Q: When you are applying for a job where you have to send an email with your resume and cover letter, what do you say in the actual body of your email?
A: Technology has certainly changed the job application process. Very often candidates are required to complete an online application. Or an applicant must submit a resume and cover letter via email.
Sometimes a job posting or advertisement will direct you what to include in a subject line. It might be a job number or the title of the job. If no specific instructions are given, I suggest referring to both the job title and your full name (e.g., Credit Analyst - Jane Anne Smith). What is critically important is to follow the company's instructions. If the company has requested that documents be sent in a certain format, send them that way. If the company has requested all resumes and cover letters be submitted by a deadline, email your information before the deadline.
There are two different approaches with submitting a resume and cover letter via email. With the first approach, you can cut and paste your actual cover letter into the body of the email. This can be helpful to the interviewer since they will have to click and open fewer attachments. However, some employers (especially more formal companies) will view this negatively. A company may not consider this a "real" cover letter. Sometimes when your cover letter is embedded in the body of an email, the formatting is not ideal and then the printed version is less than attractive. If you choose to cut and paste your cover letter in the body of the email, it should still be professionally written and free of errors. This approach is probably acceptable when applying for many positions, especially for smaller, entrepreneurial companies or when a company does not request a cover letter.
The other option is to attach both a cover letter and a resume as separate documents to your email. This requires a bit more work for the receiver but it fully complies with a company's request to submit both a resume and a cover letter. If the receiver plans to print the documents, there will likely be fewer formatting problems and both documents will appear more polished in printed form. The "two attachment" approach is probably best for senior-level positions or when applying to larger, more formal companies or when a company specifically requests a cover letter. In the body of the email, you can explain what documents are attached and also highlight any special qualifications or differentiators about your background. It is also a good idea to reiterate your contact information.
One tip that is a simple yet often overlooked detail is the title of an emailed resume. Use your first and last name rather than "resume2011" or something similar. It makes you easier to find.
Lastly, make sure that your email address is appropriate and professional. Ditch the racy email addresses. These type of email addresses send a message and not a good one.