Let’s say you come across a job listing while browsing social media or an online job board. Or, as an alternative, let’s say that a friend or casual acquaintance mentions a position for which you could be a perfect fit.
In the case of a job board, the listing program often includes a submission section where you can upload your resume and cover letter. But if you spot a job post on Twitter or if a soon-to-be-hiring acquaintance hands you a business card, you’ll usually be provided with an email address as your submission point-of-contact.
In these situations, how should you format your email and your resume? Does it make a difference whether you’re emailing someone who’s expecting to hear from you, or whether you’re doing a cold reach-out? How important are subject lines and file names? If these questions have ever run through your mind while you’re in the throes of job applications, don’t worry — we’ve got your back.
When should you send a resume via email?
First thing’s first: when is it appropriate to send a resume and cover letter via email rather than to hand it over in-person or to send it through fax or snail mail? This answer is simple.
In the year 2020, nearly all resumes and cover letters should be submitted digitally. The reasons for this involve ease, convenience, and the screening software used by many larger employers. Especially if you’re applying for a role with a large company or a tech-savvy organization, said employer will likely run all emailed resumes through a screening program to pinpoint candidates with the experiential or educational background and/or certifications required.
If you send a paper resume through the mail or with a messenger (or if you bring one over yourself), you’ll make it difficult (if not impossible) for the employer to incorporate your resume into their pre-screened online database. Therefore, unless you’re really — and unusually — perfect for the job on-paper, you’re unlikely to make the cut for interview consideration.
Also, whether we like it or not, business relies massively on digital communication. When sifting through resumes, hiring managers want formats that they can easily peruse in their own time, and email gives them that flexibility. Because most employers specifically ask applicants to submit their materials via email, an applicant who instead chooses to use snail mail or an in-person visit will often come across as an applicant who’s disregarding the company’s preferences. It reads as an effort to “stand out” among other applicants... but not in a good way.
The bottom line? Unless you’re applying for a job in an industry that commonly embraces physical resumes and applications (like restaurants or retail), you should think of emailed resumes as your default move.
How do you format an emailed resume?
When you’re sending your resume through email, you don’t need to worry about fancy “resume paper” or whether to tuck your materials into an attractive display folder, but it’s still important to consider the presentation of your digital materials. Read on for tips on how to make your emailed resume and cover letter as readable and informative as possible.
The file name:
The title of the resume file that you send over isn’t honestly going to make much of a difference to most hiring managers; these folks are used to receiving files with random letter-and-number combinations for their titles, extremely-generic titles like “Resume” or “Resume-1”, and so on. However, to give yourself some peace of mind and to ensure that your email content is direct and to-the-point, a file title that includes both your full name and the word “resume” is a smart move. For example, “JaneDoeResume” is a perfectly-acceptable file name.
One minor word of caution: try to avoid putting dates in the file name of your resume, unless said date is extremely current. Plenty of us use the same resume file for multiple applications, but sending out a resume titled with a date from several months ago may raise questions and concerns about your attention to detail.
The resume content and file type:
A resume sent to a hiring manager via email should, for the most part, contain the exact same information as a printed resume, configured the exact same way. A few exceptions may apply, particularly if you’re entering the content of your resume into an online application form. But if you’re sending as an email attachment, go ahead and use the same file attachment that you’d be sending to your printer.
When it comes to file types, the two generally-accepted styles are Word documents (.doc or .docx) or PDF files. Because Word documents can sometimes fall victim to bizarre formatting (depending on whether the person opening the file has Word installed on their computer or not), PDFs are the safest bet. While more and more hiring managers are allowing Google Document resumes, that file format still isn’t universally utilized, so it’s best to avoid it unless a hiring manager directly asks you for a Google Doc link or attachment.
The subject line:
As with the resume file name, the email subject line used for this purpose should be simple and straightforward. Something like “Resume for X Associate Position” or “Application for X Associate Position” will do the trick. Don’t overthink it!
The body of the email:
The way that you structure the text of the email depends heavily on whether or not you personally know the hiring manager or the company contact. If you’re sending your resume to a manager you already know (and who asked you to reach out with your materials) or if you’re contacting a manager after a mutual friend/acquaintance made the connection, the first paragraph of your email should reference this preexisting relationship. For example:
“Hi [Recipient's Name],
This is [Your Name]; we met at the [Place] in [Location] last month, and you mentioned at the time that you’d be hiring a [Open Role] sometime this winter. I’m so excited for the opportunity to send over my resume.”
The rest of the email should read like a typical cover letter. And, on that note:
The cover letter:
As with emailed resumes, emailed cover letters should follow the same rules as printed cover letters. Some applicants prefer to send their cover letters as attachments, while others like to include them in the body of the email. Unless the application or the job posting specifically tells you to send in a certain way, you can choose either of those methods (although sending in the body of the email eliminates the possibility of file malfunctions, so it’s generally the most fail-safe approach).