October 18, 2016 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Is it eccentric to submit a cover letter as a .txt file?

My SO and I disagree. This came up tonight while discussing appropriate language and tone for a cover letter, and what formats they should be submitted in. I confessed that during my last job search, nearly every cover letter I submitted was a plaintext .txt file (resume was a regular old pdf, styled).

SO is surprised and calls it "eccentric and weird;" I counter that I got plenty of interviews even so. SO protests that there's no formatting; I say that's a plus. SO works in culture; I work in tech (although not in a directly technical role).

Now we're both curious, so I put it to you: is a plaintext cover letter notably eccentric?
posted by postcommunism to Work & Money (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From your front page question, my answer was going to be 'it's eccentric unless you work in tech'.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:24 PM on October 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

It was years ago, but I used to only use a TXT resume (in tech) and was told on a couple of occasions to resend it in DOC or PDF. Recruiter types are not 'in tech'. Therefore I conclude that it wouldn't necessarily exclude you, but it's an easily greased wheel.
posted by rhizome at 5:29 PM on October 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

Yep, I send cover letters in text. Not like as attached txt files but just plain-email-as-cover-letter and PDF attached resume.
posted by jessamyn at 5:29 PM on October 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't work in tech but have hired in a limited fashion for tech positions, and I agree that it's eccentric. Typically people either paste cover letter text into the body of the email or attach styled PDFs.
posted by vegartanipla at 5:31 PM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh shoot, cover letter. For over 10 years my submissions have either been email with a resume attachment, or copy-pasted text into a LinkedIn type "your cover letter here" text box. So, plaintext for everything, but not as a textfile attachment. Are you using postal mail?
posted by rhizome at 5:31 PM on October 18, 2016

Best answer: Former hiring manager of software technical writers here: yes it's weird. I would expect to see the cover letter as the body of an email, with the résumé as a PDF attachment.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:33 PM on October 18, 2016 [11 favorites]

Questions about cover letters always seem to get answers ranging from "I never even glance at them" to "If it it's generic and not carefully written to appeal to our particular company I don't call them back and wish evil upon their children", which is kind of liberating. Maybe it'll piss off one manager, maybe it'll please another. No way to guess.

I work in tech, and I know I'd rather deal with a txt file personally. I'm not interested in your formatting, since I'm not going to hire you for a design/typography job. I personally think a cover letter should be the body of an email, with the resume as an attachment, although I have definitely seen people claim to throw out applications for doing that.
posted by mister pointy at 5:42 PM on October 18, 2016

This is eccentric and could backfire. Pretty much the only time I get .txt files as attachments is when something weird in someone's email signature misfires, so I'd probably assume it was that and think you hadn't sent a cover letter.
posted by zokni at 6:04 PM on October 18, 2016 [10 favorites]

It should be in the exact same format requested for the resume, which will vary from company to company.

I'm pretty damn geeky, and if a cover letter came in as an attached .txt file, I'd make a note that they might be difficult for non-techy people to interface with. That's a substantial portion of what I need my geeks to do so that's a strike against them.
posted by Candleman at 6:13 PM on October 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

Plaintext copied into the body of an email is okay, but a .txt attachment may make you come across as a difficult zealot. In some ways plaintext is easier to deal with, but choosing something other than DOC/PDF/text pasted into the body of an email is kind of signalling that you either don't know norms around this kind of stuff or actively want to sidestep norms. The last thing you want to do during your job search is to inadvertently make someone think that you don't get this stuff, so, you know, choose accordingly.
posted by blerghamot at 6:16 PM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's odd, but probably not disqualify-you-from-a-job odd. Pasting the cover letter into the body of your email would be much more standard, as would attaching it as a PDF.
posted by MsMolly at 6:17 PM on October 18, 2016

Unusual, but I wouldn't think about it for more than a second after thinking 'oh, okay'.
posted by so fucking future at 6:23 PM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Definitely eccentric. "Cover letter" as such in the email body, otherwise what's the email saying? Unless they specifically ask for a cover letter, in which case PDF.
posted by tillsbury at 6:29 PM on October 18, 2016

It's kind of 'oo look at me aren't I quirky'. Which will get you attention, but it might not be good attention.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:29 PM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I came here to be pro-text-ive. In tech, I'd prefer a plain text cover letter. E-mail is plain text (or should be). Formatting in a cover letter.
posted by amtho at 6:36 PM on October 18, 2016

I work in tech; no one I know in that industry would be bothered in the least. If they are not on Google Apps mail, they are probably relieved that Word is not going to pop open when they click.

I'm assuming you attach a text file because you are filling out some form that asks for a file for your cover letter. Otherwise, if you were sending it via email, I'm sure you'd just paste the contents into the email.
posted by ignignokt at 6:43 PM on October 18, 2016

A cover.txt attachment doesn't seem eccentric to me, so much as evidence that the sender doesn't know how to use email.

A plain text cover letter is precisely what the body of the email is for.
posted by caek at 7:19 PM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is it eccentric to send it not as either part of the email or in the same format as the resume? Yes. Would it have a strong effect on my choice? Only if the text didn't wrap.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:20 PM on October 18, 2016

Response by poster: This thread has identified our disconnect: SO is used to handling resumes by email, while I'm used to forms which have an open text or upload field for a cover letter. I haven't submitted a job application via email for a while now. When I do use cover letter verbiage over email, it's in the body.

That didn't stop SO from claiming victory at ottereroticist's comment.
posted by postcommunism at 7:27 PM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

if it's a text box, I'd stick to plain text, simply because you have no idea how the form is going to process any attempt at formatting and the results might be weird or even unreadable. Also most people would use plain text in that scenario, so you won't look odd.

If it's an upload field, making the cover letter .txt while the resume is .pdf is weird, since obviously you have the technical ability to make PDFs but haven't done it for both. Having to open two different programs to read your attachments would be slightly off-putting. To me, it would say "person who is very tech-unsavvy and doesn't know it, probably got their neighbor's kid to print as PDF for them and doesn't know how to replicate the feat him/herself." How much that would matter I suppose depends on the kind of job. For the kind of job I used to read resumes for sometimes, it would be a flaw in your presentation, but only a slight one. But why run the risk? I know here on Mefi there will be someone to announce that they would not only not consider a candidate who did any [x] in their cover letter, but would retroactively go back and fire any employee who they'd found out later had done it, but I can't think how a reader might have a bad reaction to two uploaded PDFs and I can't imagine what you gain from having the cover letter as a .txt.
posted by praemunire at 8:01 PM on October 18, 2016

I'm a hiring manager for small custom software shop. I once mused to a fellow hiring manager that if someone had the audacity to submit everything in plain text files BUT ALSO the text was meticulously formatted within that very constrained medium to still provide the appropriate amount of structured, hierarchical detail that a professional resume demands I would immediately move that person to the top of my interview list. My colleagues also think I'm eccentric and weird, so YMMV.

Which is a longer way of saying: it's a dice roll. Most people will find it weird, some won't care, and a smaller group of people might even like it. Question is, how wide a net do you want to cast?
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:17 PM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Silly me would attach a zip with the sources in LaTeX or Markdown or ASCIIdoc and the generated PDF, docx, html, txt, and maybe a Makefile. Text and HTML in the email. If they can't deal with that, you don't want to work for them.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:37 AM on October 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yep, I send cover letters in text. Not like as attached txt files but just plain-email-as-cover-letter and PDF attached resume.

+1 to this. If you submit the cover letter as a separate document attachment, PDF it as well.

Some unscrupulous recruiters may edit a resume without knowledge or consent of the candidate or the client firm, and PDF makes this harder (although not impossible). It's best not to work with such recruiters but you may not know this about them right away.
posted by theorique at 3:00 AM on October 19, 2016

I'm used to forms which have an open text or upload field for a cover letter.

This is immediately what I thought of when you indicated text. This is a perfectly good practice in this case. Styled text doesn't always copy easily into text fields on from and it's always annoying to have to sort out the junk and residue that can leave behind. Having a plain text source to paste in does indeed put your best foot forward.
posted by bonehead at 4:46 AM on October 19, 2016

« Older Home Purchasing Club   |   The Middle Ages: This Time With Things That... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.