Preparing Electronic Cover Letters

In the age of electronics and downsized organizations, companies are processing job applicants at incredibly high speeds.  While the words on a cover letter are important, it's equally important the document can be effectively scanned into a database.

In this article, we'll start by reviewing the building blocks of a good cover letter.  Then we'll talk about the growing use of scanners and large databases, which are used to store and retrieve information supplied by job applicants.  Finally, we're going to finish up with a primer that will cover the basics of converting cover letters into a format that can be quickly and easily scanned or read into an electronic database.

Writing Effective Cover Letters

A good cover letter is one that makes it through the first level of applicant screening.  It's one that entices the reader to take a closer look at the resume.  Individuals applying for jobs that match their qualifications should be getting a response from potential employers.  If not, then either the cover letter and / or the resume are ineffective.  This is one of the reasons why it's important to follow a prescribed, or predefined, method of writing cover letters.

Building Blocks

A successful cover letter serves as the formal introduction to a potential employer.  As such, it also needs to clearly state the employment objective.  The cover letter should briefly highlight past achievements, and it needs to conclude on an upbeat, positive, and optimistic note.

The prescribed cover letter format covers four elements or topics:

  1. Introductory Paragraph
  2. Objective Statement
  3. Achievements
  4. Closing Statement

Anyone that's not getting a good response from employers should take the time to learn more about writing effective cover letters.  This website has a number of articles on this topic as well as examples of well-written cover letters.

Electronic Documents

There has been as shift in the workplace from paper to electronic documents.  This is directly related to the widespread use of office scanners and computers.  In mid-to-large companies, the human resources department may be responsible for the hiring of hundreds or even thousands of employees each year.  The automated processing and storing of job applications, cover letters, and resumes is now considered essential to the efficient processing of potential new hires.

Storing this information electronically allows for faster screening, identification, and retrieval of qualified applicants.  The initial matching of applicants to job openings is usually accomplished through keyword searches.  Keywords and key phrases are the specific terms that are deemed essential when matching a job opening to an applicant's work experience, which means resumes and cover letters need to contain these essential "buzz words."

Posting and Scanning

The process of collecting and storing electronic cover letters into a database is straightforward, and can be accomplished in several ways:

  • Email:  appending it directly into the body of an email sent to the company.
  • Electronic Document:  attaching the cover letter to an email in the form of a word processing document such as Microsoft's Word or OpenOffice's Writer.
  • Online Forms:  filled in manually on an online web form, which is subsequently imported into the electronic database.
  • U.S. Mail:  hardcopies of the documents received by companies in the mail are subsequently scanned into the job applicant database.

Formatting Electronic Files

Databases typically store information in an ASCII format, which is a simple alphanumeric character set.  Formatting such as underlines, bolding, italics or the use of fancy fonts is simply ignored.  If fact, to make the work of the scanning software easier, and more efficient, it's best to avoid these same formatting features that might have been included in a printed cover letter or resume.

Guidelines

The following is a short list of guidelines to ensure scanning equipment will be able to read a printed document with a high degree of accuracy:

  • Remove any graphics or artwork on the cover letter including shading, vertical, and horizontal lines.
  • Bulleted items can confuse scanners, so convert them to simple hyphens or asterisks.
  • Move all text to the left margin.  Tabs, tables, and centered text can sometimes confuse the scanning software.
  • Restrict the use of fonts to Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri or Helvetica.
  • Use only one font size, preferably between 10 and 14 points.
  • Remove all underlining, bolding and italics.
  • Use 8.5" x 11" paper that is white with black ink and print the cover letter only on one side of the paper.  This will improve the contrast of the text.
  • If possible, do not fold or staple the letter or resume, which means mailing the documents in 9" x 12" envelope.

When sending the cover letter or resume through the mail, always submit two copies of the documents.  One copy can be in a simple format, following the guidelines mentioned above.  The second copy can be an elegantly designed document, using all of the appropriate word processing features, to produce a professional looking resume and cover letter.

Keywords in Cover Letters

Typically, the hiring manager will describe the skills and even former job titles that apply to his or her current job opening, and the human resources person will query the job applicant database for those same terms or keywords.  Applicants are then screened out and / or ranked based on a simple matching algorithm.

It's possible to increase the chance of success by ensuring the right keywords or key phrases are included in the body of the electronic documents.  This website has an article dedicated to the topic of resume keywords, which is an excellent resource.  It provides guidance on both the selection, and use, of these words.


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