The Recruiter-Approved, High-Impact Strategy for Submitting Your Cover Letter

Like Mark Twain (pre-1910, anyway), reports of the death of cover letters are greatly exaggerated.

A good cover letter lets you break through the limitations of a just-the-facts-ma’am resume so you can introduce yourself, describe your career trajectory, and reveal your working style and career philosophy. Perhaps most important, a cover letter shows that you go all the way and that you know how to play the game.

But in a world of email attachments and online job applications, how exactly do you submit a cover letter?

Here are a few options, plus guidance on the very best strategy that will set you apart from the competition.

If you are submitting your application via an online form, optimize the boxes. Many companies require job seekers to submit their application via an online form. You may be prompted to upload your resume and cover letter, or you may be asked to paste your data into fields of a web form.

In these cases, follow the instructions and prompts carefully. If there’s a button to upload your cover letter, use it.

At the same time, be strategic about how you utilize the web form. Think of a politician who says what they want to say, no matter what the original question was. So if there’s a field asking for further comments or additional uploads, plug in your cover letter there.

But keep in mind, the more personal and connected you make your application, the better your chances of success. Do a little sleuthing, and if at all possible, submit your resume and cover letter directly to the hiring manager. (More on exactly how to be a job-seeking Sherlock Holmes in an upcoming column.)

Once you’ve got the hiring manager’s direct email address, always attach PDF copies of your resume and cover letter to the email. PDF copies are preferable over Word docs because PDF formatting won’t get garbled during transmission.

Now, what goes in the body of your email?

One option is to just paste your cover letter into the email itself. After all, the purpose of a cover letter is to introduce you and create interest in reading further detail in your resume.

But here’s an even better solution, recommended by Jim Niemela, President and Founder of ZimZee Recruiting.

  1. Attach both the cover letter and resume to your email (in PDF form).
  2. Write a one-paragraph email message that introduces you and provides some brief, key information on why you’re a good fit for the position.

Wait, doesn’t introducing yourself and explaining why you’re a good fit sound exactly like…a cover letter? Yep.

So in a way, this email is the cover email to introduce your cover letter to introduce your resume…which helps you land the interview, so you can get a second interview, so you can get a job offer, so you can negotiate terms…

In other words, it’s a cumulative process. And savvy job seekers and career developers invest a little energy, purpose, and personality into each step.

Check out Upword Resume‘s add-on custom cover letter writing service. We’ll tailor a cover letter to a specific company or job opening, or just write a cover letter that captures your accomplishments.