Submitting Résumés and Cover Letters by Email

A couple of weeks ago, our Business Communication Advisory Board met to discuss various workplace communication topics. We enjoy hearing from these professionals, who represent a variety of business fields—accounting, human resource management, education, local government, health care administration, and many more.

One of the main topics we discussed is what employers really want when they tell applicants to send their materials electronically. Does this mean they want the cover letter and résumé in the body of an email? Should applicants attach Word documents (a cover letter and a résumé) to an email? Should applicants attach PDF files or Word files? Is the email the cover letter, or should a separate cover letter be attached to the email?

Essentially, our board members said that how applicants submit their documents is not as important as the stories they tell within those documents. However, they shared the following thoughts regarding their experiences.

  • PDF files work better as attachments than Word documents, as the PDF file will likely always open and preserve a document’s format.
  • Fewer attachments are better. If both the cover letter and résumé are attached to an email, they should be in one PDF document.
  • Generally, a concise, well-written email will work for a cover letter.
  • Whether a cover letter is sent as an email or as an attachment, it needs to be short and concise and must tell the applicant’s story well—and honestly.
  • Applicants who send a cover letter as an email must be sure to keep the same level of formality that they would in an attached cover letter or printed cover letter. One board member says that applicants who send cover letters via email tend to use a tone and style that are too informal.
  • Applicants should keep in mind that employers use the quality of the writing in application materials—regardless of how they are submitted—as a measure an applicant’s communication skills and overall competence.
  • Applicants should send thank-you notes immediately after the interview and follow up if they have not heard from an employer within two weeks. Interestingly, while board members say email thank-you messages are fine, they prefer a handwritten note. After emails are read, they are likely deleted or lost in the volume of inbox messages. A handwritten thank-you note will likely sit on the interviewer’s desk and continually remind him or her of the applicant. Email messages, they say, work well if the employer has indicated that a hiring decision will be made within a day or two.
  • Board members say it is also fine with them if they receive both the handwritten and email thank-you note. Regardless, the message should thank the interviewer, address a high point or major qualification that was discussed in an interview (not recap the entire interview), and end with a confident expression of interest in the position.

Does all of this advice sound familiar? Sure. We have been sharing a lot of this advice with our students for years. However, it’s nice to tell our students that we know the advice will work because professionals in their (the students’) anticipated careers have told us this is what they look for.

Internship Site Visits: Connecting BCOMM to the Workplace

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a couple of internship sites with the chair of the Information Systems Department. The goal of the visits was for the chair to talk with the site employers and IS interns regarding the goals for the internships and the interns’ progress toward meeting them.

I’ve been looking for ways to help students better connect what they’ve learned in the classroom to what they do in the workplace, specifically those skills related to business writing, so I was thrilled when the IS chair asked if I wanted to accompany him. During my portion of the discussion during the site visit, I asked the employer to (1) assess his or her level of satisfaction with the student’s writing skills and (2) provide suggestions for improvement. While employers gave students helpful feedback, they also shared some general comments:

  • Email remains the primary means of written communication in organizations, and employees really must understand both when an email message is appropriate (as opposed to a face-to-face or phone contact) and how to write clear and concise messages.
  • Many employees struggle to write clearly. That is, they need to do a better job of logically presenting their information in a manner that is easy to follow, presents a clear point and the details relevant for action, and makes clear what type of response (if any) is needed.
  • Interns and new employees, especially, need to find a better balance between confidence and humility. They need to know it is all right not to know an answer and that rather than make something up, be able to ask the right questions. They need to learn how to say “Can you help me understand…?” or “”If I understand you correctly…” or “I don’t know, but I can find out.”
  • Interns need to come to the workplace knowing how to read and respond to the various personalities and audiences they encounter.

I’m guessing all of these employer comments sound familiar because they address topics we already teach in our business communication classes. Yet if students in our classes have no sense that they will be accountable in the workplace for what they are learning in the classroom, they have little reason to make sure they retain, further develop, and use their knowledge and skills. And, of course, in many of our programs, a lot of course work happens between the time a student takes business communication classes and the time the student completes an internship, but that is a matter for a blog post later this fall on business writing across the curriculum and in the disciplines.

For now, however, the internship site visits have been just one way to integrate business communication in a student’s educational experience in a meaningful way. Plus, the internship site employers were very receptive to my being there and had a lot to say.

What do you do to integrate business communication throughout your curriculum? Let us know. We’d like to hear from you.

Creating a Business Communication Industry Advisory Board

In our College of Business, all of the functional areas (e.g., accounting and finance, management, international business, health care administration, marketing, information systems) have business advisory boards. This year, our Business Communication Department joined the fun and formed its board as well.

Unlike the boards in the other functional areas, where the members are from that professional field, the BCOM board comprises members from the fields of health care, information systems, communications, banking, accounting, finance, government, marketing, management, entrepreneurship, and K-12 education.

Our Goals

Our goal in having the board is to help us better connect what we do in the classroom to the needs of employers. Our hope is that by meeting twice per year (early fall, late spring) we can be a resource for professionals who may need projects completed that our students can do and learn from and that professionals can be a resource for us as we develop our curriculum.

Of course, another goal is to enhance the BCOM Department’s visibility in our College, university, and community and assert ourselves as a business discipline.

The Board’s Input

As you might imagine, putting a group of professionals in a room and asking them to talk about entry-level employees’ communication skills yielded a lot of interesting information:

  • Tuning in: Several commented on how interns and entry-level employees tend to come to work, insert the ear buds, tune in to their music, and tune out the rest of the world. While the music may help them focus, employees miss the conversations around them that help them learn the culture, develop socialization skills to fit with the culture, and gather useful information from those informal workplace conversations.
  • Communicating data: Another common remark was that many interns are weak in their ability to communicate quantitative and qualitative data meaningfully.
  • Analyzing an audience and corporate culture: Board members talked a lot about how interns and entry-level employees would communicate better if they were to invest the time analyzing audience and culture.
  • Having a command of the English language: Grammar, mechanics, and punctuation were also mentioned as areas students need improvement on—both written and oral.

Our three-hour discussion covered many more topics, but you can see the value in the professional community’s input as we teach our students and promote our value to the university community

In forming our board, we determined the fields we wanted to be represented on the board. Once we did that, it was a matter of making phone calls and organizing the meeting. If you have questions on how we formed our board, let me know. It’s been a fun and exciting venture, and we’re already looking forward to setting the agenda for our fall meeting.