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Emailing a cover letter? Attachment or in the body of the email?

QUESTION If someone says to email a cover letter (along with resume, writing sample, etc.), should I send the cover letter as the body of the email, or attach it separately? It seems more natural to make the email body the cover letter, since that's the whole point of a cover letter in the first place. What do you think?

ANSWER
You should write a real cover letter and attach it to the email. Why? If the purpose is to get hired by the OFFICE, your letter may be passed around. Photocopied email used in that context looks unprofessional -- as if you didn't bother to "write a letter."

But how, then, should you use the email?

Your email should give enough information about you and about the goal of your communication so that you could be contacted – even without the attachments. One rule; one example:

1. ALWAYS use an informative signature block when you apply for a job and when you are using email as a networking tool. My U of MN signature block is informative (name, employer, address, phone, fax, website, blog, Symplicity sites). My personal email has only my personal blog link – no phone, no address -- it's going to people who already know me.

2. Your email functions as a “letter of transmittal.? For example:

Dear Mr. Smith:

I am a first year law student at the University of Minnesota Law School applying for a summer clerkship with your firm. I have attached the resume, cover letter and transcript that you requested to this email. If you have questions or need more information, you may reach me through the phone number or email below.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Your name
Your address
Your phone/email