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Quiz: How do I apply for jobs online?

There's one realm where e-mail makes life unnecessarily confusing: The online job application process.
There's one realm where e-mail makes life unnecessarily confusing: The online job application process.
  • Always attach your resume as a PDF to avoid formatting errors
  • You can paste your cover letter right in the body of your e-mail
  • Provide links or PDF examples of your work -- not a link to a website

Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind the humor blog and book Stuff Hipsters Hate. When they're not trolling Brooklyn for new material, Ehrlich works as an associate editor at and Bartz is news editor at Psychology Today. Got a question about etiquette in the digital world? Contact them at

(CNN) -- For the most part, e-mail makes our lives easier. It allows for instant written communication. It grants us permission to politely ignore friends and contacts for hours or even days at a time.

It prevents us from having to actually get up and talk to other people in our offices and eliminates the need to use one's vocal chords for entire 24-hour stretches.

But there's one realm where e-mail makes life unnecessarily confusing: The online job application process.

A gleaming white new message pane just isn't the ideal space for cobbling together what was once a little packet printed on fancy résumé paper and mailed to the hiring manager in a large orange envelope.

The U.S. economy added 117,000 jobs last month, perhaps a sign that looking for a new gig won't be a Herculean feat for much longer now.

Test your e-application know-how and ace the logistics of the application process. (How you actually perform at the interview, well, that's your own problem.)

1. Ahoy, a job listing for a position that actually interests you! The classified says to send a résumé and cover letter to such-and-such e-mail. You polish up your resume and:

a) Attach it to the e-mail as a Word doc. That's what you've been writing it in, after all.

b) Attach it as a PDF.

c) Include a link to your Linked In profile or the CV section of your website.

2. Now what to do with this cover letter? You:

a) Paste it into the body of the e-mail.

b) Attach it to the e-mail and leave the body blank.

c) Attach it to the e-mail and include a quick note in the body.

3. Time to fill in the subject line. You:

a) Use something generic, like "Project engineer application"

b) Get bold, along the lines of "Meet your new project engineer."

c) Give the generic subject line a twist, a la, "Enthusiastic project engineer application: John Smith."

4. You're an on-the-hunt journalist or graphic designer. (Sorry to hear it.) The job listing asks for samples of your work. You:

a) Include links to articles online or PDFs on your website.

b) Attach PDFs of your clips.

c) Ask the hiring editor to view your work at Surely she can figure out where the CV section is.


1: b. Don't forget, the human on the other end of that e-mail might use a different version of Word, or nothing but Googledocs, or some weird open-source version of Microsoft Office. She opens up your carefully crafted, one-page, two-column résumé and -- poof -- it looks like a multipage mess.

Converting your resume to a PDF is easy in Word: Just go to Print, then click on PDF and "Save as PDF." If your resume lives in Googledocs, PDF is one of the available formats for converting the file.

Just don't send over your résumé directly from Googledocs -- anyone over the age of 40 has mild conniptions when a file is sent their way via Googledocs, according to unpublished research from the authors.

2: a or c. Using your cover letter as the body of the e-mail is a smooth solution -- it saves the hiring manager a step. Remember to skip indents and use spaces between paragraphs so the whole thing's easy to read.

If you prefer to send your cover letter as a Word doc or PDF, take the time to tap out a polite, formal note in the body of an e-mail; the first paragraph of the cover letter works, or a simple "Please find my résumé and cover letter attached" will suffice.

3: c. You need to include the job title in the subject because the boss will likely use it as a search term to view all applications at once. Label it something fancy and you'll get lost in his overflowing inbox.

(You'll also look like a tool. So.) Including your name and perhaps a non-annoying modifier will help him easily call up your materials.

4: b...or possibly a. We're of the mind that the hiring manager shouldn't have to do a lick of work to view your entire application, so attached PDFs win the zero-effort prize. (Digging around in one's Downloads folder for some applicant's confusingly labeled clip? Not ideal.)

But some managers' inboxes are always on the brink of certain collapse due to the crush of thousands of e-mails and large attachments. It's your call; you can always attach one or two and provide a direct link to more.

Just don't tell the manager to go rooting around on your website for more -- in the absence of the paper-clipped, manila-enveloped job application, handing over the whole shebang is your task, not hers. If you're high-maintenance at this point, she's not exactly going to want to be dealing with you on a daily basis.


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