Guidelines for Preparing Electronic Cover Letters & Scanning

The process of collecting and storing electronic cover letters into a database is straightforward. In general, you can send or post your cover letter in one of several ways:

  • Email - you can simply append your cover letter directly into the body of an email that you're sending to company.
  • Electronic Document - you can attach your cover letter to an email in the form of a word-processing document such as Microsoft's Word or OpenOffice's Writer.
  • Online Forms - you might be asked to fill out an online form that is directly imported into the electronic database over the Web.
  • US Mail - you can mail your cover letter and resume to a company and they will scan the hard copy directly into its job applicant database.
  • There are many ways a cover letter can be imported into an electronic database - as long as you follow a couple of simple rules or guidelines when you're preparing the document, your cover letter will be properly reproduced.

Guidelines for Cover Letters Being Scanned

If you're submitting a paper cover letter to a company and you think the cover letter might be scanned into a database, it is strongly suggested that the following steps be taken:

  • Remove any graphics or artwork on your cover letter including shading, vertical and horizontal lines.
  • Bulleted items can confuse scanners, so convert them to simple hyphens or asterisks.
  • Move all text to the left margin. Tabs, tables and centered text can sometimes confuse the scanning software.
  • Restrict your use of fonts to Times New Roman, Arial or Helvetica.
  • Use only one font size, preferably between 10 and 14 points.
  • Remove all underlining, bolding and italics.
  • Use 8.5" x 11" paper that is white with black ink and print your cover letter only on one side of the paper. This will improve the contrast of your text and help the scanner read your documents.
  • If possible, do not fold or staple your cover letter or resume. That means mailing the documents in 9" x 12" envelope.


Whether you're sending your cover letter by email or via the post office, keep in mind that you can always submit two copies of your resume and cover letter. One copy can be in a simple format that can be readily scanned into a database and a second copy can be elegantly designed using all of the appropriate word-processing features to produce a professional-looking resume and cover letter.

Keywords in Cover Letters

We mentioned earlier the importance of keywords or key phrases in cover letters, as well as resumes. Typically, the hiring manger will describe the skills and even former job titles that apply to his or her current job opening, and the human resources person will query the job applicant database for those same terms or keywords. Applicants are then screened out and/or ranked based on a simple matching algorithm.

If you want to increase your chances of success in making it through this screening and ranking process, then you need to make sure you have the right keywords or key phrases in the body of your electronic documents. The "Guidelines for Preparing Electronic Resumes," located in the resume advice section, is an excellent resource that provides guidance on both the selection and use of these types of words.

Campus Human Resources, Employment Services
Phone: (310) 794-0890 | Fax: (310) 794-0895