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Do cover letters get read?

Q. Is there a way to get people to actually read the cover letters I send? Why do companies ask us to send emails with a cover letter and resume? Do people even read their emails anymore? I spend a lot of time on tailoring my emails. Does it matter?

A. The number of emails and cover letters flooding inboxes is astronomical, yet somehow hiring managers, human resources professionals, and recruiters find ways to sort candidates who are easily selected, or eliminated from the "potential interview" pile. Your job as a great candidate is to find ways to help the screener keep you moving toward to an interview.

Recently Job Doc received a great email from a reader offering three suggestions to candidates who want to differentiate themselves to prospective employers. The author's company posted job listings that stipulated all applicants respond via email. The suggestions forwarded to Job Doc are in response to the emails received from some applicants. They include:

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1. Do not use “Resume”, “Resume2,” or even “Biotech Resume” as the name of your attachment. An employer will receive many such attachments: how can they expect to locate yours easily? The attachment folder in our email program contains multiple files with such titles. It is much better to use “Name_Resume” or a title that will be unique to you.

2. Do not send a resume in the latest version of Word from Vista. Save it as an earlier version of Word and then send the attachment, because many companies do not use Vista. Although my company does not use Word for everyday use, we do have it on our email program. However, we cannot open up “.docx” attachments. An alternative may be to send the attachment in two different versions and let the employer open whichever version is best for them. With so many resumes being sent, do not make it difficult to see your resume.

3. Put some kind of statement in the email, with a line saying how you know about the opening and that your resume and/or cover letter is attached. I never open attachments unless I have an idea of what is in them. I have received supposed applications with no email text – only attachments – which I immediately send to the trash.

Interestingly, these suggestions are all about transmission of content, and do not even relate to whether you are a strong candidate or not. There are many steps to an effective job search, all needing to be executed with the highest efficacy.

All of the details matter, so review each step in your process to make sure you are making all your efforts count. You do not want to be excluded from an opportunity because of a small flaw in the process.

Other ideas? Make sure you review your resume after you send it electronically. How does it look? Effectively utilize the subject line in emails. If you were referred by someone, use the name in the subject line for a better chance at a response. Use the language in the ad to highlight your capabilities - and make sure to show results, not just responsibilities. Can you use a testimonial in your cover letter? Quote a customer or manager who offers information about how effective you were in solving a problem, or adding value. Make sure the area addressed is the exact target for the job you are applying for.

Evaluate all your job search steps as if you were the hiring manager. Are you making it easy for the reader to see why they should meet you? Do all your communications look professional? Is your name, phone number and email address all easily accessible on any communications? Can you connect the hiring manager to someone you know? Hiring organizations really do want to hire great people. Help them make it you.


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