How Long Should a Cover Letter Be? | Lensa Insights

Overview

How Long Should a Cover Letter Be, and Is Length Really All That Matters?

Countless questions plague a typical job seeker. If an ad says cover letters are optional, is that really the case? Is it important to send one? How long should a cover letter be anyway? 

You might be a virtuoso with your use of words. Your literary prowess might have mesmerized your English teacher. But a hiring manager reading what could only be compared to Tolstoy’s adjective-packed, digression-ridden description of a person crossing the street would not be as impressed.

If you make your cover letter too short, it will seem generic. Make it too long, and you will bore the reader and put them off. If that’s how you write a letter, what is working with you like? They won’t be too thrilled to find out.

How do you strike that perfect balance between being informative enough and not taking it too far? 

This article will help you find that sweet spot and show you how to create a cover letter of the perfect length that will impress any hiring manager

What Can You Accomplish With a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is more than a document that accompanies your resume. If done right, it can significantly boost your chances of getting an interview.

A good cover letter should:

  • Introduce you to your potential employer
  • Show how your skills and experience pertain to the role
  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position and the company
  • Provide insight into your personality

How Long Should Cover Letters Be—General Guidelines

Looking at a typical cover letter outline, you can see that a cover letter is usually one page long and has four paragraphs:

  1. Opening paragraph—in which you state reasons for writing the cover letter
  2. Two main paragraphs—where you talk about your skills and how they relate to the role
  3. Closing paragraph—in which you express your enthusiasm to be invited for an interview

That layout isn’t set in stone, though. You should keep those guidelines in mind when formatting your cover letter, but don’t be afraid to color outside the lines.

You don’t have to limit yourself to two main paragraphs—you can add more if inspiration strikes. Make them short and easily readable, though, and remember to bold or highlight the most important details so that the hiring manager can notice them quickly. 

There are a few other technical tips and tricks that can make even a longer text easily readable. Pay special attention to:

  1. Spacing—A wordy and dense document is hard to read, and the hiring manager might dismiss it too soon; spacing between paragraphs will make the letter easier to scan
  2. Bold formatting—If you don’t want a hiring manager to miss something, bold it to make it stand out
  3. Bullet points—List the relevant skills, the projects you worked on, or your most significant accomplishments
  4. Numbers—Human eyes are instantly drawn to numbers, so if you can present your accomplishments using numerical data, do it 
  5. Font—Stick to fonts that are easy to read and that won’t distract the recruiter from what you want to relay
  6. Alignment—Using Justify looks tidy, but it is considered difficult to read. You should stick to the left alignment because people take in the information on the left-hand side way better than what’s placed on the right

How To Achieve the Ideal Cover Letter Length

A Black woman sitting on the floor and working with a laptop on her knees

Source: Thirdman

Concise cover letters make it easier for recruiters to shortlist candidates with the relevant skills and knowledge quickly. 70% of recruiters state they prefer to receive one-page-long letters or shorter. 

It means you should keep your cover letter to the point. Half-a-page-long text is more than enough if it accurately demonstrates your fitness for the role. 

The exact length will depend on several factors. When writing your cover letter, make sure to:

  1. Check if a preferred word count is stated in the job ad
  2. Focus on the content of your letter
  3. Pay attention to the white space
  4. Mind the paragraph length
  5. Avoid fluff and irrelevant details

See Whether the Job Ad Specifies Cover Letter Length Requirements

Employers sometimes include directions for writing a cover letter in their job ads. They may specify the word limit or the format. They may also provide a list of questions they want you to answer. 

Hiring managers like to see that you:

  • Wrote the cover letter specifically for the position you are applying for
  • Paid close attention to detail
  • Read the job ad carefully
  • Followed instructions

Showing that you read the ad carefully and followed the instructions will make a positive first impression on the recruiter. If the ad specifies how many words a cover letter should have and you write 500 words more, they may get the wrong idea of what kind of employee you would be and kick you out of the recruiting funnel. 

Don’t Let the Word Count Alone Lead You

In general, your cover letter should be between 250 and 400 words long. This means that anywhere from half a page to one full page of text will suffice. That includes enough room for adjusting line spacing, adding lists, and setting the page margins. 

But unless the job ad states how long a cover letter should be, you shouldn’t focus too much on the word count. The content of your letter is what matters. Focus on your skills and the value you can bring to the company. Use the word count only as a guideline—so you remain on the right track. 

Have Enough White Space

A hiring manager evaluating applications

Source: Polina Tankilevitch

You already know that you should include spacing between paragraphs as a single chunk of text is hard to follow. If you break it up into shorter paragraphs, your letter will be easier to read. 

Margins can also add the much-needed white space to your document. There are no hard and fast rules about the perfect margin width, but a one-inch margin on each side is a good option. 

Keep Paragraphs Short 

Cover letters generally consist of two main paragraphs, but you can have more. Keep them 2–3 sentences long as each section should take no more than 10 seconds to read. 

Write a short sentence to introduce each paragraph and enough information to show why you are the right candidate for the role.

Cut the Redundant Bits Out To Get the Perfect Cover Letter Length

An HR team checking out applications on a laptop

Source: Kampus Production

Whether you are an experienced candidate or a newcomer to the job market, your cover letter shouldn’t exceed one page, so make sure that all parts can fit there. If you are struggling to squeeze everything you want within that one page, you will need to trim the letter down. 

In case you can’t decide what to eliminate, it would be best to ask someone to read your letter. You need an objective pair of eyes—after spending some time working on the letter, you may be blind to what else you can change in it to improve it. 

A friend will notice wordy structures and irrelevant parts better than you. They may be able to distinguish between impressive achievements and your day-to-day obligations better than you. 

You should also sleep on it and read your cover letter again with a fresh set of eyes. It helps if you read it from the bottom to the top—this method will allow you to identify any redundant details or repetitions. 

You can also use a different device than usual to read the letter afresh (like your phone or a tablet instead of your laptop). Looking at it on a different screen will allow you to spot tiny spelling mistakes and easy-to-miss formatting problems.

How To Keep Your Cover Letter Short and to the Point

Your cover letter should showcase your experience and personality and impress the hiring manager, but it’s critical you do it in a concise manner. Your potential employer won’t have the time to read a long-winded narrative of your professional accomplishments, daily duties, and personal values. 

You should highlight what makes you the perfect fit for the role and demonstrate your passion for the industry. Your succinctness will be appreciated, and you may be rewarded with an interview. 

Include Only the Relevant Experience

When you start writing a cover letter, you will probably look at many samples to get some new ideas. You may even rely on templates so as not to worry about who to address a cover letter to, how to end it, and whether you need to sign it or not. You will try to make it perfect, but in reality, all of that is pointless if the main paragraphs don’t demonstrate why you are a good candidate for the role. 

You may have vast experience behind you and an extensive list of previous jobs. Don’t write about all of them. Pick only the most relevant skills, achievements, and stories. Think about what the company needs, and then point out how you can satisfy those needs. Explain how you can use your skills in the new position. 

You can even tell a story to illustrate a point, as long as it’s relevant to the role. This is particularly helpful if you are not sure what skills or qualifications to highlight. To help you decide what to include, go back to the job description and consider your past experience carefully. 

Write an impactful story by explaining the situation, your role in it, what you did, and the outcome. It shows what happened and how you contributed to the situation. 

That is an effective way of showing how you can bring value to the company and contribute to its growth. 

Don’t Reveal Everything

Two female recruiters in an office, looking at applications on a computer

Source: RODNAE Productions

You can use a cover letter to awaken a hiring manager’s curiosity. Include all the relevant information, but don’t explain everything you have to bring to the table. Reveal enough about yourself to pique the employer’s interest and make them want to meet you in person. 

How Long Should Your Cover Letter Be if You Lack Experience?

You need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience—a veritable vicious circle. 

A cover letter will be structured differently based on how much experience you have. If you are fresh out of college and are applying for your first job, it’s only natural you don’t have experience

Whatever you do, don’t make stuff up. Your cover letter should only include the details you feel comfortable discussing in an interview. You must never lie because you will get caught. 

As for the length of your cover letter, the answer is always the same—it shouldn’t be longer than one page. You can make it shorter if you don’t have much to say. It’s always better to write a few concrete sentences than a full page of fluff and nonsense.

While using numbers and concrete metrics helps when writing a cover letter, you shouldn’t focus on those. Unless the job ad specifically requires you to include information such as a GPA, don’t mention it. Instead, focus on the classes you took, projects you worked on, and any experience you had that makes you a strong candidate. 

How Long Should My Cover Letter Be if I Have a Lot of Experience?

If you are a candidate with years of experience behind you, you will naturally have many stories to tell and accomplishments to flaunt. You may feel tempted to write a longer cover letter to show what a great candidate you are. 

Don’t fall into that trap! Longer is not better. Pick a few of your most relevant and impressive achievements, and keep the rest for the interview.

If you are wondering how long is too long for a cover letter, the answer is the same—anything longer than one page is too much. 

What Information Should You Include in a Cover Letter?

Each paragraph of your cover letter should carry specific information, and each section on the page must contain pertinent details for the recruiter. Here is what your letter should consist of:

Parts of a Cover LetterWhat To Include
HeaderYour name and surname
Your cell phone number
Your email address
Current date
Company name and address
GreetingDear Mr. Jensen
Dear Hiring Manager
To whom it may concern
Opening paragraphReasons for writing
Mention of the company name and the exact role you’re applying for
The reason you should be considered for the role
Main paragraphsRelevant skills, experience, and qualifications
Explanation of how they pertain to the role
Closing paragraphWhat you like about the company
What value you can bring
Emphasis on why you are the perfect fit for the role
A call to action
Signing offSincerely
Best regards
Respectfully

Cover Letter Dos and Don’ts

When writing a cover letter, besides the appropriate cover letter length, you have to pay attention to other relevant details. Here is an overview of what you should and shouldn’t do when writing your cover letter:

DoDon’t
Focus on the value you can bring to the company
Emphasize the skills you have and tie them to the role
Explain why you want the job
Use keywords from the job ad
Focus on how the company can help you advance your career
Apologize for the skills and experiences you lack
Discuss the negative sides of your current job
Use buzzwords
Include too much information about the company you are applying to

Sending Your Cover Letter by Email

A young Asian woman working on her laptop

Source: RODNAE Productions

Most often, candidates attach their resumes and cover letters to an email. It is also acceptable to include your cover letter in the body of the email. In that case, the letter should be even shorter and not as structured as a traditional cover letter. 

Recruiters typically pay the most attention to the first paragraph, so you have to make it impactful. State why you are writing, mention the role you are interested in and the company name, and explain why you are a good candidate briefly. 

Whether you will attach your letter or write a version of it in the body of the email, you mustn’t forget the email subject line. It tells the reader what the email is about and allows them to sort emails accordingly. 

The subject line should include the role you are applying for and your name. Alternatively, you can include the name of the person who referred you. It’s best to keep the subject line up to 30 characters long. 

Make Your Job Search Effortless

As per the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in December 2021, job seekers remained unemployed for 12.9 weeks on average. 23% of the currently unemployed applied for more than 30 jobs in a single year. Only a tiny percentage of all the applicants get invited for an interview. 

Although the unemployment rate dropped to 6%, as the BLS reports, the situation is still pretty challenging. 

Looking for a job is a nightmare for many. It may take you days of searching before you finally spot a job ad worth applying for. 

Once you do, you need to ensure that your skills and qualifications match the required ones. You have to see if the job description fits your preferences. It is also wise to research the company to see if you like its values. 

Or you can try Lensa—a job aggregator that allows you to set your preferences and receive job recommendations that are suitable for you.

Using Lensa offers many great benefits:

  • Access to numerous job boards from a single place
  • An option to personalize your account, so you get matched with a company that suits your preferences
  • An opportunity to learn more about your work style and personality by playing the Workstyle Game
  • SMS and email notifications when there is an appropriate job opening

How To Make the Most of Lensa

Lensa can make your job hunting experience so much easier, and it all starts with a quick and simple registration process. Here’s all you need to do to get started:

  1. Visit Lensa
  2. Type in the job title, specify the desired location, and click Search
  3. Enter your email address and hit Submit

Now you can start browsing job ads. If you want to make the most of your Lensa experience, take some of the following steps:

  • Play the Workstyle Game to get an accurate assessment of your soft skills and other traits
  • Provide more demographic data, such as your preferred salary, experience, and education
  • Upload your resume to unlock two helpful features—Company Reviews and Matching Companies

The more information you provide on yourself and your job preferences, the better Lensa can match you with companies that are not only in your area but also fit your desired compensation profile and your personality. 

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