The “T” Cover Letter – The Only Type Worth Sending
Many job-seekers have asked whether or not it’s worthwhile including a cover letter with their résumé when they apply to an online job posting, or email it to a contact at one of their target companies. It’s a question that many people struggle with. Should they attached a cover letter as a separate Microsoft Word document? Should the cover letter be the body of the email? Does anyone actually read cover letters?
I’ve asked that last question to a number of colleagues of mine who are both recruiters and HR people. The answers are all over the map. At one extreme, some recruiters say they never even look at cover letters, and just go right to the résumé. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some say they pay close attention to the cover letters, and actually use them to decide if they even want to look at the person’s résumé based on what it says and how well it’s written. And others are somewhere in between – they’ll sometimes glance at it, but pay more attention to the résumé for evaluation purposes.
Basically, there are three ways to send a cover letter in an email:
1) Typed into the body of the email, with the résumé attached as a Word-formatted document.
2) As a separate (second) Word-formatted document sent as an attachment along with the Word-formatted résumé.
3) Integrated into the actual résumé document itself, and formatted in Word to appear as the first page of the résumé which is sent as an attachment.
By the way … just as an aside – I would not recommend using the Adobe PDF format for résumés or cover letters. The reason is that most recruiters and HR people will want to import the text of your résumé into their electronic database or Applicant Tracking System for future keyword searches. Those programs deal much easier with Microsoft Word documents, and often cannot read or properly import the text from a PDF. All that beautiful formatting you think you are preserving by using PDF gets lost in translation, and your résumé can end up looking like unreadable gibberish!
Personally, I prefer the first method listed above … I’m much more likely to read the body of an email message than to open up a separate attachment. The likelihood of anyone opening a cover letter sent as a separate Word document is very low. However, if you are bound and determined to force your cover letter to be read, the third method is probably the most surefire. Everyone opens the résumé, and making your cover letter be the first page guarantees it will be seen. Of course, the potential down side of doing it that way is that it could annoy the reader who only has 20-30 seconds to review your résumé, and will be less likely to get to the “good parts” if you make them stop and read your cover letter first.
Whichever way you do it, if you do decide to send a cover letter along with your résumé, in my opinion there is only one format that is worth considering … it’s called the “T” Cover Letter. The name derives from the look of the page itself. Imagine taking a piece of paper and drawing a huge letter “T” on it, with the top line appearing under your opening paragraph, and the vertical line dividing the page below into two equal spaces. The opener should be a brief introduction of who you are, and what position you are interested in (two or three sentences at most.) Then you say something like: “Below is a comparison of your job requirements and my qualifications.”
Now comes the good part: in the “T” chart you’ve drawn, on the left side you have a heading called “Your Job Requirements” under which you copy and paste each of the bulleted requirements listed in the company’s job posting or job description. Then, on the right side you have a heading called “My Qualifications” under which you match up bullet-for-bullet your specific skills and experiences showing how you fit each job requirement on the left.
- Here’s a link to a template that you can modify, and then use for the Word formatted version to send as an attachment:
► Formatted “T” Cover Letter Template.
- Here’s what it looks like:
It should be noted that this “T” format (which can also sometimes look more like a chart with boxes) can be easily created on a Word document using the Table creation tool. But because it depends so much on the formatting, it really only works if you are attaching a separate Word document to an email (numbers 2 & 3 above.) However, you can still use a modified version of the same concept if you choose to have your cover letter be the body of an email. All you have to do is just forget the fancy “T” table, and simply list each requirement from their job description, and under each one list your matching bulleted qualifications. It may not be as “pretty” as the formatted “T” version, but it serves the same exact purpose. Also, this would be the version to use in an online application where you are asked to paste your cover letter into an open field in a web-based form.
- Here’s a link to a second plain text template without formatting that you can modify, and then cut and paste into the body of an email or a web-based form:
► Plain Text Email Version of “T” Cover Letter Template.
The reason this “T” Cover Letter is so effective should be obvious. Most recruiters and HR people are looking for exact matches to their job requirements, and are under a tremendous amount of time pressure to screen an overwhelming flood of applicants. [Read “The Brutal Truth on How Résumés Get Eliminated” for more on how that screening process works.] Typically, they’ll scan the first page of a résumé for 20-30 seconds, and if they don’t quickly see exactly what they think they want or need right up front … bye bye – delete key for you! By providing the “T” Cover Letter, you are simplifying their job, and cutting right to the chase of what they are looking for … the match! You are saying, in effect, “I’m exactly what you are looking for, and here is why!” It’s kind of like “Résumé Reading for Dummies!” If you truly match their job requirements point-for-point – and send the “T” Cover Letter to prove it – your chances of passing through that first step and progressing on to the next step (usually a phone screen) will be WAY higher than someone who just sends a résumé with either a generic cover letter, or none at all.