If you’re wondering how long a cover letter should be, this article has everything you need to know (including exactly how many words to make your cover letter).
I’m going to share why most job seekers are making their cover letters far too long, and why you will likely get more job interviews by writing less in your cover letter.
Let’s get started…
Cover letters should be one page long and total 75 to 250 words. This recommendation applies to both printed and email cover letters. It’s okay if your cover letter doesn’t take up an entire page, but it should never exceed one full page.
Job seekers needing to explain gaps in employment, a recent change in career path, etc., may want to utilize more words in their cover letter than someone with a more standard background.
A job seeker who is staying within their current industry and career path (e.g. moving from Software Engineer to Senior Software Engineer) and not needing to explain a lengthy work gap should aim to be on the lower end of the recommended cover letter word count mentioned above — somewhere between 70 and 150 words.
As an example, my favorite cover letter template from Harvard Business Review has only 76 words:
As you customize this cover letter, the word count will likely rise a bit, but it’ll remain much shorter than what most job seekers send. And that’s a good thing!
This type of letter is going to be very different than what most job seekers are sending and what you’ve seen recommended online, and that’s often a plus.
Coming up soon, I’ll explain why a shorter cover letter may improve your odds of hearing back on a job application.
The typical cover letter should contain three to six paragraphs. Each paragraph should be relatively short, containing two to four sentences. This is especially important in the first paragraph of your cover letter, where you want to entice the reader and encourage them to keep reading by providing a short, punchy opening.
In general, when writing to grab someone’s attention, focus heavily on making the first paragraph compelling, because this is your first impression or “elevator pitch,” for why they should keep reading.
Now that you know how long a cover letter should be, let’s look at some specific benefits of using this length, which is shorter than some people recommend.
Now that you know how many words a cover letter should be, let’s talk about why I recommend this as the ideal length, even though some career experts recommend your cover letter be longer.
There are four things that happen when you keep your cover letter relatively short…
Here’s an example of a typical full-page cover letter that many job seekers are sending:
If you’ve sent something like that in the past, it’s NOT your fault…
Almost every website with cover letter templates recommends this format, and it’s what you’re constantly told to send.
But that’s the beauty of limiting your cover letter to my ideal cover letter length of 75 to 250 words. It’s different than what everyone else is doing!
From the first glance, you’re showing the hiring manager that your cover letter is unique and worth reading closely. You show that you’re not going to bore them half to sleep with yet another generic letter containing info from a template or info that’s already on your resume.
Whereas, if you send a full-page cover letter like the image/example above, the hiring manager is thinking, “Okay, here’s another huge page of info to read through that’s probably based on a template.”
This happens to them over and over, all day.
That brings me to my next benefit…
Most job seekers send cover letters that so long-winded that nobody wants to read them. The hiring manager may read to the second or third paragraph, but they’re unlikely to through to the end.
Beyond that, job hunters send cover letters that repeat information from their resume, which doesn’t provide any value to the hiring manager or recruiter.
But because your cover letter is short, and ideally has small paragraphs, it’s inviting to read. Hiring managers open your email or letter and think, “Great, I can read this no problem.”
So they read your cover letter from start to finish without skipping a word!
This is why you should always send the hiring manager a short cover letter where each line has a purpose and message and does something to sell them on why you deserve the interview.
You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Test it! Send half of your cover letters in the standard, full-page style seen above, but with the other half, test what I’m suggesting here. Greatly reduce the word count, get right to the point, only offer info that’s not on your resume.
We’ve now looked at two reasons why the full-page cover letter is not the ideal length/approach. But I’ve got two more reasons for you…
If you’re naming 20 different skills and qualifications in your cover letter, it’s hard for a recruiter or hiring manager to pick out the most important pieces.
Whereas, if you just name your three or four strongest arguments for why you’d be a great fit for their job description, those points will stand out (and get read, as mentioned above).
Sometimes less is more, and with cover letters, it’s often the case!
So this is another factor to consider when deciding how long your cover letter should be.
Finally, you should end each cover letter with a “Call to Action,” which I’ll explain in the next section.
This is where you ask for the interview, which is something many job seekers don’t do properly (or don’t do at all) in their cover letter.
And by keeping your letter brief, this closing paragraph comes relatively quickly… sometimes as the third or fourth paragraph… so it’s much more likely to get the reader’s full attention which means you’ll get more interviews.
The best font size for your cover letter is 12 points, whether you’re sending a printed or an email cover letter. Avoid fancy fonts and choose a simple, easy-to-read font like Calibri or Arial. Include plenty of white space and small, punchy paragraphs. It’s better to have multiple, concise paragraphs in your cover letter than one or two very long paragraphs. This helps with readability.
This is one other mistake a lot of job seekers make with their cover letters, along with repeating info on the resume and just being far too long-winded. They don’t ask for the interview in their closing paragraph!
The whole point of the cover letter is to win you job interviews. So after you’ve got the specific word count you want, make sure to finish up by actually asking the hiring manager to call you and set up a time to discuss in more detail!
Here’s an example of how you could conclude an email cover letter:
I’d love to discuss the position over the phone and provide a bit more context for how I can help you in this role. Are you available for a phone call later this week or early next week? My phone number is 555-218-4987.
Or, simply use the cover letter conclusion from the first example in this article, from Harvard Business Review:
I have attached my resume for your review and would welcome the chance to speak with you sometime.
However, I prefer a slightly stronger conclusion to a cover letter that really prompts the hiring manager to reply to a direct question. That should get you more responses from your cover letter, no matter your cover letter length!
To reiterate how long a cover letter should be, I recommend sticking to 250 words or less and never exceeding one page.
It’s beneficial to keep your letter short and concise for both a printed cover letter and a cover letter sent by email.
The shorter format allows you to focus on your strongest points and grab the hiring manager’s attention without overwhelming them with too much text or info. This will help you get more interviews and separate you from other job seekers who send long, generic, cut-and-paste cover letters with their applications.
However, as mentioned earlier, the length of your cover letter will vary depending on the industry (in a very formal, traditional industry, you may want to go for a slightly longer word count).
If you have an unusual scenario to explain, then your ideal cover letter length may be longer, too.
So don’t take the advice above as a hard-and-fast rule, but just a general guideline on how long a typical cover letter should be to win more job interviews.
As a final step, make sure to proofread everything! Sending a cover letter with a typo or mistake can cost you the job interview even if you have great qualifications and writing style.
More cover letter resources:
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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