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How Long Should a Cover Letter Be? (+Formatting Tips)

October 16, 2019

So you’re applying for a job, huh?

You may have a few things on your mind. Maybe you’re wondering where to begin, how to write a cover letter, or how you can stand out from the sea of resumes and cover letters that will land on a hiring manager’s desk. If your cover letter is too long, they won’t bother reading it, but if it’s too short, they’ll think you don’t care enough about the job. See how this can get tricky?

How long should a cover letter be? 

There’s a very fine line between too long and too short and in reality, employers only spend a couple of seconds reading each cover letter. But that doesn’t mean you can phone it in when writing one. Cover letters play a crucial role in the job application process. You should almost always be sending a cover letter along with your resume unless the listing states otherwise.

So, how long should a cover letter be? 

Your cover letter should be short and concise, only containing the information relevant to the job listing. Include a summary of responsibilities from your last position and a brief mention of skills you possess that will help you succeed in the new role. Your cover letter isn’t a letter, it’s a short introduction. It’s your way to hook the hiring manager and get them interested in you. In essence, it’s a marketing piece you’re using to sell yourself as a professional.

cover letter length

Now that we have the length of the cover letter down, we should talk about why they’re important in the first place.

Related: While you’re at it, answer the question “How long should a resume be?” and feed two birds with one scone.

Why include a cover letter?

A Jobvite study reports that 26% of recruiters consider cover letters important in their hiring decisions while a Robert Half study states that 90% of executives consider them important to be able to evaluate candidates properly. 

In any case, you should be giving as much attention to your cover letter as you do your resume. Most of the time, hiring managers make the decision if they’re going to look at your resume or not based on the look and contents of your cover letter, so take some time and format it well.

Proper cover letter structure

Your cover letter should roughly stick to the following format and include these sections:

The basics

Contact information: Include your name, address, city, state, zip code, phone number, and email address.
The date: Always include the date on your cover letter that way, you and the hiring manager can keep track of when you applied. 
The employer’s information: Include the name of the company, address, city, state, zip code, phone number, and email address of the hiring manager/recruiter.

The body

Opening or greeting: Dear Mr./Ms. last name, or if you’d like to be more casual, Hi name.
First paragraph: Include how you heard about the position, mentioning the job title and why you’re interested. Then explain why you’re a strong candidate for the position.
Second paragraph: Go into detail on why your previous experiences and skills qualify you as the person for the job. Keep it short and concise here.
Third paragraph: Thank them for considering you for the position and end on a positive note. Maybe include that you are eager to hear back or wish them a great week.
Ending: Choose a sign-off (Sincerely, Always, Best, Looking forward to your reply, etc.)
Your name

cover letter structure

Cover letter formatting

Formatting is everything. It’s the first thing anyone will see when they look at your resume or cover letter. You’ll want to select a simple font that is legible and easy to read such as Helvetica, Arial, Calibri, Times New Roman, or Roboto. Make sure no one will have to squint their eyes to read it and make it 12 point font.

A few extra tips! When it comes to margins, they should be 1-inch all around with all of your text left-aligned. You’ll also want to leave an empty space between your greeting and the first paragraph, between each paragraph, and between the last paragraph and the sign-off so that your letter is easy to read.

Just make sure the cover letter isn’t cluttered and has adequate white space for the sake of the reader’s eyes. 

Cover letter tips

We’ve compiled a short list of tips to keep in mind as you write your cover letter. 

Tip #1: Keep it short and sweet

Although the best place to show off your personality, experiences, and skill sets, it’s not a place to be long winded. As we went over earlier, hiring managers sit and sift through dozens or even hundreds of applications a day. If they see your cover letter alone is two pages, they’ll throw it in the “No” pile almost immediately.

Don’t waste their time. Highlight the skills and qualifications that make you the perfect fit for the job, express your passion for the industry, and keep it at that. 

Tip #2: Focus on the right stuff

If you’re applying for jobs as soon as you graduate, steer clear of including things like GPA and professor recommendations, unless the listing requests it. To make better use of your time, flesh out the projects you directly worked on, your responsibilities, and the achievements you have that make you a great candidate.

If you’re already in the workforce, select the accomplishments and experiences you’ve had that make sense for the application. For example, say you’re applying for an HR manager role. You may choose to talk about your previous role where you managed an office of 20 people and speak on how you did it.

Tip #3: Highlight only relevant information

Keep on topic and know your audience. If you’re applying for a business development representative position, you’re not going to mention your time as a bartender. List only relevant work experience when customizing your cover letter for each job listing. 

Think of how you can highlight yourself as someone who can solve the company’s current struggles or challenges. The better you explain why you’re the applicant that will make a positive change, the better the hiring manager will see the value you can bring to the team.

Having a creative block? Think about using a resume writing service. These tools provide assistance with the creation and editing of professional resumes in an effort to help people properly showcase their employment background and skills. Browse the top tools and try one out for yourself.

See the best Resume Writing Services Providers, FREE →

All the bases are covered

Although there’s a large focus on how long a cover letter can be, don’t forget to focus on how concise one should be.

The key takeaways of this article are:

  • Keep the cover letter less than a full page, longer than half a page.
  • Formatting is everything and three paragraphs (250-400 words) should be enough room to express why you’re a strong candidate.
  • Relevant information only!

Write for the hiring manager, be passionate, and showcase your best self.

Want to learn more? Get yourself job-ready and learn how to write a resume the right way.

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