should you attach your cover letter or put it in the body of the email?

A reader writes:

When applying to a job via email, do you attach your cover letter or do you paste it in the body of the email, or both?

Either one is fine. No one really cares, seriously.

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.

But don’t attach it and include it in the body of the email, because that’s annoying; pick just one.

If you attach it, then in the body of the email you’d just write something like, “I’d like to apply for the ___ position. Attached please find my cover letter and resume.” (Don’t write more than that, or now there are two separate letters that you expect me to read, which is also annoying.)

{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Naji

    When attaching a cover letter to an email, in addition to the language you used above, will hiring managers find it annoying if you ask them to confirm that they have received your application and to let you know if they have any questions or if they need any additional information?

    Reply
    1. Eric

      Okay, but unnecessary, to ask them to let you know if they have any questions. I don’t think anyone hiring will think “hmm, is it okay to ask them a question”, so I can’t see it making a difference one way or another.

      As for asking for confirmation, I’d be a little annoyed, because I don’t want to bother, but don’t want to be rude. I think our system auto sends them though, anyway.

      Reply
    2. Ella

      I find this annoying. But if you do decide to do it, pleeeeease don’t do it more than once. I recently had a candidate who emailed me 3 times- once to confirm that I’d received her application, a second time to confirm that we’d be scheduling interviews, and a third time to ask if we’d be notifying folks if they didn’t get the position. I hadn’t yet looked at her application, but it makes me NOT want to hire her, because it’s hella annoying!

      Reply
    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      Totally unnecessary! It’s a give that they know that they can contact you if they have questions or need more info. I agree with Eric and Ella re: asking for confirmation.

      Reply
      1. Jp

        Some jobs do penalize you for attaching them because some attachments do not open. Other places anything with attachments automatically goes to spam

        Reply
    4. Naji

      Thanks. I have previously worked overseas and somehow that has led to emails I send ending up in spam folders (my email address is firstname.lastname@gmail.com). That’s why I usually ask employers to confirm they have received my application in the body of the email I send with the application (and follow up a week later if I hear nothing). Maybe it’s time to stop though…

      Reply
      1. Francie

        As a hiring manager who takes applications through email exclusively, I already know that some applications can get caught in my spam filter and I am actively checking for them.

        Asking me to confirm receipt is not terrible, but I’d find it kind of annoying. If I’m going to move you to the next step in the process, then there’s your confirmation that I received your application. If you’re not qualified enough to move to the next round, then it ends up reading as presumptuous.

        Reply
      2. MillersSpring

        It’s annoying and come across as bossy and troublesome. Never insist that the HR contact or hiring manager take an extra step that’s essentially doing YOU a favor.

        Reply
    5. Lily in NYC

      Yes, that’s annoying, sorry. But most places use job software now and you’ll get an automated reply that it’s been received.

      Reply
      1. Lily in NYC

        Wait, I just saw your reason for it in your second comment. Now I have mixed feelings about it. What about creating a new email address that you use solely for job searching?

        Reply
        1. Bartlett for President

          It may be that the sending from a foreign country is getting the e-mail caught in spam, and not the e-mail address itself. I had that problem a lot while living/working abroad. For whatever reason, when I was in certain places my e-mails would just get flagged as SPAM – even if the recipient had received tons of e-mails from me before (there were a few my mom missed at first because of this).

          Reply
  2. SophieChotek

    If one has to attach a resume also, it makes sense to attach a cover letter (and retain desired formatting).

    Just curious though–do HR people, etc. still worry about viruses, etc. attached to emails?

    I know for awhile there was a big trend (amongst some people) to refuse to open attachments from people they don’t know, for fear of a virus. (I still have friends who operate this way; one still reads warning similar to this if it’s from a business, as it my or may not be a virus, etc.)

    But in HR dealing with emails from people one does not know seems unavoidable. I know some email programs have attachment scanning built in, etc. Or others prefer Dropbox or Google Share versus attachments.

    I just am curious to hear others’ perspective.

    Reply
    1. BRR

      I think if it’s a job application email it’s fine. Especially if they asked you to send them an email with your cover letter and/or resume.

      Reply
    2. Brett

      IT knows this and creates ways to deal with personnel receiving attachments.
      (Mostly because hackers know this too, and know that personnel has lots of lucrative information to steal. So, they particularly like targeting personnel departments with malicious attachments.)

      Reply
    3. Observer

      They do. That’s one of the reasons why unsolicited emails are not such a great idea. HR may just decide that an email that comes in without being clearly related to a specific job opening is too risky. This is the one place where cover letter in the body of the email makes sense, because HR people will generally be willing to take that much risk (assuming they are willing to take the time in general.)

      Reply
    4. Graciosa

      Oddly, I found out later that when I scanned the cover letter and resume in separate files to attach to the electronic application, my current employer’s recruiters do *not* forward the cover letter – only the resume.

      I had one applicant who scanned it into the same file – his is the only one I have seen without forcing the issue.

      I don’t know how common this is, but I would recommend keeping them together and making it a little harder for someone to not deliver the cover letter.

      Reply
  3. BRR

    I vote for as an attachment because I assume it will be sent along to someone else. But there’s also what I call job hunting superstitions like wanting to interview first or last.

    Reply
    1. addiez

      100% agree! If someone sent me a cover letter in the body of an email, I’d copy and paste it as is into a document to forward to others, and would probably lose formatting and it would look less good than if you did it yourself.

      Reply
  4. Lily

    While I agree with Alison that it’s not going to make or break you, attaching a cover letter just makes way more sense:

    1. It looks much better printed out, vs. an email
    2. Easier to forward — each new recipient doesn’t have to wade through an email chain to find it.
    3. Easier to archive — recipient can simply save the attachment in a file, rather than having to copy and paste the text into MS Word, etc. Saves the HR person some work and encourages them to keep your info on file.

    Reply
  5. Lauren

    Honestly, I was receiving just resumes from HR even though the candidates were referencing their cover letters. So if its in an email, its unlikely to be passed off to the hiring manager vs. I was forwarded the resume file. If the cover letter was a part of the file, I would have seen it. I wished I had seen them – I might have picked a diff intern since most didn’t have experience and chose those that were pursuing degrees in marketing.

    Reply
  6. De Minimis

    It seems weird to me to not just have the cover letter be the body of the e-mail [and the resume attached], but maybe that’s just me. Otherwise, what do you put in your e-mail? Alison’s example of what to have in your e-mail makes sense, though.

    Reply
      1. Sydney

        Same. Basically what Alison said in her answer. I attach the resume and cover letter (one file) because I assume it’s going to be printed off and/or forwarded and saved somewhere. This way they don’t have to cut and paste it.

        Reply
    1. Chocolate lover

      That’s how I think, too. But my organization switched to online systems (finally) a few years ago, and it bundles the resume and cover letter together in one place, so the email is moot these days.

      Reply
    2. Sans

      I’ve always had the cover letter be the body of the email. But I can see it being okay either way.

      Reply
    3. penny

      Oddly a lot of people just send a blank email work both items attached. It’s really bizarre when you receive those. Do as Allison suggested, short & sweet. Honestly though, I don’t care if cover letter is in body or attached. I’m just happy when someone bothers to send one! Bonus points if it’s not a “form” letter.

      Reply
  7. Anna No Mouse

    By attaching the cover letter, you can attach it as a pdf, which allows you to keep the formatting, so that what you send is what they see. I prefer to attach both and I use pretty much the exact language Alison uses in her example above.

    Reply
  8. AnonyKous

    As someone who gets a ton of requests for internships, I actually prefer it when the cover letter is in the email body and not attached. I only open attachments if there’s something in the email that sparks my interest. When emails direct me to open an attachment to learn more, I just move on. However, this is for unsolicited internship requests. It may be different for organizations that are actively hiring.

    Reply
  9. Kyrielle

    If they don’t state a preference, I attach the cover letter – different email programs can mess with formatting, and it’s not just “what did my email program do” but how does their email program interact with that. (And if you are thinking “well, my cover letter is just a letter with no fancy formatitng” – this includes things like not rendering em-dash or smart quotes the same way you see them on your screen, and things like inserting gratuitous blank lines or carriage returns in the middle of a paragraph, in the middle of a sentence even.)

    Also, at one point I had a boss who would send resumes/cover letters on to others to be considered. He didn’t forward the emails, he just started a new email and dragged over attachments from the emails in question. So, I’m team “attach the cover letter” and also team “put your name in your document names” – not that I won’t see it when I open the file, but it’s a tiny but handy help.

    Again, assuming no stated preference. If the hiring manager wants the cover letter in the email, then of course it goes in the email. Pretty much what the hiring manager specifically asks for goes, at least until it becomes something that causes you not to apply. :)

    Reply
    1. 39281

      YES – totally a member of team put your last name in the document name! I hate getting the majority of the files named “application.doc”. Then I have to make a folder for each applicant, or re-name the files.

      Reply
    2. Anlina

      Yes a thousand times this! When I was doing a lot of hiring applicants would send their application to a general email address and the person who checks that address would collect all the applications and send them to me in one message. If the cover letter was in the body of the email it would have to get copied into a new document so that I actually got it.

      I want to be able to save all resumes and cover letters and then easily review them all at once (so yes to putting your name in the file name too)

      Reply
  10. Adam

    Thank you for giving me permission to just put it in the body of an email. I had been attaching them as pdfs like my resume, but this will save me a step here and there.

    Reply
  11. DaisyC

    Alison, “I mean” again. :) (Doesn’t bother me one bit but I thought it was funny how it was mentioned that you say it a lot in article giving you kudos. A lot of people do this.)

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Oh, it’s deliberate when it’s in writing! With the reporter, it was on the phone and so I had no idea how often I’d done it! I really do love saying it though; there’s something very enjoyable about it.

      Reply
        1. Ellie H.

          It’s funny how we all have our individual versions of this! Mine is “To my mind. . .” and I have colleagues who do “You know” and “I suppose. . .” My in print tic is “etc.”, I sometimes find myself using it twice in a single text message!

          Reply
          1. Audiophile

            I had a friend point out that I say “you know” a lot. I none too pleased because it just made me blatantly aware of it. Then I’d find myself pausing to avoid saying it. I think I’ve mostly broken myself of the habit now.

            Reply
  12. GOG11

    Eek! I’ve always done both, letting them know in the closing that a copy of my cover letter the body of the email/cover letter is attached. I handle the logistics for searches periodically and it’s easier for me to download the attachments for our records or to share on the intranet (or, as one committee member demanded, print copies of everything) but it’s quicker for the hiring committee chair to just read the body of the email. Other departments here handle filing and reviewing materials similarly, but I’m thinking we’re just weird.

    Reply
    1. GWJ

      Oh phew, I’m glad I’m not the only one! I always thought that was helpful – you can read my email with the cover letter right now, or you can download it and the resume and save it for later (or send just the attachment without my email, etc.)

      Reply
  13. Brett

    If you are applying to a government position, attach it to the email.
    Since there is probably a formal application process, you should attach there if you can, but if you can’t send it as an attachment to the email.
    The reason for this is that the cover letter will have to be pulled out, attached to the application, and printed anyway. This is easier to do if it is just a word attachment.

    (Also, as a related separate issue, your email is a public record but your cover letter might not be one. Just removing the attachment is much easier than redacting the email.)

    Reply
    1. Brett

      Second paragraph is written poorly:
      There is likely a formal application process for a government position, and you should submit your cover letter through that instead of via email. If you cannot submit your cover letter there, then send it as an attachment to an email.

      Reply
  14. CJ

    As someone who’s sat on a hiring committee that pulled this stunt, can I add: “read the posting instructions, in case the hiring committee are putting tests in very early”?

    Reply
      1. Anon Moose

        Gmail/ Outlook sometimes catches the no attachment mistake for you now! And Gmail’s “Undo send” function is AWESOME.

        Reply
    1. Semi-nonymous

      Yup, this is important too. If it says “attach your resume and cover letter as a single file” or “pdf format only, no Word documents” and you don’t do that, you almost immediately go into the “can’t follow directions” pile. Or even the straightforward “include job #12345 in your subject line” – read the directions and follow them.

      Reply
  15. christine j

    I always do a single attached PDF with my cover letter as the first page and my resume as the subsequent two pages. I used to hire for internships, and would get 100-150 resumes for 3 positions. I would file all the attachments and then make a time to sit down with the folder and go through the whole thing. When people just put their cover letter in the body of the email it was very annoying, as i’d have to copy the text in to a new word document in order to store it in the folder with my other docs.

    Reply
  16. Chaordic One

    I previously worked in HR and at the company I worked for we really preferred the cover letter be sent as an attachment.

    Very often, for reasons I don’t totally understand, the email would print out all wonky and spread out. It looked hideous and when printed out, what should have been a simple little thing that should fit on a single page would take 4 or 5.

    Additionally, frequently my employer would request additional information to be submitted as a spreadsheet. Frequently, these also turned out to be a nightmare to print out, but in the case of the spreadsheets, it was because the sender usually didn’t give any consideration to what it would look like when it was printed out. Smart applicants took that into consideration and their spreadsheets would print out on standard 8 1/2″ by 11″ (usually with the printer set to “landscape”) paper.

    I always thought that if I had extra time I could delete extra space on the emails, and tweak the spreadsheets so they would print out nicer, but I never really did and I suppose that if I did, I might have been giving that applicant an unfair advantage.

    Reply
  17. Bartlett for President

    I usually put the cover letter content into the e-mail, and then just attach a single file that includes everything requested for the application – including the cover letter. Does the “don’t put it both places” have to do with making them open extra files? I guess I assumed the person getting the e-mail isn’t necessarily the only person reviewing applications, and it was quicker for them to hit print on a single file than to print the e-mail plus the attachment.

    I started adding the cover letter content into the e-mail after two places in a row rejected my application for not sending a proper cover letter (their words)….because they only read the e-mail that said “please find attached my application for blah blah blah,” and didn’t bother looking to see the cover letter attached.

    Reply
  18. Fish Microwaer

    I once applied for a position, putting the cover letter in the body of the email. I received a phone call asking where my cover letter was. I then made it into an attachment and emailed it and that was the last I heard. Bullet dodged.

    Reply
  19. Anna

    I’m a hiring manager and I disagree with Alison. Absolutely put it in both places. It’s not “annoying.” It’s the only way to ensure that your materials are actually read and received, for all the reasons people have described above. Things get lost in email forwards, formatting gets messed up, documents get detached from each other, etc. 100% of the time, unless you are specifically instructed otherwise, put the cover letter in the body of the email, and then attach a PDF labeled with your name that contains all of your materials.

    I rarely disagree with Alison’s advice, but I disagree really strongly here. I do a lot of hiring. This is the way that best ensures that your materials get through.

    Reply
  20. Noah

    I generally attach both my resume and cover letter as a single PDF file unless the job posting makes it clear they want it a certain way. I can then save the PDFs and a I have an easy reference for which version of my resume I used and exactly what I said in my cover letter.

    As I hiring manager I don’t really have a preference. Although I will mention that something ugly happens when formatted text is sent from a Gmail address and opened in Outlook. I don’t count it against the applicant because I know about the issue, but others might not.

    Reply
  21. Audiophile

    I used to attach both the resume and cover letter. Then I started putting the cover letter in the body of the email, unless there were explicit instructions in the job posting.

    Reply
  22. TBoT

    I hire a lot of freelance writers, and I strongly prefer having the cover letter as the body of the email. The cover letter gives me a huge indication of whether the person applying can write, so it’s much easier to have that right in front of me than to open an attachment individually for every applicant. (There are usually hundreds.)

    I also state clearly in the ads that the cover letter should be the body of the email, and I absolutely do penalize people who send it as an attachment instead, because they haven’t followed the instructions that were specifically spelled out in the posting.

    So, while most people don’t care, anyone who puts it in their instructions for how to apply definitely does care, and you should follow those instructions to the letter.

    Reply

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