In these days of e-mail and instant communication, the art of letter writing has increasingly been lost. There was a time, very long ago, when school children were actually instructed not only in the art of writing letters, but in the different reasons for writing them, and how letters for various purposes differed from one another.
“…there is no reason not to provide a professionally typed and printed cover letter.”
You may be one of those rare individuals who still handwrites what were once known as “friendly” letters – and if so, you understand the difference between that and a business letter, of which a cover letter is one variety.
As a business letter, a cover letter is never handwritten. Since typing machines became portable and widely available, it has been standard practice to write professional correspondence on such machines. Today with the wide accessibility of computers, there is no reason not to provide a professionally typed and printed cover letter.
Maybe hiring managers now see handwritten cover letters as unprofessional and sloppy? Here’s question for you: when’s the last time you received a handwritten letter? I bet it’s probably been a long time, and for hiring managers, it’s probably been much longer!
Choice of Font
Believe it or not, this is important – and it goes beyond simple readability. After all, fonts like “Shipwreck,” “Friday the 13th,” “American Graffiti” or even “Upsie Daisy” (yes, these are all actual True-Type fonts) may be legible, but will certainly give the wrong impression about who and what you are. A business letter is supposed to be serious, not cute or funny or silly. So you should use a clearly legible business letter font whenever humanly possible.
“…use a clearly legible business letter font whenever humanly possible.”
It goes without saying that “calligraphy” fonts such as “Jans Hand” and “Dear John” are inappropriate for use in cover letters too. Not only are they hard to read, but they aren’t business professional in any sense.
For cover letter writing, most sources agree Times New Roman, Arial, Century, Georgia, and Book Antiqua, and are probably the best choices, because not only are they easy to read, they are standard fonts on every computer, regardless of whether it is a PC or a Mac. Tahoma and Microsoft Sans Serif are also good choices. 10 or 11 point fonts are best for content, while a size larger can be used for section headings.
The Soul of Wit
“Brevity is the soul of wit” as well as business correspondence. Remember that whoever reads your letter is probably responsible for skimming countless pieces of resume and cover letter correspondence every day. Remember, people are still hiring people … computers do help shoulder some of that strain. Assuming an average of 100 cover letters are received in the course of a 40-hour week, well, that breaks down to about 20 per day or just over an hour and a half each day reviewing *only* cover letters.
Now, keep in mind that number might be light for some. But if you think about how AT&T and IBM receive a million-plus resumes and cover letters each year from college students alone, you really have to wonder how much time HR personnel can spend reviewing cover letters. The easier you make their job, the happier they will be.
So do yourself a favor. Make yours professional, memorable – and brief. Three to five paragraphs of between three and five sentences each is plenty.
People always ask is it better to attach a copy of the cover letter to an email, or paste it into the body of the email. The correct answer is, either one is acceptable, unless it specifically states in an ad or website to do it a specific way. Given the option, though, pasting the cover letter into the email – an electronic cover letter, or e-letter, if you will – is probably the better option today.
No matter what, though, make sure your letter conforms to standard business letter rules.
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