Cover Letter or Cover Email


Anita,

Can you settle a question for me? If applying for a job via email, is the email itself the cover letter or do I have to think up something else to say in a separate cover letter that I attach?

Email_Resume_300Dear, Covering Your Bases,

If you are applying for an open position you found through Craigslist, a company website or some other avenue that requests that you apply to an email address, your email IS your cover letter. There is no need to reinvent the wheel and create a separate cover letter attachment (just remember to attach your résumé!).

If you are applying through a job board such as CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com or Indeed.com, you may have the option to apply with your résumé only without a cover letter. DO NOT SKIP THE COVER LETTER! (Can you hear me shouting?) You may not feel you are good with words, but if you don’t include a cover letter, you’ll appear apathetic to the hiring professional.

Man Applying for a Job on the InternetNo matter whether you email or attach the cover letter, spend a bit of time tailoring it for the specific job. A generic “In response to your ad for yada yada yada” is more likely to produce a yawn than an interview. Customize each cover letter/email using the following advice:

  • Inject some personality and enthusiasm.
  • Address a person by name, if possible, rather than “Dear Hiring Manager” or the outdated “To Whom It May Concern.” It’s often a snap (or a couple of clicks) to find the name of the person hiring by searching LinkedIn or the company’s website.
  • Mention the specific employment opportunity for which you are applying. Companies may be hiring for several open positions.
  • Keep it short. Don’t include your life story, and don’t rehash irrelevant experience.
  • Outline how you match the qualifications using keywords from the job listing. Bullet points make it easy for busy hiring managers to skim.
  • Highlight the ways you can help the company. Review the Pain Points Letter.
  • Close with a proactive request for an interview.

The cover letter is to the résumé what the back cover synopsis is to the book – an enticement to delve in and read more.

Readers: What’s your best opening line for your cover letter?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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20 Interviewer Questions NOT to Ask to Stay out of Hot Water

Anita,

As a small business owner, I rarely need to interview and hire. Recently, I had a woman come in for an interview and after she introduced herself, I asked about the origin of her unusual name. One of my team members later told me to be careful; that question could have been illegal. Really, Anita?! I was just making polite conversation. I’m no HR expert, so what should I watch out for in the hiring process to keep me out of legal hot water?

Dear, Inquiring Mind,

What’s considered appropriate cocktail party small talk could be a legal faux pas in the world of Human Resources. You’ve heard, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question”? Well, there is in job interview situations!

Some questions may seem perfectly innocuous, but inquire with caution. By federal law, it is illegal for companies with more than 15-20 employees to base employment decisions on the following protected characteristics:Questions_iStock_000061208998

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy)
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Age (40 and over)
  • Genetic information

Read up on the federal laws prohibiting job discrimination – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act – and research any individual state laws.

Sometimes, a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) may allow you to ask certain questions. Say you are a women’s clothing manufacturer. You may ask model applicants if they are female, as it is a job necessity to properly parade your product.

Below are 20 Questions that are illegal or inappropriate. With a little tweaking, you can get the information you desire on applications and in interviews without any legal repercussions.

 DON’T ASKREPHRASE
1Where are you from? Are you a U.S. citizen?Are you eligible to work in the United States?
2Is English your first language?In what languages are you proficient?
3You have such pretty skin. What race are you?We have an affirmative action program; would you like to voluntarily reveal your race?
4How old are you?
(Unless you are interviewing a teenager to ascertain if they can work in a limited, non-hazardous job)
Are you the minimum age required to perform this job? (For those who obviously are over 18, “Tell me about your experience.”)
5When did you graduate?Do you have a degree?
6Are you married?
(After hiring, you may collect contact/beneficiary information about spouse or domestic partner)
7What is your maiden name?Would you have any work experience or references under another name?
8Are you pregnant?
(Note: This is a question that can turn into an embarrassing situation in your personal life, as well!)
9How many kids do you have?Are you able to travel for this job?
(After hiring, you may ask for depending information for tax/insurance purposes.)
10What are your childcare arrangements?Are you able to work overtime on short notice?
11If you plan to have a family, would you return after maternity leave? / How long do you plan to work before retiring?What are your long-term career goals?
10How far would your commute to our office be?Will you be able to start work each day promptly at 8:00 a.m.?
12What type of discharge did you receive from the military?What education or experience did you gain during your stint in the military that relates to the job duties required?
13Which religious days do you observe?Will you be able to work weekends for this position?
14Do you belong to any clubs or organizations?Do you belong to any professional or trade groups relevent to our industry?
15What exactly is your disability?Can you perform the essential job tasks with reasonable accommodation?
16Have you ever been arrested?Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
17Do you have any outstanding debt?Since you will be in charge of collections for our company, can you tell me how well you balance your personal finances?
18Do you drink?
(Surprised? Alcoholism is protected under the ADA)
19Have you ever been addicted to drugs?What illegal drugs have you used in the last six months?
(Past, but not current, drug addiction is protected under ADA Note: you cannot ask about prescription drugs.)
20How much do you weigh?Are you able to lift boxes weighing up to 50 pounds?

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: If it’s not job-related, don’t ask!

Readers: Have you ever been asked an inappropriate or downright illegal question during a job interview? How did you respond?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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