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.