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Cover Letters and Résumés Are Still Critical To Successful Job Search

Over the past year I have had the responsibility of leading the effort to fill a couple of positions at the Emily Post Institute. The Institute did not need to hire anyone for several years previously, so I was fascinated by the changes in the process as a result of the digital world.

In the past we would place an advertisement in the local paper. Now we place a job posting on LinkedIn. The difference: We receive applications from all over the country, not just from the Burlington, Vermont area. Where before we would receive a carefully crafted letter mailed to us along with a résumé, now we receive an emailed response with a résumé as a pdf attachment (maybe – more on that in a minute). We also post a notice on our website indicating that we have a position available. Similarly, we receive emails with résumé attachments from people applying for the position.

The shift to the digital world certainly has changed the landscape of the job search process both for employers and job seekers. Yet, just because we are now utilizing the online world (as well as the traditional ad-in-the-paper-approach), job seekers and employers alike still have responsibilities that will reflect on them and affect their chances for success in finding the best candidates or in being considered for the position.

As I process applications the biggest surprise for me is job seekers who respond to a posting by sending their résumé without including a cover letter. Job seekers should write a cover letter. As the person reviewing the submissions, applicants who wrote a letter stood out from those that didn’t. Without a cover letter, the candidate comes across as disinterested in the job and the company. Writing a letter not only lets you indicate why you are interested, it lets you reiterate your key qualifications for the position.

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Similarly, employers should write back acknowledging receipt of the application and informing the applicant of what will happen next and when. We’ve heard repeatedly from frustrated job seekers who have applied for a job and never heard back from the potential employer.

The other big surprise to me is applicants who don’t attach a résumé. Again, that application suffers in comparison to those that do include one. Assume other applicants are sending in their résumés, and if you want to be considered seriously, then send yours in, too.

The job application process starts by making the best possible first impression. The cover letter and the résumé are key components to making that impression. Just because we operate in a digital world doesn’t diminish the importance of both the cover letter and the résumé.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected]

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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