E-Notes and Electronic Submissions

Electronic submissions, particularly when e-mailed or submitted through an online form, require some changes from a traditional, hard copy cover letter, or one that is presented that way (such as in PDF form, mimicking the hard copy).

E-mailed letters, or e-notes, are short and to-the-point. Think of them similar to an elevator pitch. If you only had 30 seconds to impress an employer, and convince him or her to read your resume, what would you say? What highlights from your career would you make note of? That is the type of information to keep in mind when creating these shorter versions of your cover letter. Every word counts and the information included needs to set you apart.

E-Mailing Cover Letters

Letters that are e-mailed take a different approach than hard copy letters. While there is a good chance you will e-mail your resume more often than using a hard copy, it is good to be comfortable with cover letters for both approaches.

When submitting your résumé by e-mail, you need to follow a few guidelines. First, be careful with sending the resume as an attachment. Most companies use quality virus protection; still, some may have policies to not open attachments, or to only open certain types of attachments, such as PDF files. When using Word, you can use the “save as” function and choose .pdf to create a version of your resume in this format. If you are replying to a post that specifically states attachments are allowed, follow the format options provided. They typically include formats such as .doc, .docx, .rft., .pdf, etc.

If no guidelines are given, you may want to consider pasting a plain text version of your résumé into the body of the e-mail, letting the reader know that your resume is available in other formats. Alternatively, paste the plain text version and attach a safer format such as a PDF, informing the reader that your résumé is pasted below and also attached. This method runs more of a risk of the e-mail going into a junk or spam folder, or being disregarded because it has an attachment.

Another possibility is to upload your résumé onto a Web page and send the URL in addition to pasting your résumé in the e-mail. One word of caution if doing this—whatever link you send to a potential employer, make sure that it contains only your résumé and any additional information that specifically supports you as a serious candidate. Do not send a link to your personal Web page that includes pictures of you with your dog and boyfriend, a detailed account of your recent skiing vacation in Utah, or any other personal information. If you use a Web site for your resume, only include job-related information. Also keep in mind that this leaves your information open for anyone to see. Personal information, such as your address, should be removed. If you have a land line, leave that number off as well. You may want to leave your information limited to a job-search-specific e-mail address only—just remember to check it often.

You will not send an attachment of your cover letter. Nor will you copy and paste your cover letter into the e-mail. Rather, you will take the most important elements of your hard copy cover letter and create a much shorter version that you will use in your e-mail correspondence, or an “e-note.” The basics remain the same: You will introduce yourself, state your most hard-hitting qualifications, and ask for an interview. Did you notice something missing in this last list? How will the employer know what position you are seeking? When e-mailing, use the subject line of the e-mail to state the desired position and include a succinct tagline about your qualifications. For example, an engineering graduate's subject line could read:

Cum Laude grad seeks entry level civil eng. position

The subject line essentially replaces the "RE:" line that is sometimes used in a traditional cover letter. This allows you to jump right in immediately on your introduction and qualifications. Because e-mail is a "fast" medium, you want to write a short letter. The other reason for writing a short letter is that you want your best highlights to be viewable when the recipient opens the message. If the reader has to scroll through the message to find out who you are, what you have done, and why you are writing, your message is more likely to be deleted. The e-note lets you grab the reader’s attention, even if that person is using a preview function prior to opening the email. The information is right there.

Aim to use only a few lines for the e-note. The first line will be your introduction. Using the example of the engineer, it could read, "I am a Civil Engineering graduate with a proven history of leading projects to completion and under budget." This will be followed by an example or two of your qualifications. A short bullet list works well, opening with action verbs, just as in the traditional cover letter. "Led five-member team in developing $1M parking garage design for XYZ company, gaining client approval and ‘A’ grade." After listing another qualification or two, end your letter by stating that your résumé is pasted below and ask for an interview. Then remember, of course, to paste your résumé below.

As with any cover letter, aim to address the e-mail to a specific person. If possible, find the e-mail address of the person with the hiring power rather than sending your résumé to the human resources or an administrative generic e-mail address. Browse the company Web site; this may lead you to the address. If you know the name of your desired contact but not his or her e-mail address, call and say you need to send some information to so-and-so and could you please have the e-mail address. If you do not know a contact name or e-mail, try to obtain the desired information. You can also use information on the site to see if the company has a standard e-mail format combining employee names and company information. If you have a contact name, but not a specific e-mail, you can try the combination to see if it works. This method can potentially work against you, though, so aim to get the address through other means first.

Many companies have forms on their Web sites specifically for uploading your résumé. These systems are often automated and will send you an automated response when you have successfully uploaded your information. By all means, use this form; however, if you also have a referral or contact name (or names), send a separate e-mail to those persons as well. While your résumé sits in the automated system, you could hear something immediately when sending it to a direct contact within the company.

Insert contact information following the cover letter portion of your e-mail. This includes your name, e-mail address (linked), and phone number. You do not need to include your address unless it can help you; some companies prefer local candidates, or if the position needs to be filled immediately, it can potentially help to show that you are local. Alternatively, if you are not local, and are not seeking relocation support, leave the address off and include only a phone number and e-mail. And as previously mentioned, it is a good idea to set-up an e-mail account specifically for your job search. Not only does this help you track your contacts better, but it also eliminates the use of a "cutesy" e-mail address that you think is incredibly clever but an employer may find offensive or childish. Following your cover letter, copy and paste a plain-text version your résumé into the e-mail.

A well-presented e-note should convince the hiring manager to read your resume. Remember to keep it short, tight, and specific to help your letter pack a strong sales punch.