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When applying for jobs I have 2 PDFs: a cover letter and a resume. I try to make them self contained as there usually isn't places for additional information. When the application procedure is to e-mail them, what should be put in the body of the e-mail? I try to keep it as short as possible because all the information is already in the cover letter/resume. On the other hand I don't want to sound rude or look like I'm not putting effort into an area.

What I normally have is

subject: [position name] application body:

Hello:

Attached is my cover letter and resume for the the [position name] position.

Thanks, [My name, contact info]

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    Actually you should probably type in the contents of the cover letter in to your email. That's what I usually do. I never attach my cover letter unless I am using their job application engine. I keep it like a mail conversation. – anonymouse Feb 24 '15 at 18:23
  • You mean copy and paste, right anon? You wouldn't actually retype the thing and risk all those extra spelling mistakes? – Ben Feb 24 '15 at 23:19
  • Possible duplicate of workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/13778/… (which was closed as too broad, however) – thursdaysgeek Feb 25 '15 at 17:04
  • @anonymouse could you explain why you think this way is better? I would be worried their e-mail client wouldn't display formatting the same way. – Jimmy Bauther Feb 26 '15 at 5:08
  • It enables me to customize the message. I usually tweak my cover letter as per job requirements. I would like to stress certain facts about my experience/profile if I think the job is a good match – anonymouse Feb 26 '15 at 6:49
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On the other hand I don't want to sound rude or look like I'm not putting effort into an area.

You are right to worry about that. If you're responding to a published "jobs" email address, whoever sifts through that is likely to have lots of messages, many from people who are not qualified but are sending applications to every jobs address they can find. You don't want to look like one of them.

So, unless the job ad specifically instructed otherwise ("send cover letter as an attachment"), the email body should be the cover letter, with the resume attached. Don't make the recipient open an attachment just to find out if you're even vaguely interesting; that makes you easier to ignore (or set aside for later, and then "later" never comes -- I've definitely done that with email that's inconvenient right now, e.g. because I'm reading it on my phone). Make the email compelling enough that the reader will want to open the attachment, your resume.

It's often said that recruiters and HR screeners spend less than a minute (perhaps well less than half a minute) looking at the average resume. With emailed applications, isn't it reasonable to assume that the clock starts running when they open your email? I've found it best to put my pitch right there in the first lines of the message they've already opened -- draw the reader in and you raise the chances that yours will be one he spends more than 30 seconds on.

In addition to making it easier for the reader to see how wonderful a fit you are, by using the message body effectively you demonstrate that you are resourceful enough to use the tools you have to best advantage. I doubt that anybody cares about a nicely-formatted PDF cover letter; just give 'em the payload, the actual information, up front.

(This answer is drawn from experience as a job-hunter and anecdotal evidence from HR folks at companies where I've worked. I'm not an HR person or a recruiter.)

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    I've done this before too but then I consider from their point of view. If I get an email that says "Hi, please open this PDF attachment to read my message." I will be very tempted to skip over that email until the proverbial "later" – Brandin Feb 24 '15 at 19:25
  • Definitely. Putting the cover letter separately makes more effort for whoever is reading through the applications. Also, it makes the sending of the email somewhat pointless, as the email itself doesn't contain anything. Unless you're going through their auto system, or they've requested a separate cover letter, treat the email as though it's an email, and put the important stuff in the body. – user29632 Feb 24 '15 at 19:27
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Attaching a cover letter makes the email less personal and comes off as a more templated inquiry. Indeed, it will appear that you are not putting effort into it. One sentence of text for the body is not enough. Like someone in the comments said, copy the cover letter into the body.

But I would take this further. I'm not sure if your cover letter is generic, but consider ways to make the cover letter (email body in this case) more unique to the position and company. With an email, you have an opportunity to engage in conversation. Find the name of the recruiter/hiring manager and address them directly if applicable. Remain formal, but stand out as someone who has done their homework and is truly interested in the position.

  • I would counter that with PDFs the formatting will be guaranteed, bit with e-mails they are not. Even if you get the formatting correctly on your end, the message may display differently in the recipients e-mail client. But I guess cover letters don't have too much formatting anyways...though they do have some. – Jimmy Bauther Feb 26 '15 at 23:30

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