I posted a job description which asks for a cover letter and a resume. I've received some emails with cover letter-like content, but no attached cover letter. I'm torn between accepting the email content and trashing them, for lack of attention to detail.

If cover letter-like contents are in the email to which the resume is attached, is it fair to say this fulfills the cover letter requirement?

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    They sent you an email (a digital letter) with cover letter content. This is not a cover letter...how? Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 15:18
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    Can you please share what industry this is for, or what type of position. For some fields of work it's unprofessional to attach downloads as part of your application (for example, it's really stupid for an IT security candidate to send Microsoft Word attachments).
    – user7360
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 15:52
  • @cgTag - I work in the computer security industry. And a PDF attachment is fine for me. Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 17:35

4 Answers 4


Expanding on the comment.

You are assuming that the hiring manager is who actually going to read your application email, and then read your email body as the cover letter that they requested.

But it is not always the case. What if Adam is reading the email and Eve is the hiring manager? Adam will then download/print the attachment(s) and pass them to Eve. Now Eve asked for a cover letter and a resume, but she only has a resume -> She will say it is the applicant's mistake.

Provide what they ask for so you don't decrease your chances in getting the interview. And always show that you do exactly what is requested from you.

After the OP edit, now the above is to a completely different question.

In the new case, I would suggest that you use your best judgement, based on the position you are trying to fill:

  • Does it require attention to details?
  • Is it professional?
  • Is it Junior level?
  • Is it clear that whoever is going to read the email, is actually the hiring manager?

1-minute web search says either is fine and that no one cares (but we do actually!)

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    Agreed. Much better to write a brief email with cover letter attached than to assume the original email ends up in the right place.
    – David K
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 20:43
  • Please see my edit Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 20:56
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    @horsehair Oups. Now that's it different. I updated my answer. Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 21:04

I've received some emails with cover letter-like content, but no attached cover letter.

When you ask for a "cover letter" then what you're asking for is an introduction for the candidate, which gives you some hint to their personality, motivation, and general suitability for the position.

Why care how it was sent, as long as it is easily readable? I have personally never sent a cover letter as an email attachment, but always used the inline email description. I would consider the email content to be the cover letter. Perhaps this custom varies per locality, but as far as I know this is very common at least in The Netherlands. A quick internet search reveals that for English-speaking localities some people recommend "send as attachment", some as "send as inline", and others as "no one really cares". From example from here:

I mean, people who hire may have individual preferences, but no one is going to penalize you over doing it in their less-preferred way. It’s like asking “should my hair have bangs when I go to an interview?” No one cares. And about half of the candidates I see do it one way and half do it the other way.

Dismissing a candidate just because they didn't choose to use an attachment means you've just guessed that the candidate understood that you wanted an email attachment. What you really care about is the content, and not how it was sent.

Even if you very clearly stated that you wanted an attachment in the job posting you need to think if you really want to outright dismiss a candidate over such a minor oversight. Perhaps they sent out 20 applications that day? It's easy to forget such a small thing, even if they did their research well. Personally, I think it would be unwise to dismiss someone over such a minor oversight if the rest of their cover letter/resume is looking good.

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    The only way I would dock points is if the application instructions explicitly stated that the cover letter should be included as a PDF attachment.
    – David K
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 20:10
  • @DavidK: Yes, exactly. There is no widely accepted convention to prefer one solution over the other, so if it matters to you (as the recipient/employer), you must ask for it.
    – sleske
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 9:05

Can emails count as being cover letters?

Absolutely. I'm afraid you're off-base here. A cover letter can either be attached or it can simply be the body of the e-mail. Since you're actually thinking less of candidates who are doing something that has absolutely zero impact, you're one of the few exceptions to what Alison Green said on the subject:

People who hire may have individual preferences, but no one is going to penalize you over doing it in their less-preferred way.

If for some reason you really care about receiving a separate attachment, you should be mentioning that in the job posting. Only then can you say that someone is lacking an attention to detail. But you really shouldn't be marking people down for not following your unstated preferences.

  • You're making assumptions. If I had my own preference (e.g. if I cared), I wouldn't be asking here. What I'm after is the norm. Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 17:34
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    @horsehair You're the one admitting you'd disqualify people based on your misunderstanding of the norm, which I'm explaining here. I'm not sure how I could be any clearer.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 10:48
  • I disqualify people due to lack of attention to detail. Because the detail in this case is ambiguous, I asked here for clarification. Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 17:42
  • @horsehair: it’s not so much ambiguous as irrelevant. It is indisputable that people do send an email with the resume attached and consider the body as the cover letter. So, whether it happens 99% of the time or just 1% doesn’t really matter. As the one receiving these, if you have an unstated preference, then you are the one with a lack of attention to detail.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Aug 4, 2019 at 19:27
  • @jmoreno - Your comment comes a year and a half after the question so doesn't help me anymore, but thanks. I disagree with you though. I was asking what the norm is. If there's a norm, omitting the preference from the job description would not be lack of attention to detail (again, because there's a norm). The question was whether or not there's a norm and if so, what it is. Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 10:09

When in nitpicking mode I would say a letter is a piece of paper, so an email-attachment does not qualify as the requested cover-letter.

Quoting wikipedia "A letter is one person's written message to another pertaining to some matter of common concern." - and email would certainly qualify for this.

So the "lack of attention to detail" could as well be seen in the person posting the description because of unclear requirements.

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