If you’re wondering how long a cover letter should be, this article has everything you need to know … based on my experience as a recruiter.
I’m going to tell you why most job seekers make their cover letters way too long and how you might do it Get MORE interviews by writing LESS in your cover letter.
Also, I’ll give you the exact ideal word count that I recommend and some examples of the length of a good and bad cover letter!
How long should a cover letter be?
As a recruiter, I recommend that your cover letter be 75 to 250 words long. This includes printed and email cover letters, and applies to cover letter writing in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. However, the exact ideal number of words in your cover letter also depends on your industry and the job search situation.
Job seekers who need to explain employment gaps, a recent career path change, etc., may want to use more words in their cover letter than people with a more normal background.
A job seeker who stays on his current industry and career path (e.g. moving from software engineer to senior software engineer) and doesn’t have to explain a long job gap should try to be at the bottom of the recommended number of cover letters mentioned above – somewhere between 70 and 150 words.
For example, my favorite Harvard Business Review cover letter template is only 76 words:
If you customize this cover letter, the word count will likely go up a bit, but it will stay much shorter than what most job seekers send. And that’s good!
This type of letter will be very different from what most job seekers send and what you’ve recommended online, and that’s often a plus.
Next, I’ll explain why a shorter cover letter can improve your chances of hearing back to an application.
4 advantages of a shorter letter length
Now that you know how many words a cover letter should contain, let’s talk about why I recommend this as the ideal length.
There are four things that happen if you keep your cover letter relatively short …
1. What sets you apart is that you are different
Here is an example of a typical full-page cover letter that many job seekers send:
If you’ve sent something like this in the past, it is NOT your fault …
Almost every cover letter template website recommends this format and you are constantly being told to submit.
But that’s the nice thing about limiting your cover letter to my ideal cover letter length of 75 to 250 words. It’s different from what everyone else is doing!
At first glance, you show the hiring manager that your cover letter is unique and worth reading. They show that you won’t be halfway bored with another generic sleep-in letter that includes information from a template or information already on your resume.
On the other hand, if you send a full-page cover letter like the picture / example above, the hiring manager thinks, “Okay, here’s another large page of information to read that is likely based on a template.”
It happens to them over and over again all day.
That brings me to my next advantage …
2. Your cover letter will be read (not scanned!)
Most job seekers send cover letters that are so tedious that no one wants to read them. The hiring manager can read the second or third paragraph, but is unlikely to get through to the end.
Additionally, job hunters send cover letters that repeat information from their résumé that is of no value to the hiring manager or recruiter.
However, since your cover letter is short and ideally contains small paragraphs, it invites you to read. Hiring managers open your email or letter and think, “Great, I can read this with no problem.”
So read your cover letter from start to finish without skipping a word!
Because of this, you should always send the hiring manager a short cover letter, where each line has a purpose and a message, and do something to let them know why you deserved the interview.
You don’t have to take my word for it, however. Try it! Send half of your cover letters in the standard style shown above, but test what I suggest here on the other half. Significantly reduce the number of words, get to the point and only offer information that is not on your resume.
We have now looked at two reasons why the full-page cover letter is not the ideal length / procedure. But I still have two reasons for you …
3. You draw attention to your strongest points / skills
If you list 20 different skills and qualifications on your cover letter, it will be difficult for a recruiter or hiring manager to pick the most important parts.
If you just give your three or four strongest arguments as to why you fit their job description well, these points will stand out (and read as mentioned above).
Sometimes less is more and this is often the case with cover letters!
So this is another factor to consider when deciding how long you want your cover letter to be.
4. Receive your “call to action” so you can win more interviews
Finally, you should end every cover letter with a “call to action,” which I’ll explain in the next section.
Here are you ask for the interview, This is something that many job seekers don’t do right (or not at all) in their cover letter.
And if you keep your letter short, that final paragraph comes up relatively quickly … sometimes as a third or fourth paragraph … so it’s much more likely that the reader will get the full attention, which means you will get more interviews.
How many paragraphs should your cover letter contain?
The typical cover letter should contain three to seven paragraphs. Each paragraph should be relatively short and contain two to four sentences. This is especially important in the first paragraph of your cover letter where you want to entice the reader to read on by providing a short, punchy opening.
Generally, when you write to get a person’s attention, you focus heavily on making the first paragraph convincing, as this is your first impression, or “elevator distance,” why he should read on.
Recommended font size for the cover letter
The best font size for your cover letter is 12 points, regardless of whether you are sending a printed or email cover letter. Avoid fancy fonts and choose a simple, easy-to-read font like Calibri or Arial. Add lots of white space and small, expressive paragraphs. It is better to have several, concise paragraphs in your cover letter than one or two very long paragraphs. This helps with readability.
How to end your cover letter: Ask after the interview
This is another mistake many job seekers make with their cover letters, along with the repetition of information on the resume and the fact that they are way too lengthy. You don’t ask about the interview in your closing paragraph!
The whole point of the cover letter is to get you interviewed. After you’ve got the number of words you want, ask the hiring manager to call you and schedule a more in-depth meeting.
Here is an example of how you can complete an email cover letter:
I would like to discuss the position over the phone and provide a little more context on how I can help you in this role. Will you be available to call later this week or early next week? My phone number is 555-218-4987.
Or just use the cover letter from the first example in this Harvard Business Review article:
I have included my résumé for your review and would appreciate the opportunity to speak to you at some point.
However, I prefer a slightly stronger conclusion over a cover letter that really gets the hiring manager to respond to a direct question. That should get you more responses from your cover letter, regardless of the length of your cover letter!
Conclusion: how many words should a cover letter be?
Finally, I recommend a cover letter with a length of less than 250 words. It is 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 strengths and get the hiring manager’s attention without cluttering them with too much text or information. This will help you get more interviews and separate you from other job seekers who are sending out long, generic cut-and-paste cover letters with their applications.
However, as mentioned earlier, the length of your cover letter will depend on the industry (in a very formal, traditional industry, you may want to aim for a slightly longer word count).
If you have an unusual scenario to explain, your ideal cover letter length may be longer.
So don’t take the above advice as a hard and fast rule, just as a general guide on how long a typical cover letter should take to win more interviews.
As the last step, proofread everything! Sending a cover letter with a typo or mistake can cost you the interview, even if you have great qualifications and writing style.
Other resources for cover letters: