What Is the Ideal Cover Letter Length?
When you’re applying for a new job, your cover letter is one of the first things you need to write.
This letter accompanies your resume and explains more about who you are as a candidate and why the hiring manager should review your credentials.
The internet is littered with articles that discuss cover letter length.
Writing the perfect cover letter takes a lot of time and practice. If it’s too short, the recruiter may not understand that you are the ideal person for the role.
If it’s too long, a recruiter may not have the time to read it.
What’s more, your cover letter may need to include various keywords or phrasing to pass through any pre-set filters if the employer is using an applicant tracking system.
If this sounds daunting, then please do not worry. Cover letters do not have to be overly complex.
Imagine that you are a hiring manager.
You are recruiting for a job role, and you are inundated with hundreds of resumes.
They may all have similar experiences, qualifications and list comparable skills.
So, how would you filter them through to decide who you want to invite for a job interview?
A cover letter is a way of setting you apart from other candidates. It’s a way of saying, “Here is my resume; please read it because I am right for the job role.”
When used strategically, a cover letter will help you explain your experience and qualifications and show your passion for the job role.
Some employers may expressly state that they want a resume to be accompanied by a cover letter.
However, suppose there are no specific guidelines. In that case, it is always better to err on the side of caution and submit a cover letter with your application unless you are specifically asked not to.
Your cover letter should always be written concerning the job role itself. Look closely at the job description to understand what type of candidate the company is looking for.
You can use this information as the basis for your cover letter.
To start, you need to address your letter to a named contact. If the information is not freely available within the job advert, don’t be afraid to contact the company directly to ask for a name.
You need to introduce yourself to the hiring manager and confirm what job role you are applying for and why you are excited to apply for the position.
You want to give the recruiter a compelling reason to continue reading.
You may wish to explain your experience and provide some details of your qualifications.
Make sure that your experience is directly related to the tasks listed within the job description, so the recruiter knows instantly that you are a good fit.
Where possible, you should try to quantify your experience.
It’s not just about saying, “When I worked for [company name], I did x, y, or z.”
It’s about saying, “When I worked for [company name], I did x, y, or z, which resulted in XXXX.”
In an ideal world, your cover letter should make the recruiter excited.
It should make them want to immediately review your resume and pick up the phone to invite you to an interview to find out more.
It’s difficult to say how long your cover letter should be because that may depend on your sector, the seniority of the position or whether the company has specified a word count.
In general, the shorter, the better.
This is because recruiters are inundated with applications, and they do not have the time to spare to read through pages of text.
Ideally, your cover letter length should be less than half a page.
It should only take a few sentences to introduce yourself to the recruiter and direct them to review your resume.
A common problem in cover letters is that they repeat the information provided elsewhere within the application process.
The hiring manager doesn’t need a recap of your qualifications.
Instead, they want to know who you are, why you think you are suitable for the job and why they should review your resume.
In terms of word count, there is no right or wrong rule for a cover letter length (unless stated by the recruiter).
You do need to be as clear and concise as possible, however.
In an ideal world, your cover letter shouldn’t exceed 200 to 400 words.
To help you reduce your letter and attract a recruiter’s attention, you should use paragraphs, bullet points, or other formatting tools (such as italics or bold) to emphasize your point.
Similarly, if you are writing a speculative cover letter, you may need a longer word length to account for the fact that you are not applying for a specific job role.
You want to be even more concise if you are applying via email.
This is because respondents will be under considerable time constraints, so they will have less time than usual to read a lengthy email.
It’s important to remember that recruiters may read emails on their mobile rather than on a laptop.
The smaller screen will make even the shortest email feel longer than it is; therefore, you must be as concise as possible.
It would help if you tried to stick to 200 to 300 words max.
You can use your subject heading to make it clear which job role you are applying for, and your email signature will likely include your contact details, which will reduce your email length.
Here are a few tips to help you understand how to write a cover letter and ensure that it meets the correct cover letter length.
Firstly, let’s break it down into four distinct sections:
- Who are you?
- Your qualifications
- Why you are interested in the job role
- Your closing statements
Try to stick to just one paragraph for each section. You will find it easier to stick to an appropriate cover letter length.
This is your chance to explain who you are.
Make sure that you reference the specific job role, so the recruiter knows immediately which job you are applying for.
This is vital if the company is advertising for more than one job role.
It’s your chance to make a first impression, so make sure you have addressed it to the right person – ideally a named contact.
You want to make it clear that you are applying for a job position (advertised or speculatively) and that you are attaching a copy of your resume for the recruiter to review.
Your opening gambit needs to strike a warm and friendly tone that makes the recruiter want to continue reading.
Now that the recruiter knows what job you are applying for, you can start discussing what qualifications and expertise you have that are relevant to the job role.
Again, pay close attention to the information listed within the job description.
If they’ve used specific jargon or terminology, try to replicate it.
These are a complex few sentences. You want to show your expertise without repeating the information on your resume.
Try to use bullet points (no more than three) that explain your experience and what impact that experience had on your current/previous employer.
Try to quantify your experience so you can show what you achieved. Don’t be afraid to use percentages if it makes your numbers look better.
For example, if you are applying for a bartender job, you could say:
In my experience as a bar manager, I took full responsibility for leading a team of three part-time bartenders…
From a leadership perspective, I organized staff rotas, arranged staff training, and handled stock levels. I was also responsible for increasing bar revenue, and over the past three months, takings increased by almost a third…
Our restaurant is currently fully booked five nights a week and projected turnover for the year is up by 17%.
Employers love to be flattered. They want to know that their candidates want to work for them and only them.
This is your chance to pitch why you are interested in the job role to the recruiter.
However, the employer wants to know more than that.
Perhaps it’s because of their stellar reputation, or maybe there is a chance to work with and learn from some inspirational people in your profession.
The more excited you sound about working for them, the more eager they may feel about you.
Once again, it would help if you reiterated that you had attached your resume to the cover letter so the reader knows that your call to action is to ask them to look at your experience in more detail.
You may wish to thank the reader for their time and express appreciation for the opportunity.
In addition, you should invite the recruiter to contact you for further information, providing up-to-date contact details so they can get in touch with an interview opportunity.
Remember your grammar – understanding how to end a formal letter, such as knowing the difference between Yours Sincerely and Faithfully is important, especially if you apply for a senior position.
At WikiJob, we strive to provide valuable resources for job seekers across a wide range of sectors and industries.
To help refine your cover letter, therefore, why not look at some of our sector-specific examples?
- Architect cover letter
- Bartender cover letter
- Customer Service cover letter
- Data Analyst cover letter
- Graphic Design cover letter
- Marketing cover letter
- Project Manager cover letter
- Social Work cover letter
- Software Engineer cover letter
- Teaching cover letter
With so much to think about, it’s easy to see how candidates forget to consider their cover letter length.
It’s tempting to think, “one more paragraph won’t hurt".
However, there are some quick and easy tricks that you can use to prevent you from oversharing.
Choices such as Calibri, Ariel or Times New Roman are good options.
Stick to an 11 or 12pt font size to make it look professional.
Stick to a standard 1 to 1.5in margin on your page.
You want the recruiter’s eye to be drawn to your content, not complicated margins.
You may be surprised to realize how effective white space is when making content easier to read.
Please don’t fall into the trap of reducing your margins to reduce your letter length. This looks unprofessional and is reminiscent of school children trying to trick their teachers into thinking they have written a more extended essay!
To avoid lengthy sentences, you can use bullet point formatting to showcase your skills, particularly as you discuss your qualifications/prior experience.
If you’ve achieved exceptional results, don’t be afraid to use bold or italics to emphasize your success.
It can be tempting to use long sentences to explain a point, but you need to be concise in a cover letter.
Why not use free tools such as Grammarly to see if you can reduce your word length without losing the context of what you are trying to say?
It can also ensure that your spelling and grammar are accurate.
The easiest method to maintaining the ideal cover letter length is to focus on our sectional approach, as discussed earlier in this article.
By breaking down what you want to say into manageable chunks and allocating a singular paragraph to each section, you will be far more likely to stick to a short cover letter length.
With all the strategic planning in the world, what works for one recruiter may not be suitable for another.
That is why you need to take a bespoke approach to writing cover letters and make them individual for each subsequent job application.
For example, some recruiters may only want 200 words; others may want to learn much more about you, especially if you are applying for a more senior job role where you need to rely on your previous expertise.
The ideal cover letter length is one that generates results.
If you have been invited for an interview, or a recruiter offers you a job on the back of your cover letter, then clearly you have given them enough information to make them want to find out more about you.
Ultimately, your cover letter is a tool that excites a recruiter and makes them want to read your resume and get in touch.
Therefore, perhaps it’s not about the cover letter length but more about the information within the cover letter that matters.