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Six Tips for Better Online Cover Letters

Feb 12, 2008 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Education.org Columnist | 1 Comments

If you’re hitting the online job boards, you’ll need to submit both your cover letter and resume electronically.  For the most part, the secrets to success with online cover letters are no different than for printed letters.  You still have to write a compelling, clear letter that showcases your abilities and your interest in the company.  But there are a few other things to think about when it comes to online letters.  Here are six things you should be aware of when writing letters for an online job search.

“Online” doesn’t mean “informal”

There’s an informal feeling to a lot of online communication—emails are often hastily written even in a corporate setting, and instant messaging has its own acronym slang.  But that doesn’t mean you should take a cue from the dominant tone of online communication and be casual when it comes to your online cover letter. 

In general, keep the tone as formal as you would with a hardcopy cover letter.  Pay attention to spelling and grammar—nothing makes you look worse than mistakes in your writing.  Make sure your formatting is neat and error-free.

Customize as much as possible

When you’re searching for jobs online, you have a choice: you can go for quantity or quality.  You can either send a standard resume and cover letter to hundreds of jobs, or you can customize them carefully and send them to a well-chosen few. It’s easy to write up one boilerplate cover letter and send it to dozens of employers.  But your cover letters will impress recruiters and hiring managers more if you customize each one to the job at hand.

Your cover letter should be customized in two places: when you talk about the company and when you talk about yourself. Show the company that you know something about them—give specific reasons why you want to work with them; avoid broad, overgeneralized statements here. Tailor your qualifications to the requirements listed in the job posting. 

See Also: Online Job Skills Courses

Watch your online formatting

=Online job postings may ask you to submit your resume and cover letter in a variety of forms.  There may be an online questionnaire to fill out or a text box to post everything into.  Microsoft Word will let you do a lot with your formatting, but most of it won’t translate into a text box.  Online text boxes generally don’t deal well with bullets, bold text, or indentation. 

When writing your cover letter in Microsoft Word, it’s best to keep the formatting as simple as possible.  Avoid bolds and bullets. Stick with block formatting, where you hit “Enter” twice to start a new paragraph and you don’t indent.  This will make your letter easier to cut and paste into a text box without making extensive edits.

Never write your cover letter from scratch in anything but Microsoft Word

The text box won’t have Spell Check.  This program isn’t perfect, but it can help you catch most spelling errors and typos.  If you re-type instead of cutting and pasting into the text box, the formatting might be easier to manage—but you’re taking a risk that you’ll miss a spelling error or a typo.

Save multiple cover letters for multiple jobs

Just because you should customize each letter to the job at hand doesn’t mean you can’t make it easier on yourself by writing your own templates.  Write up a generic cover letter that applies to each type of job you’re applying for.  If it helps, include blank areas where you can insert relevant details: “I’m interested in working for your company because [insert reasons here].”  Save your templates in a word or text file on your computer and cut and paste them when needed.

Follow directions for attaching files

You may find yourself applying to some jobs with an email instead of filling out an online application form.  In general, it’s best to cut and paste your cover letter directly into the email unless asked to do otherwise.  For the resume, follow the directions—the recruiter may want you to attach it as a Word, .PDF, or Text document, cut and paste it directly into the email, or attach it as a .zip file.  Some people would rather not open attachments at all because of the risk of viruses; others want you to attach .zip files so their inboxes don’t get clogged with large attachments.

Most online job postings receive hundreds of applications.  Many recruiters will tell you, however, that a large percentage don’t tailor their applications to the job—and many have spelling and grammar errors.  Simply take the time to send a mistake-free, customized letter for each position you apply for, and you’re likely to make the short list.

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Comments:

Dr. Karl B. Ostler Over a year ago

Jennifer, I have what I feel is a well written cover letter. In my mind I feel it should be in a short and concise format that addresses interests, certain skill sets, and of course a way for demonstrating direct application to the job of interest. Total length of a full one page format consisting of 3 to 4 paragraphs each about 3 to 5 sentences in length. Whats your advice on this if any?

Last but not least, I finally got organized this past week and now have my CV, several cover letters to pull from as templates, a list of current references to include, and now working on my portfolio as well as a statement of teaching philosophy (as required for many teaching positions) and have all of these in one location ready for implementation (no more scrambling to gather each of these).

Now just wish me luck :)
Thanks for the input and connection on linkedin.

Dr. Karl B. Ostler

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