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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

How to write an email cover letter

9 min read
How to write an email cover letter
Writing appropriate emails is vital for effective job search communication. Sending an email cover letter is required in most job search processes, so how does a candidate make the most of the opportunity to sell themselves?

Email is the communication method of choice in a job search. Much of your official correspondence with a potential employer will be via email, so you need to be mindful of how you write and what you share. Especially on an email cover letter.

Sending over your application in an email will often be the first step. You may be asked to attach your CV — and cover letter — within an email. Every piece of correspondence with an employer is an opportunity to build a relationship. You should not be satisfied with a simplistic one-liner letting them know that you have attached the documents.

Your email cover letter will likely be read by a curious hiring manager, more so than a less-involved HR representative, so make the right moves in terms of its content.

In this guide, we look at the choices available to someone who needs to write an email cover letter:

  • Three approaches for an email cover letter
  • Tips for writing an email cover letter
  • Example of an email cover letter
  • What to do if you do not hear back

Make the most of this additional chance to move your candidacy to the top of the pile.

What is an email cover letter?

Many job applications ask for an email cover letter and give an address to which it, and the CV, should be sent. This can confuse some candidates as they are not sure whether they should copy the entire cover letter into an email or simply attach it.

There are three approaches to how to handle this request — ranging from the ‘cover every base’ option to the brief exploratory cover letter with a speculative application. Let’s consider which option is best for your situation.

Three approaches for an email cover letter

There are some choices during a job search where this is no exact ‘right answer’ and where judgement comes into play. There are three key scenarios for an email cover letter, so let’s explore the nuance of which one might be right for your situation.

1. Copy the cover letter into the email and attach it

The overwhelmingly common approach to writing an email cover letter is to copy/paste the letter into the email and attach the PDF cover letter in addition.

You will need to make some cosmetic changes to the cover letter as detailed below, but this method essentially means that the cover letter has two chances to be read. The email may be scanned, but something of the content will still be retained. 

When you include the full cover letter into an email it is important to put ‘please find the cover letter attached’ at the very top of the email. Not every email client will make it clear that there is an attachment.

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2. Attach the cover letter with a brief introductory email

If you are sending the cover letter to a generalist HR address or if you know that the recipient will be immediately putting it onto their ATS database , there is no need to complicate matters with a long email.

What you write will be read in any case, so don’t waste their time by duplicating the cover letter content. Write a few brief sentences to introduce the letter, mention the role that you are applying to and mention that the recipient can find it in the attachments.

3. Write the cover letter in the email itself (without attaching)

There are two situations when writing an introductory cover letter in an email without also attaching it might be the best option.

If you are sending over a speculative application, and especially if the cover letter is sent via a social media message, it is a little presumptuous to attach your PDF cover letter and CV. Gauge their interest first and maybe share a link to your LinkedIn profile.

The opposite is true when you know the hiring manager personally. You might drop them a cover letter via email that they can then send to someone else. In this case, treading lightly with the sales content might work in your favour as your personal contact tests the water.

Tips for writing an email cover letter

While the tips for writing an email cover letter will overlap with those of a normal cover letter, there are a few significant differences.

Email cover letter format

If you are including the full text of the cover letter into the email, barring some visual considerations (read below), the text of the cover letter should be relatively easy to copy into an email. The structure of introduction, middle part and conclusion will fit in perfectly.

There is, however, a question around how you integrate the contact information that is usually contained in the cover letter header section. It would seem strange to lead with this at the top of the email as convention dictates that it should come at the end of the text in the signature section. This is where a hiring manager would expect to find it in an email cover letter, so put your full name, mobile and email address (yes, include that as well) in the sign-off section of the email.

Also, make sure that you include the name of the position in the email title field. Something like this should be fine: ‘Jill Atkins Cover Letter – Marketing Manager.’

Visual considerations of email

With a CV, you have absolute control of the visual impact. You can see the line lengths and you write the bullet points for maximum impact. You can choose exactly where you want your white space on the document to ensure that the reader has a mental break.

With an email, there is no such possibility. The hiring manager might be viewing it on their mobile, laptop or desktop and you cannot possibly predict how the text will look on the screen. It is therefore important to strike a balance between text and white space. 

Keep paragraphs a decent length and understand that you have a little more space for any bullet points. There is nothing more visually draining than seeing 5-6 brief bullet points on an email with a load of wasted space on the right-hand side. 

Send a practice email to a few typical email services and see for yourself how it is viewed on various devices. Then make a call whether you wish to change anything.

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An effective cover letter acts as a complement to your CV by adding some much-needed personality, highlighting your fit within the specific role, and setting the tone for your interview.

Find the right tone

While the tone of a business email may differ from more formal business writing, every piece of job search correspondence should embrace warm but professional language. Imagine how you wish to talk with a hiring manager at an interview and adapt your writing accordingly. Don’t fall into the trap of being too conversational.

Sharing links in an email cover letter

An email cover letter offers the ideal opportunity to link to electronic assets such as a portfolio or a personal website, not to mention the more obvious social media details. 

While your LinkedIn profile could be included as a link or a button after your email signature, a link near the end of the cover letter to a portfolio may offer a curious hiring manager some more food for thought. Don’t include outbound links too early in the cover letter as they may mean that vital parts of the letter are not read.

Key takeaways

You never know when a hiring manager might want to spend a little bit more time on your application, so including the full text of the cover letter in the email should be your ideal scenario. A brief email can seem somewhat generic. The last thing that you want them to think about you is that you don’t care.

  1. If you are going to share the cover letter, make it bespoke to the role.
  2. Make the required changes in cover letter formatting.
  3. Think about how your writing will appear on different devices.
  4. Remember that sharing links is easier in an email.
  5. Don’t chase the recipient too early — these things take time.
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Use professional field-tested CV templates that follow the exact ‘CV rules’ employers look for.
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