Simply attaching your Shakespearean work of genius to your online application is no guarantee that anyone will see it. In fact, it’s more like a guarantee that it won’t be read.
(This applies only to companies using an Applicant Tracking System–if you’re applying at a company small enough that you’re just e-mailing your letter and resume, odds are a little better that someone will see your stuff. A little.)
How can you get a hiring manager’s attention?
It depends. Some swear by printed material (seriously). I know an editor who said, flat-out, “I get lots of email, but if somebody were to send a nice, actual, letter, I would definitely read it.” And then there’s this guy, founder of Plaid, who said that he received a “near-perfect” cover letter on paper. “Normally, I’d punish or tease people who use paper, but in this case, Mary carefully targeted her potential employer and, because we’re not actively hiring, understood that a strong paper presentation might stand out from a cluttered inbox. This time, she was right.”
The amazing thing about the age we live in is you can often find a hiring manager’s preferences with a short Google search. (That doesn’t always work, but you’d be surprised at how often it does.) Some hiring managers may say they prefer to be contacted with an email and solid cover letter, others may say they want you to Tweet at them. Others may pay attention to someone who’s been leaving thoughtful comments on their blog; yet others may want to be surprised with something crazy. Side note: I’m told that there was a trend going around the UK for a while to deliver your cover letter and resume in a pizza box. As a hiring manager, that would just annoy me, because I’d be excited for free pizza and then have to deal with the inevitable letdown.
But to sum up: If you’re not sure how to make sure the hiring manager sees your cover letter, try asking Google. If you can’t find any information, you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong with an email or a polite social media poke. Good luck!