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Résumés and Cover Letters: Can You Follow Directions?

I have worked at the same place for 18 years, and it is definitely time for a change. I am now again in the job hunt. However, many things have changed in 18 years, among them being the way the cover letter and résumé are sent to a prospective employer. We used to put them in an envelope and mail them by regular mail. Now it seems most people email them, often sending the résumé as an attachment to the cover letter. My question is: I still prefer to send them the old-fashioned way. Is that still acceptable? Would that lower your chances of getting the job? I am told that HR offices just toss them in the garbage when they come by regular mail. Well, that's rude of them, isn't it?

A.S., Lowell, MA

You are right: The landscape for submitting cover letters and résumés has changed, make that evolved. Most certainly that evolution can be traced to the explosive growth of the Internet and electronic communications in the eighteen years since you last engaged in a job hunt.

Not only have the letter and résumé gone the technological route, the entire process of the job search has as well. Although you still can find job opportunities in newspapers, online job search sites have clearly become the favored locations for job listings as opposed to the want ads, and companies now routinely list job openings on their own websites.

Regardless of where you find the job opportunity you want to apply for, the first rule of responding is to read the directions from the employer carefully, and then follow them. So, to answer your question, you should submit your cover letter and résumé by the method the employer requests, not by the method you prefer to use. If the employer’s instructions ask you to submit these documents in an email, then sending them via snail mail is not a good idea as it shows you are not prone to following instructions.

Be especially careful to note if the employer requests that you embed the résumé in the email rather than submit it as an attachment. Attachments can be laced with viruses so companies may prefer to receive submissions in the text of the email.

Besides following the submission instructions to the letter, the same basic rules of cover letter and résumé submission apply:

• Proofread for spelling and grammatical errors.

• Make sure they are an accurate representation of you and your capabilities.

• Relate specific accomplishments in addition to job positions you have held.

• Use a common, readable typeface and a simple, readable design.

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