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How Long Should A Cover Letter Be? Tips for Writing an Great Cover Letter

how long should a cover letter be

While most of us know what goes into a good resume, cover letters are more mysterious. Cover letter writing may seem like a necessary evil when you are looking for work, but it’s just as important as preparing your resume. Crafting an awesome cover letter will help get your foot in the door and land that job. But what actually makes a good cover letter? How long should a cover letter be? Who should I address it to?

It’s no longer good enough to have an impressive resume; you need a good cover letter too. Hiring managers and recruiters spend, on average, 7 seconds on a job application when first scanning it and deciding if the candidate is worthy. With this in mind, your cover letter must be spot on, laser targeted and very compelling.

The Resume Was the Easy Part

Writing a good cover letter is a lot harder than writing a good resume. Your resume is your resume; it doesn’t really require a lot changes no matter how many different potential employers you send it too. Not so with a cover letter. They have to be customized to every job you are applying for.

Far too often jobs seekers focus all of their attention on creating the perfect resume leaving the cover letter as not much more than a perfunctory, “Here is my job application.”

how long should a cover letter be application

No Getting Around It

There is no getting around it. A cover letter is a necessary evil in today’s job market. It’s a job seeker’s best hope of catching the attention of a recruiter, headhunter, or hiring manager all of whom receive tons of resumes.

“A well-defined brand wins interviews, maximizes salary potential and puts job seekers in the top 2 percent of candidates considered for positions,” Salvador says.  “The cover letter is a key part of your marketing package,” she says. “Use it as an opportunity to convey your brand and value proposition.”

Creating the perfect cover letter is your first foot in the door to landing your dream job. We are going to demystify the whole cover letter writing process so you can wow them before they even get to your resume!

What is really come down to is making a compelling case for why you’d be awesome at the job, without repeating your resume.

What is a Cover Letter?

At its core, a cover letter is just a document that introduces a job candidate to the hiring manager and makes a case for why the candidate is the right person for the job. It’s your first impression.

But it’s so much trickier than that. A cover letter can’t just be a rehash of your resume; it has to be a stand-alone document. How long should it be, how should it be formatted, should you puff up your wares to use an old expression? So many questions! Don’t worry; we have you covered.

how long should a cover letter be anatomy

So, How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?

It should be longer than a couple of lines but do not waste your time writing a novel either. 70% of hiring managers said the shorter the better. Somewhere between 250 and 400 word count is a good amount. However, you should focus more on the content than how many lines on the page you are taking up.

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.

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Be sure your paragraphs are short and to the point, no more than three or four sentences long. Leave an extra line of white space between the paragraphs. It makes the letter easier to read.

Far too often job seekers focus all of their attention on creating (what they perceive to be) the perfect resume and 1% on the cover letter, which ends up being a simple form letter sometimes just stating “here is my job application”.

Dear “Generic Thing Here”

It should not be hard to find the name of the hiring manager who will be reading your resume. You can find that information on LinkedIn, from news articles about the company or the company’s annual report. If all those fail, call up the company and ask for the name.

Don’t use a generic “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To whom it May Concern“. Cover letters addressed that way don’t get much attention which means your resume won’t get any attention at all.

Research the company and particular job you are applying for, this helps you customize your cover letter. Too many applicants skip this step because most are not applying for a single job but carpet bombing job openings.

It takes some time and effort to do that kind of research when you’re applying for a lot of jobs at once but it shows a hiring manager that you are interested in their specific job and that will set you apart from other applicants with more generic letters.

Don’t Talk Like a Robot Butler

You want the tone of your cover letter to be respectful and somewhat formal, this isn’t a text to your best friend, but you don’t want it to be sooo formal that you don’t sound human or sound like a time traveler from the Edwardian age. “I do so most earnestly desire to secure a position with your most esteemed place of business kind sir or lady.”

No one wants to work with that weirdo.

On the Other hand, you might want to ban the buzzwords. Don’t use phrases that have been so often overused that they no longer have meaning; stuff like “team player,” “thinks outside the box,” or “detail oriented.” 

Hiring managers have seen those cliches ad nauseam and they will show that you have not put any original thought into your cover letter.

how long should a cover letter be buzz words

Formatting Your Cover Letter

Treat your cover letter as the most important document of your job application process. This is the very first document the hiring manager will see so it must be compelling enough to convince the reader to review your resume.

Use a basic block style format that is easy to follow and always looks professional. Once you’ve got the basics, you need to include an explanation (why are you writing it), who are you and why they should look at your resume. How long should your cover letter be? No more than 1 page in length and should be targeted to the job application.

Use a basic block style format that is easy to follow. Don’t use fancy fonts or excessive highlighting, bolding or underlining. Arial, Calibri, and Times New Roman are classics for a reason.

What Should be Included

Introduction: Why you are applying for the job.

Fit: Why you are the exact candidate the hiring manager is looking for. No one wants to read what you have done; they want to understand what you have achieved. It’s also important to show that you will fit in with the company’s culture.

Read through the company’s website and press releases to see how they present themselves. Keywords will jump out at you, include some of those words in your cover letter.

Skills and Experience: Unique qualities that you will bring to the job. This is the place to stress the value you can provide regarding experience and the successes you have had from past experiences and how that can be leveraged for future success.

Be very specific and use numbers and statistics which, are more tangible than words, ie “managed to increase market share by 20% in a very depressed market moving my company from 4th to 2nd position in 18 months.”

The hiring manager is searching for someone who can increase company earnings, streamline processes or save money. While your cover letter should be brief, it needs to get that person’s attention. Let your resume tell the complete story. Be sure to include highlights of your experience that is specific to a company or industry.

End your cover letter on a positive note, be sure to thank the reader for his or her consideration.

how long should a cover letter be lies

Honestly is the best policy

It might be tempting to exaggerate your qualifications and experience but it is not worth the risk. Don’t put anything in your cover letter that is not true and that you can’t back up.

If the employer finds out that you lied, you’re finished even before you have a chance to be interviewed. You can even be fired if the company finds out that you lied on your application after you land the job, so be very careful when you are presenting yourself to an employer.

Don’t Make Them Guess

This advice probably seems obvious to some of you, but you would be surprised! Hiring managers see hundreds, possibly thousands of cover letters and resumes.

Don’t make the person guess which job you would like to be considered for when you apply.

If you are responding to a job posting, use the exact job title in your response to the hiring manager can match your cover letter and resume to the correct position.

Some companies use computer software to sort cover letters and resumes. If you don’t use the right keywords, it can be overlooked.

Summarize your qualifications in your cover letter, don’t rewrite your resume.

Tell the reader why you would be a stellar candidate for the position, without rehashing the contents of your resume. The cover letter is meant to encourage the hiring manager to invite you to a meeting. Take this opportunity to convince him or her why getting face to face with you would be a good idea.

“Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away”                                                       – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Double, Triple, Quadruple Check

Do you want to ensure that you will not be interviewed for a job? Submit a cover letter and resume with spelling and grammar errors. Straight into the bin. Go over these documents yourself, use a spelling and grammar checking program like Grammarly, and have a few friends and family members check them for good measure.

It can be hard to spot your own mistakes because you’ve read the documents over and over. Those mistakes will jump out at a first-time reader though. If your documents have these types of errors, it won’t matter how sterling the contents are.

This is your chance to make a good impression.  It won’t matter whether you have excellent skills or the right educational background if there are grammatical or spelling errors you resume will not be considered.

Forgetting to include your contact information is another detail that you may overlook.  If you are emailing it or applying via a website, make sure you put your name at the bottom of your correspondence along with your cell phone number and email address. If you are mailing the letter, put pen to paper and sign it.

Sexy Kitty 4 You

Please don’t use an inappropriate email address in your contact information. I used the sexykitty4you example, not as a joke but because I once received a cover letter with that as the email contact.

Did I throw it away immediately? No, I showed it, mouth agape, disbelieving, to everyone in my office and then threw it away.

The only thing worse than using than an inappropriate email address if failing to include any contact information at all. If you are mailing your documents the old fashioned way, sign your cover letter.

If you are emailing them or applying through an online portal, be sure to put your name at the bottom of your correspondence along with your phone number and email address. Print your cover letter, sign it, and scan it. The absence of a signature makes it look impersonal which is precisely what we want to avoid.

Email everything to yourself to make sure the formatting has come out right. Then upload and send it to the company. Indicate in your cover letter that you will follow up with a phone call within a week.

how long should a cover letter be first impression

First Impressions Matter

A great cover letter is your best and only chance to impress a hiring manager enough to get an interview and job offer. No matter how chocked full of fancy degrees and impressive achievements your resume might be, if you don’t spend time crafting a killer cover letter, you won’t even get that first foot in the door.

Spend time on your cover letter in terms of rich content and less on how long a cover letter should be. Be neutral, avoid fancy fonts, excessive highlighting, bolding, underlining etc. And again, do a spell, grammar and syntax check at least three times.

Keep it short, specific, clean looking and honest, and you will have hiring managers beating down your door!

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