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What Does Plain Text Cover Letter Means

The “T” Cover Letter – The Only Type Worth Sending

June 7, 2010 at 12:01 am

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 attach 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 typically spends about 15 seconds or less reviewing 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 is derived 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 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.

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 less than 15 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.

Entry filed under: Advice for Job Seekers. Tags: cover letter, job-seekers, resume, unemployment.

The Brutal Truth on How Résumés Get EliminatedThe Résumé Test & Checklist: Does Yours Pass?

How to Create a Plain Text (ASCII) Resume

The plain text resume (or ASCII resume) is an online document constructed without formatting in plain text file format. A plain text resume is most often sent by e-mail, but can also be sent by fax, postal mail, or courier.

Plain text resumes are heading into the sunset, but you may be stuck with the plain look until the recruiting world totally embraces handsomely formatted e-resumes.

Create your resume in your favorite word-processing program, save it, and then convert it to plain text (ASCII) like this:

  1. Click Edit → Select All.

  2. Click Edit → Copy.

  3. Click Start → Programs → Accessories → Notepad.

    This opens the Notepad program.

  4. Click Edit → Paste.

  5. Turn on the “Word-wrap” feature in the “Format” drop-down menu.

  6. Save the resume as “yourname.txt” (for example, “JohnGill.txt”).

Click here to view this resume.

Don’t forget to spell check before you save your resume as an ASCII file. Also, don’t use any characters that aren’t on your keyboard, such as “smart quotes” or mathematical symbols because they won’t convert correctly.

You know that you’re off in the wrong direction if you have to change the preferences setting in your word processor or otherwise go to a lot of trouble to get a certain character to print. Remember that you can use dashes and asterisks (they’re on the keyboard), but you can’t use bullets (they’re not on the keyboard).

Although you can’t use bullets, bold, or underlined text in a plain text document, you can use plus signs (+) at the beginning of lines to draw attention to part of your document. You can also use a series of dashes to separate sections and capital letters to substitute for boldface. When you don’t know what else to use to sharpen your ASCII effort, you can always turn to white space.

Be on guard against other common ASCII landmines:

  • Typeface/fonts: You can’t control the typeface or font size in your ASCII resume. The text appears in the typeface and size that the recipient’s computer is set for. This means that boldface, italics, or different font sizes don’t appear in the online plain text version.

  • Word wrap: Don’t use the word wrap feature when writing your resume. Odd-looking word wrapping is one of the cardinal sins of online resumes. Set your margins at 0 and 65, or set the right margin at 6.5 inches. Then, end each line after 65 characters by pressing the Enter key to insert line breaks.

  • Proportional typefaces: Don’t use proportional typefaces that have different widths for different characters (such as Times Roman). Instead, use a fixed-width typeface (such as Courier) so that you have a true 65-character line.

  • Tabs: Don’t use tabs; they get wiped out in the conversion to ASCII. Use your spacebar instead.

  • Alignment: An ASCII resume is automatically left-justified. If you need to indent a line or center a heading, use the spacebar.

  • Page numbers: Omit page numbers. You can’t be certain where the page breaks will fall, and your name and page number could end up halfway south on a page.

When you send your ASCII resume, paste it with a cover note (a very brief cover letter) into the body of your e-mail.