The basic rules of style, brevity and clarity that apply to any covering letter also apply when you're making job applications online.
But rather than the formal letter format expected by businesses when receiving tangible mail, online cover letter formats are less structured and you have the opportunity to provide a unique and impactful introduction to what you can bring their company.
Fitting the format
The first things to consider are the mechanical requirements as requested by the website you're using. You'll need to read and understand the directions, such as name and email fields, character limits and attachment options. Every website has a different method so read the instructions every time.
A useful way to approach this is to draft your covering letter as if you were intending to print it out as a hard copy. This allows you to edit, spell check and proofread it much more easily than typing directly into a box on a website.
Once finished, you can then cut and paste your drafted and edited letter into the website form, satisfied that it has been properly checked for style, tone and content.
Remember though, spacing, tabs layouts and even typefaces can completely change when being transferred making it unreadable. Make the job easy for the reader, and take a final spin through before hitting ‘submit'.
In some websites you're requested to submit your answers into a prefabricated template, a form that automatically converts your answers into a covering letter for your application.
Whilst it may appear easier and more succinct to answer the given questions with short, simple phrases and sentences, you still need to make a good impression and convince the reader that you are passionate about the opportunity in question.
When applying to multiple jobs online, you'll find that most job boards make provision for you to have various cover letters stored, ready for you to use.
Using such a facility allows you to edit your core covering letters to match various roles you are applying for rather than having to start afresh each time. Even though this does save you time, don't be tempted to use the same text every time. An important prerequisite for a successful online application is to fully cover each employer's specific requirements.
It is a given that a well-written covering letter (in any format) helps you stand out from the crowd. With this in mind, taking the easy route by simply saying: 'Here is my CV', looks like you didn't have time - or the inclination - to say more, which of course does not inspire or convince.
Many people assume that applying online, with its slightly impersonal nature and directness of tone, excuses them from presenting a well-rounded package but remember you are still applying to a person at the other end and you need to reply as if you were writing a hard copy letter.
Whilst your online covering letter may need to obey certain rules and requirements for submission, you still need to take time and effort in its composition. Do this and the rewards in terms of feedback over time will reflect your effort sooner rather than later.