How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?
(Ideal Length)

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Are you applying for a new job? Whether you are a first-time job seeker or a seasoned professional, it is likely you will want to write and submit a cover letter with your application materials. An applicant’s resume and accompanying cover letter are, in essence, the first interview with a potential employer. Both components should be taken seriously and constructed with great care. While just over half of employers feel that a cover letter is necessary, the majority of hiring managers prefer brevity; most expect cover letters to be half a page or less or, at maximum, one full page in length.

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Is a Cover Letter Ever Really Optional?


It is important to realize that some organizations believe that cover letters are no longer absolutely necessary. According to one study, only 53% of employers feel that cover letters are essential and almost 30% said that they had no preference. This trend is probably most frequently seen during online application processes, as some of these hiring systems do not allow candidates to submit additional materials.

As a general rule, however, applicants should plan to submit cover letters if any of the following statements apply:

  • The job description or application directions require it
  • The employer, hiring manager, or recruiter requests one
  • The applicant is applying directly to an individual and knows his or her name
  • The applicant was referred by someone for the position

Cover Letter Structure


Cover letters generally include the following:

  • Contact information (name, physical address, phone number, and email address)
  • Employer contact information
  • Salutation
  • Content
  • Closing
  • Signature

It is worth noting that employer contact information is usually only necessary when sending a formal, hard copy letter to a physical mailing address. Applications sent to an email address or submitted through an online system do not require the employer’s physical address, phone number, or email address.

Writing a standard cover letter is similar to writing an educational essay. In most cases, it should consist of three to four paragraphs and be limited to a single page. The content provided is usually divided into three distinct sections: introduction, body, and conclusion.

Introduction


Cover letter introductions should state the position sought, as well as how the applicant learned about the opening. The goal is to express interest and provide a brief list of relevant qualifications including, but not limited to, education, experience, certification, and job-related skills.

Body


Cover letter bodies should highlight the most important applicant qualities pertinent to the position. Resumes provide specific work history details, while this section attempts to grab a potential employer’s attention. Specific examples of key skills and qualifications are also appropriate.

Conclusion


Cover letter conclusions should summarize a candidate’s interest and qualifications. Applicants may also request an interview or indicate an intent to follow up at a later date. Additionally, letters are best closed by expressing appreciation for the employer’s time and consideration.

Job-seekers should consider researching their specific field prior to writing and submitting cover letters. Not all industries have the same requirements and preferences. Viewing example letters specific to a certain field can influence formatting decisions.

What is the Ideal Length?


The length of a cover letter is important. Not writing enough can seem unprofessional, while writing too much may be off-putting for hiring managers. Best practice shows that letters should rarely be more than a single page. Most employers, though, seem to prefer short, concise letters.

According to one study, 68% of employers want applicants to submit cover letters that are half a page or less in length. The same study shows 20% of employers have no preference regarding and only 12% want full-page cover letters. While this study was regional, the general consensus leans toward “the shorter, the better.”

Again, however, job-seekers should consider researching field-specific standards prior to writing and submitting cover letters. Industry mentors may also be able to provide advice regarding unique requirements and preferences in the field.

What About an Email Cover Letter?


While print cover letters and email cover letters often consist of the same information, there are some distinct differences job-seekers should be aware of. Online formatting is often simpler and shorter, even if employers are expected to print the letter later. Hiring managers expect emails to be brief, with only the most pertinent information included.

Generally, the content can be limited to:

  • Position title
  • How the posting was found
  • Subtle call-to-action (interview request, etc.)
  • Full name and contact information

Applicants may also want to include information regarding an upcoming move or interview availability. It is appropriate to mention a referring colleague as well.

Dos and Don’ts for Cover Letters


Knowing what to do and not do when writing a cover letter is essential. Even a seemingly small mistake can result in elimination from the candidate pool, especially in high-demand jobs with numerous applicants.

Job-seekers should keep the following tips in mind:

Dos


  • Research the employer first
  • Use standard margins and fonts (Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri)
  • Size font at 10 or 12
  • Include space between paragraphs
  • Utilize same resume letterhead
  • Double-check subject lines in emails
  • Personalize content for every company and position
  • Include the hiring manager’s name (when able)
  • Identify the position sought
  • Proofread for typos and grammatical errors
  • Ask for a second option regarding content, formatting, and grammar
  • End with a statement of intent
  • Keep content concise
  • Use simple language and uncomplicated sentence structure
  • Highlight experiences relevant to the position
  • Choose strong action verbs to describe experiences
  • Utilize bullets when appropriate
  • Provide relevant examples
  • Show enthusiasm
  • Incorporate keywords from the job posting
  • Speak to the job requirements
  • Send the final document as a PDF
  • Take initiative and follow up

Don’ts


  • Write more than a single page
  • Use a generic salutation (i.e. To Whom It May Concern)
  • Try to include humor
  • Repeat information from a resume verbatim
  • Include cliché or trite phrases
  • Be negative about previous work experiences
  • Forget to include a personal signature
  • Provide false information or exaggerate
  • Confess weaknesses
  • Make excuses for a lack of certain skills
  • Copy and paste generic content from a template
  • Write in passive voice
  • Start the first paragraph with a name
  • Use jargon or emoji

Exceptions to the Rules


While there are many rules to keep in mind when writing a cover letter, it is important to realize there are always exceptions.

For example, candidates applying for high-level management positions can write cover letters that exceed the one-page standard length. This is generally only appropriate for professionals with extensive expertise and many relevant job-related examples to share. Exceeding two pages is still highly discouraged.

Again, this highlights the importance of researching specific fields and positions prior to submitting the application materials. Becoming familiar with job-specific standards and regulations will ensure the cover letter can be completed accurately and in a manner that will draw attention from hiring managers.

Additionally, job-seekers should pay close attention to special requests made by employers in job postings. Some hiring managers will ask applicants to provide information that may otherwise be frowned upon. Examples of this include school metrics, facts unrelated to the position, or information already provided in a resume.

Cover Letter Builders


Technological advancements make it easier than ever to write an impressive cover letter. Cover Letter Builders are programs that guide job-seekers step-by-step through the creation process. Many builders are available online and can even generate industry-specific, personalized cover letters for applicants.

Those who use a Cover Letter Builder are usually asked to choose between several cover letter templates. They then answer a variety of simple, work-related questions, which the program will use to fill the template. Afterward, applicants can personalize the document to look and feel the way they want it to. This process may be particularly beneficial to individuals with limited writing skills, insufficient work experience, or little time before the application materials are due.

Some of the most popular Cover Letter Builders include:

  • ResumeGenius – Creates perfectly tailored cover letters in just 15 minutes
  • LiveCareer – Builds a professional cover letter in three simple steps
  • Zety – Fast, easy, and effective cover letter generator
  • Many job search websites will have cover letter and resume builder resources for you to utilize.