how long should a cover letter be. Expert guidance

by Artem Liubchyk

How long should a cover letter be

In job applications, your cover letter is your personal sales pitch. It’s where you showcase your qualifications, personality, enthusiasm, and fit for the role. But in the age of skim reading, you've got to make every word count.

So, how long should your cover letter be? The consensus among career experts is that the ideal length is about one page, around 250-400 words. This length is enough to express your interest, highlight your qualifications, and show that you’ve done your homework on the company without overwhelming the reader.

 We will cover the following. Click on any to go directly to the topic

  1. Should a cover letter be one page
  2. Tips for keeping your cover letter concise
  3. The Impact of Industry on Cover Letter Length for a resume
  4. Cover letter : Short vs Long cover letter examples
  5. How do you balance comprehensive content with Brilliance in a cover letter?
  6. The Evolution of Cover Letters in the Digital Age
  7. FAQs on length of cover letter

Should a cover letter be one page

The ideal length of a cover letter is backed by research emphasizing brevity and precision. Here's what the studies suggest:

Breaking Down the Ideal Cover Letter Length

  • Introduction (10-15% of the Word Count): Start with a bang. Mention the position you’re applying for, how you found it, and a succinct reason why you’re excited about the opportunity.
  • Body (70-80% of the Word Count): This is where you get into the meat of your letter. Break it into one or two paragraphs, focusing on your relevant experiences and skills and why you’re an excellent fit for the company. Remember, it's not about rehashing your resume but telling a story that your resume can't.
  • Conclusion (10-15% of the Word Count): End on a strong note. Reiterate your enthusiasm for the role, mention your desire to discuss how you can contribute to the company in more detail, and thank the reader for their time.

Cover Letter Length Tips: Beyond the Word Count

  • Edit Ruthlessly: After you’ve drafted your cover letter, take a step back. Then, edit with a critical eye. Remove fluff, tighten your sentences, and ensure every word adds value.
  • Please focus on the Opening and Closing: Grab their attention early and give them a strong impression. Your opening and closing lines are your most valuable real estate.
  • Formatting Matters: Even the perfect length can be undone by poor formatting. Use a simple, professional font, and make sure your paragraphs are easy to read. White space is your friend—it makes your letter more appealing at a glance.

Tips for Keeping Your Cover Letter Concise

  1. Focus on Key Points: Only include the most relevant information. Highlight your most significant achievements, skills, and experiences that directly relate to the job you're applying for.
  2. Use Bullet Points: Bullet points can help organize your achievements or skills in a way that's easy for the reader to scan. 
  3. Limit Your Length: Aim for a single page. This will force you to be selective about what information to include and ensure you only share the most impactful details.
  4. Avoid Repetition: Use the cover letter to expand on key points of ypur resume and provide context that shows how your experiences make you an excellent fit for the job.
  5. Customize for Each Job: Tailoring your cover letter to each position not only shows that you've done your research but also allows you to highlight why you're a perfect match for this specific role.
  6. Be Direct: Start strong by stating the position you're applying for and why you're excited about it. Then, directly link your experiences to what the job entails.
  7. Edit Ruthlessly: Cut out any fluff or non-essential information after writing your first draft.
  8. Use Simple Language: Avoid jargon, buzzwords, and overly complex sentences. Clarity and simplicity can convey your message more effectively than big words.
  9. Get Feedback: Sometimes, seeing what can be trimmed is hard until someone else reads your letter. Ask a mentor, friend, or career counsellor to review your cover letter and suggest cuts or revisions.
  10. Focus on Achievements, Not Tasks: Instead of listing your job duties, focus on what you accomplished in those roles. 

The Impact of Industry on Cover Letter Length for a resume

The industry's impact on cover letter length is significant, as conventions can vary significantly across different fields. While the general rule of thumb is to keep cover letters to one page, specific industries may have their expectations. Here’s a guide to navigating cover letter length across various industries:

  1. Creative Industries (e.g., Advertising, Design): Creative fields often appreciate brevity and the ability to convey ideas succinctly. A shorter, more impactful letter that showcases your creativity and personality might be well-received. Including links to an online portfolio or projects can also be beneficial.
  2. Tech and Startups: Tech companies and startups value straightforward, concise communication. Keep your cover letter short and focused on how you can solve problems or add value to the team with your technical skills and innovative thinking.
  3. Finance and Consulting: These sectors often expect more formal and detailed cover letters. While still aiming for one page, ensure you include specific achievements and how they're relevant to the consulting or financial sector. Use professional language and clear examples of past successes.
  4. Academia and Research: Academic positions may require more comprehensive cover letters, sometimes extending beyond one page. It’s crucial to detail your research, publications, teaching philosophy, and how you align with the department's goals. Tailoring is key.
  5. Government and Public Sector: Applications for government jobs often come with specific guidelines, including cover letter length. When not specified, aim for a one-page letter addressing the job announcement's selection criteria.
  6. Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals: While medical professionals prioritize brevity, they also value detail about your clinical experiences, research, and patient care philosophy. Please keep it to one page but focus on relevant qualifications and experiences that demonstrate your competency and empathy.
  7. Law: Legal positions expect formal and well-structured cover letters. Detail your legal experience, cases, or transactions, aligning your skills with the firm or organization's requirements. Precision and professionalism are essential.

Cover letter : Short vs Long cover letter examples

Providing concrete examples can help illustrate the effectiveness of both short and long formats when discussing cover letters. Below are examples of how a concise cover letter compares with a more detailed one tailored for a hypothetical marketing position application.

Short Cover Letter Example

Subject: Application for Marketing Coordinator - John Doe

Dear Hiring Manager,

I am writing to express my interest in the Marketing Coordinator position at XYZ Company, as advertised on your careers page. With a bachelor’s degree in marketing and two years of experience at ABC Corp, I have developed strong skills in digital marketing strategies, content creation, and SEO optimization, which I am eager to bring to your team.

At ABC Corp, I led a digital campaign that increased web traffic by 30% within three months, showcasing my ability to target and engage audiences effectively. I am particularly drawn to XYZ Company's innovative marketing approach and am excited about the opportunity to contribute to your team's success.

Thank you for considering my application. I look forward to discussing this exciting opportunity with you. I am available for an interview at your earliest convenience and can be reached at [phone number] or [email address].

Best regards,

John Doe

Long Cover Letter Example

Subject: Application for Marketing Coordinator Position - Jane Smith

Dear Hiring Manager,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to express my keen interest in the Marketing Coordinator position at XYZ Company, as listed on your website. With a comprehensive background in marketing, bolstered by my academic achievements and hands-on experience, I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to contribute to your team's innovative projects and campaigns.

After graduating with honours in Marketing from DEF University, I embarked on my professional journey at GHI Inc., where I have been employed for the past three years. I have spearheaded various successful marketing campaigns during my tenure, notably increasing our lead generation by 40% through strategic email marketing and SEO tactics. My role also involved collaborating closely with the sales team to align our inbound marketing strategies with sales goals, resulting in a 25% increase in sales conversions.

What excites me most about the opportunity at XYZ Company is your commitment to leveraging cutting-edge marketing techniques to drive business success. Your recent campaign, [Campaign Name], particularly impressed me with its creativity and effectiveness in engaging the target audience. I am eager to bring my expertise in digital marketing, content creation, and market analysis to your team, contributing to similarly impactful campaigns.

Additionally, I bring strong analytical skills and a data-driven marketing approach, allowing me to effectively measure and iterate on campaign performance to achieve the best results. My proficiency in tools such as Google Analytics, SEMrush, and HubSpot, combined with my ability to work collaboratively across teams, positions me well to add value to XYZ Company.

I look forward to discussing how my background, skills, and enthusiasm align with the needs of your team. I am available for an interview at your convenience and can be reached at [phone number] or [email address]. Thank you for considering my application. I am excited about the possibility of contributing to XYZ Company's continued growth and success.

Warmest regards,

Jane Smith

Analysis of the two examples

  • The short cover letter is direct and concise, highlighting the applicant's relevant experience and achievements without delving into too much detail. It's efficient and respects the reader's time, making it suitable for roles that value brevity and clarity.
  • The extended cover letter provides a comprehensive overview of the applicant's background, detailed achievements, and specific reasons for their interest in the company. It allows for personality and enthusiasm to shine through, which can be beneficial in fields where cultural fit and detailed project experience are crucial.

Both examples have their place, depending on the industry, company culture, and specific job application instructions. The key is to tailor your approach to align with the expectations of the role you’re applying for.

How do you balance comprehensive content with Brilliance in a cover letter?

Balancing comprehensive content with brevity in a cover letter is an art that requires careful consideration of what to include and what to omit. The goal is to succinctly convey your suitability for the role while ensuring the reader understands your value proposition. Here are strategies to achieve this balance:

Prioritize Your Content

  • Identify Core Requirements: Review the job listing to pinpoint the top qualifications and skills required. Focus your letter on these areas.
  • Highlight Key Achievements: Select 2-3 of your most relevant achievements directly related to the job’s requirements. Use specific metrics where possible to demonstrate success.

Use a Structured Format

  • Introduction: Briefly introduce yourself and express your enthusiasm for the position and company.
  • Body: This section should include your achievements and how they prepared you for this role. If you're using bullet points, limit them to your top achievements to keep the section concise.
  • Conclusion: Summarize why you're a good fit, express your desire to discuss your qualifications further, and thank the reader for considering your application.

Adopt Concise Language

  • Active Voice: Use active voice to make your writing more direct and lively.
  • Avoid Redundancies: Don’t use two words where one will do, and eliminate phrases that don't add value to your message.
  • Precise Word Choice: Choose words that convey your message powerfully and accurately, reducing the need for lengthy explanations.

Tailor Your Message

  • Customize for the Role: Tailor your letter to the role and company to show that you’ve done your homework and understand what they’re looking for.
  • Reflect the Company’s Tone: Adapt your writing style to match the company’s communication style, which you can often infer from their website and job listing.

Edit Ruthlessly

  • Cut Superfluous Information: Remove any content that doesn’t contribute to demonstrating your suitability for the role.
  • Seek Feedback: Have someone else read your cover letter to point out areas that might need to be clarified or unnecessarily verbose.
  • Read Aloud: This can help you catch redundancies and convoluted sentences that might have slipped past initial edits.

Incorporate Keywords

  • Use Job Description Keywords: Including a few keywords from the job description can help if your application is initially screened by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Optimize the Opening and Closing

  • Strong Start: Grab the reader's attention from the beginning with a compelling opening line that clearly states your purpose.
  • Powerful Conclusion: End strongly by reiterating your interest and the value you would bring to the role.

The Evolution of Cover Letters in the Digital Age

The digital age has transformed how job seekers approach the job application process, particularly in cover letters. With the rise of email and online applications, the traditional cover letter has undergone significant changes in format and delivery. This evolution reflects broader shifts in communication, accessibility, and applicant expectations, altering the job application landscape.

Shift to Email and Online Platforms

Initially, cover letters were formal documents attached to physical resumes or CVs. The shift to digital platforms has made cover letters more accessible and immediate. Email applications allow quicker submission and have made the job application process more efficient for both applicants and employers. Online job portals and company websites now often include dedicated sections for uploading cover letters, streamlining the process and integrating it with other application components.

Changes in Format and Content

  • Brevity and Clarity: Digital communication favors conciseness. Cover letters have become shorter, more focused, and tailored to grab attention quickly. The digital age's fast-paced nature means hiring managers spend less time on each application, emphasizing the need for brevity.
  • Informal Tone: While maintaining professionalism, the tone of cover letters has shifted slightly towards informality or conversationality, reflecting broader changes in digital communication styles. This change is especially pronounced in industries like tech and creative, where personality and cultural fit are highly valued.
  • Keywords and SEO: With the advent of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), cover letters often include keywords related to the job posting. This optimization ensures that cover letters pass through automated screenings, reaching human readers.

New Expectations for Personalization

The ease of submitting applications online has increased the volume of applications per job posting. In response, there’s a heightened expectation for cover letters to be highly personalized and specific to the company and position. Generic cover letters are easily spotted and likely to be disregarded.

The Emergence of New Formats in cover letters

  • Video Cover Letters: Some applicants now opt for video cover letters to stand out. This format allows for a more personal introduction and is particularly effective in industries that value creativity and presentation skills.
  • Digital Portfolios and Links: It's increasingly common to include links to digital portfolios, LinkedIn profiles, or personal websites within cover letters. This practice allows applicants to provide a broader picture of their achievements and skills.

FAQ's About Cover Letter Length

Several common questions often arise regarding cover letter length, reflecting applicants' concerns about making their cover letters as effective as possible. Here are some frequently asked questions and their answers:

  1. How long should my cover letter be? -Ideally, a cover letter should be one page or less and comprise three to four concise paragraphs. This length is enough to express your interest in the position, highlight key achievements, and explain why you're a good fit for the role.
  2. Can I exceed one page if I have much experience? Even with extensive experience, you should still aim to keep your cover letter to one page. Focus on the most relevant experiences and achievements that directly relate to the job you're applying for.
  3. Can a cover letter be too short? Yes, a cover letter that needs to be longer may convey your interest or adequately highlight your qualifications. Aim for at least half a page to ensure you've covered the essential points.
  4. What's the ideal paragraph structure for a cover letter? A strong cover letter typically includes an introductory paragraph (mentioning the job you're applying for and your enthusiasm), one to two body paragraphs (highlighting key achievements and skills), and a closing paragraph (thanking the employer and mentioning follow-up).
  5. Should I include bullet points in my cover letter? Using bullet points can be an effective way to break up text and draw attention to your most relevant achievements or qualifications. However, use them sparingly to maintain the formal tone of the letter.
  6. How do I reduce the length of my cover letter? Focus on editing out redundant information, avoiding repetition of your resume, and eliminating any details not directly relevant to the job. Be concise in your language and get straight to the point.
  7. Does the cover letter length include contact information? Yes, the one-page length includes your contact information. However, this should be concise and take up little space—a standard header with your name and contact details, followed by the date and employer's information.
  8. Should I still send a cover letter if the job application doesn't specify? Yes, it's generally a good idea to include a cover letter unless the job listing explicitly states not to. It shows initiative and provides an opportunity to make a solid first impression.

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Cover letter Questions? Answers.

Customize your cover letter for the specific job and company, showing deep knowledge of the company’s challenges, culture, and goals. Use vivid examples of your accomplishments, focus on how you can solve their problems, and perhaps include a brief, relevant anecdote that showcases your capabilities and personality.

Yes, many employers still read cover letters. A well-crafted cover letter can make a significant difference, especially when your resume is similar to other candidates’. It's your opportunity to personally connect with the employer and make a memorable impression.

Acknowledge the gap briefly and positively, focusing on how the time was spent productively (e.g., skill development, volunteering, personal growth) and how it makes you a stronger candidate now.

Yes, if you're applying for a job that requires relocation, it's beneficial to mention this. Indicate your willingness or plans to move and, if applicable, any ties you have to the new location to show commitment.

Mention the referral in the opening paragraph. Briefly explain how you know the person and why their recommendation encouraged you to apply. Ensure you have permission to name-drop.

Generally, it's best to avoid discussing salary in your cover letter unless explicitly requested by the employer. If required, provide a range based on research and your experience, indicating flexibility.

Emphasize transferable skills and experiences that are relevant to the new field. Show enthusiasm for the change and explain why you're making the transition, focusing on how your background has prepared you uniquely for this new path.

Conclude with a strong closing statement that reiterates your enthusiasm for the role, invites further discussion, and thanks the reader for their consideration. Use a professional sign-off like "Sincerely" or "Best regards."

Yes, maintaining a consistent header format and style between your cover letter and resume helps to create a professional and cohesive application package.