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Ask The Hiring Attorney: Do I have to sign a cover letter that’s electronically delivered?

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Q: I know I’m supposed to sign my cover letters when I mail them out. But what do I do when emailing or uploading a cover letter?

A: In the pre-internet days, job applications and inquiries were sent by snail mail or faxed. Candidates printed their resumes on quality office stationary and hand-signed their cover letters.

Today, most employers are allowing job candidates to submit their resumes electronically—whether by email or by uploading their application package into an online database. In many cases, employers require the candidate’s resume to be uploaded, but also allow candidates to attach other documents like a cover letter. So job candidates are asking themselves whether a cover letter that’s electronically delivered needs to be signed, just like a cover letter that’s mailed.

The answer is yes. But let’s go through your options.

Option 1: Don’t sign the cover letter. This option is definitely not recommended. As a job applicant, it’s your responsibility to meet the hiring expectations of the people who will be reviewing your candidacy. An unsigned letter is likely to be perceived as impersonal or unprofessional by hiring professionals—many of whom do not want generic cover letters, but rather expect signed, personalized business correspondence from job applicants that demonstrate genuine interest.

Option 2: “Sign” the cover letter using the common symbol for electronic signature, /s/. I don’t recommend this option either, for pretty much the same reasons as option 1.

Option 3: Print the cover letter, sign it, scan it, and then email or upload the pdf or jpeg. This option solves the problem of having a letter that’s impersonal. However, the quality of scanned documents is sometimes poor. The document image might be skewed, the print faded, or some other problem might occur, leaving you without a pristine cover letter to introduce you to the employer.

Option 4: Upload and insert a scanned signature onto the cover letter. This is the best solution, producing the highest quality document for you to send to employers. To get a high quality scanned signature, you need to produce an extra large signature that will shrink down well. Use 5 fresh, letter-sized pieces of white paper. Use a black, Sharpie-type pen (not a ball point). On each piece of paper, write out your signature much larger than you normally would, say 6 by 8 inches. Scan each of the signatures and save as either a pdf or a jpeg. Compare the image files. Which signature scanned the best? Where is your signature most fluid and natural? Crop your favorite file as needed to eliminate some of the white space. Insert the cropped image into the Microsoft Word doc of your cover letter and shrink it to fit your signature block. Save the document as a pdf.

Voila! You now have a perfect, personally signed version of your cover letter ready to email or upload!

A version of this article was originally published by Bloomberg Finance L.P. Reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are those of the a

Shauna Bryce Shauna C. Bryce is a graduate of Harvard Law School with 20 years in law and legal careers. As a nationally recognized lawyer career coach, she works one-on-one with executive-level attorneys in Global 100 law firms and multibillion-dollar businesses in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, as well as regularly presents to groups of lawyers, career coaches, law students, and others. Her advice column, Ask the Hiring Attorney®, inspired by what general counsel and partner-level clients said they wish they had known while they were in law school, was originally published by Bloomberg Law. She’s the author of the How to Get a Legal Job® series and Bryce Legal® Career Advice for Lawyers blog.