Writing E-mail Cover Letters

Write On

Writing e-mail cover letters can be a tricky business. Bad formatting, empty subject lines and spam are sure-fire ways to encourage employers to hit the "delete" key. But following some simple rules can get you noticed.

E-mail is quick, casual and takes hardly any effort, right? Well, it depends. Asking your friend if they want to hang out is one thing. Asking a company to give you a job is another.

Job applications are business transactions. This means you must put as much care and thought into them as you would a mailed cover letter.

Even though an e-mail is sometimes considered to be more casual in tone and style, your communication approach should always remain professional, says Reesa Staten, director of research at a large staffing agency in California.

The body of the message should still be formatted as a letter, including formal salutations such as Mr. and Ms.

Hard Copy vs. E-mail

Cover letters submitted electronically should be shorter in length than those that are typewritten, says Staten. Two to three paragraphs is a good length. In terms of content, e-mail and hard-copy cover letters are generally the same.

You'd make an opening statement, saying why you are writing, says Candace Davies, a career coach.

You would go into the strongest points that would make you skilled for that position and bring value to the company. You do not want to reiterate what is in the resume.

Close with a very strong statement, bringing action. You want to get an interview. You want to make it interesting enough that they go down to read the resume.

Target It

Davies suggests avoiding addressing the letter "Dear Sir/Madam."

You always want to get the contact name of the individual, which is often in the job advertisement," she says.

"Or you could phone to try and gather that info. You want that cover letter tailored for that position. It just makes it that much more unique and shows that you really read the ad."

How to Format It

If you are not aware of the recipient's e-mail capabilities, it is best to format e-mailed cover letters for the lowest common denominator, says Susan Whitcomb, a career counselor in California. She says the best way to do this is to place hard returns at the end of each line of text. Aim for 50 to 60 characters on each line.

Whatever you do, don't use HTML, says Shane Clements, a career counselor. People try to make it really fancy because some e-mail programs let you do that really easily.

The problem with this, he says, is that the person receiving your mail may not be using the same software and your e-mail may end up all over the place.

He suggests using plain text and highlighting or emphasizing things by making paragraph breaks (leaving a whole line between paragraphs).

Louise Kursmark is a career advisor in Ohio and has written many career books, including Cover Letter Magic. She says in order to be absolutely sure of removing any potential problem areas, save a version of your word-processed letter in "plain text" format.

Close the file, and when you re-open it you'll see that the formatting has been stripped out. Go through the letter and add in any extra line breaks that might help to improve readability. Take out any characters that translated incorrectly. Then copy the letter and paste it into your e-mail message.

Davies says another reason you should send a text only e-mail is that many employers use scanning devices to look for keywords. Text versions are easy to scan. Microsoft Word documents are not.

The Advantage of E-mail

E-mail can get you in front of an employer instantly, says Whitcomb. "Your letter can be quickly copied and pasted into an employer's database. If you're sending your resume as well, consider pasting it below the body of the e-mail message."

Kursmark recommends sending both an e-mail and hard copy version by mail if you can. "It's quicker and easier for you to hit 'send' than to print and mail a hard copy," she says.

"But sometimes the old-fashioned way will get a better result, and nowadays it's a good way to stand out from the crowd."

Watch Out

Some company websites encourage people to send in their resumes even when there is no job advertised. However, be wary about sending e-mails to companies who have neither advertised a position, nor encourage people to send in resumes through their website.

An unsolicited e-mail, especially in an industry like IT, would be a big no no, says Clements. This is considered spam. It's best to use e-mail when the employer has requested it.

If you are not sure, call the company and ask how they would like to be approached.

Other Common Mistakes

Davies says many people do not understand that they should be using a text version. Some people send resumes and there is nothing in the body of the e-mail, just an attachment. Attachments are a bad idea. You might be sending it to someone with an incompatible system (so the formatting doesn't look the same). There's always the fear of viruses. Plus, it takes a few extra seconds to open an attachment.

Davies says that some e-mails she receives don't even have a subject line. She says this is a sure-fire way to have your e-mail ignored, or deleted.

She suggests putting the position in the subject line when applying for advertised positions.

"The biggest mistake people make is the one size fits all cover letter where people say I'm a good worker, I'm on time and make a bunch of generalities," says Clements. "They don't say anything specific because they are going to send it to 18 different industries."

A cover letter that is really going to impress somebody is one that shown some thoughtfulness about that particular company.

Clements also warns against relying on your e-mail spell-checker. Give your letter a good proofread before sending.

If there are instructions on the posting, says Davies, follow those instructions to a tee. If you do not, they will say that person lacks attention to detail.

Follow Up

Just because e-mail is a common method of applying for jobs, don't expect it to land you the interview. Getting a job takes legwork. Following up will get you the position, says Davies. She recommends waiting about a week after you send the e-mail. You can then call the company and check to see if they got your e-mail.

Example of a Bad E-mail Cover Letter

To: info@eatwell.com
Subject: (none)
Content-Type: HTML

Hi there!

I hear you are seeking a seeking an addition to your marketing team. A new person such as myself can often provide new ideas and innovative approaches to challenges.

As you can see from my enclosed resume, my degree as well as my diverse skills make me a strong candidate for this position.

I am confident that my knowledge and abilities would be of value to your company. I would like to request a few minutes of your time to discuss my qualifications. I will contact you to arrange a meeting. If you have any questions in the meantime, please do not hesitate to call.

Jane Smith


Good E-mail Cover Letter (resume would appear below letter)

Note: sender's address could appear above or below letter

To: G.Harris@eatwell.com
Subject: Enthusiastic sales and marketing graduate ideal for Sales and Marketing Assistant (recruitment number 4085)
Content-Type: text/plain

Jane Smith
100 Main St.
Vancouver, BC V2B 1H1


May 3, 2006

Gordon Harris
Director, Sales and Marketing
Eatwell Foods Inc.
100 45th St.
Vancouver, BC V1T 2H2


Dear Mr. Harris:

I am writing in response to your advertisement for a sales and marketing assistant in the Metro Newspaper on May 1, 2006. I believe my qualifications meet your needs.

As you can see from my enclosed resume, my marketing degree as well as my skills in developing sales material and promotional tools make me a strong candidate for this position.

I am confident that my knowledge and abilities would be of value to Eatwell Foods Inc. I would like to request a few minutes of your time to discuss my qualifications. I will contact you on May 10 to arrange a meeting. If you have any questions in the meantime, please do not hesitate to call me on (604) 992-9991.


Jane Smith




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