I hope to hear from you soon!
Keep it brief if you go this route. Those on the receiving end won’t appreciate having to plow through a super long email and all your attachments.
Lastly, don’t even think about replicating the cover letter in both the email and the attachment. That’s just ridiculous (and, makes you look totally indecisive).
Now that we got that figured out, let’s answer the other questions that are probably eating at you:
Do I Use a First Name Salutation—or a More Formal One?
This is best answered with, “It depends”—for both the cover letter and the accompanying email. (I know, just doing my part to make things simple here.)
In all seriousness, it’s best to evaluate the tone and style of the organization you’re attempting to join, and then guess which salutation would be most would the appropriate and appreciated. You can do this pretty easily by reviewing the company’s website and social media presence.
Remember, you’re going to be hired for that next role if (and only if) you’re a “yes” to these three questions
- Do we think she can do this job?
- Do we like her?
- Do we think she’ll fit in around here?
That said, if you can introduce yourself in a way that implies right out of the gates that you’re a triple yes, you’re in business.
Is a Conversational Style Allowed?
In general, I think that job seekers get a bit too revved up about “proper” and end up losing sight of the fact that there’s an actual person at the receiving end of this (assuming you’re emailing your application directly).
Guess what? People like engaging, conversational reading. They notice when an applicant seems genuine, personable, and interesting. They appreciate when plowing through their pile of candidates doesn’t feel like total drudgery.
That being the case, unless you’re applying for a role within an extremely conservative or structured industry or organization, heck yes, a conversational style is allowed. Certainly, this is not your time to bust out a bunch of slang or (gasp) use language that could offend, but it’s a-ok to make your cover letter or intro email read like you’re a real person.
Just be sure and make it clear—in both cases—why you want to work for that company and what, specifically, you can walk through their doors and deliver.
Luckily, we know people who are experts at it.
MEET OUR COVER LETTER WRITING COACHES
Is the One Page Rule for Cover Letters Still True? What About in an Email?
Hard and fast “rules” make me crazy in general, so I’m not going to announce the exact length that your cover letter or your intro email need to be. I will simply suggest that you get in there, quickly endear yourself to the recipient, and then spell out, specifically, how and why you make perfect sense for the role you’re pursuing. And then wrap it up.
If you can pull it off with a one-page cover letter, absolutely. If you need a page and a half? So long as you’re peeling out any and all unnecessary blabber, knock yourself out. (And this article tells you how to cut it down to make it as effective as possible.)
For the email, again, get to the point and don’t be redundant if you’re also attaching a cover letter.
You can get these things right, for real. Nail the big stuff, sweat the details that truly matter, and get right to the business of making your grand entrance, well, one that’s grand.