We asked managers and HR experts their advice on how long your cover letter should be.
James Lloyd Townshend
Chairman and CEO, Nelson Frank International
I think a good cover letter is a vastly underrated part of the application process. It can really stand out and in my opinion, is probably the biggest area for improvement for most candidates applying for jobs.
A cover letter gives an employer a good indicator of your soft skills, which can often be more difficult to define than more quantifiable, practical skills. For that reason, it’s arguably even more important than your resume.
It’s the best chance we, as hiring managers, get to see your personality, and can often help us make a judgment over whether you might be a good fit culturally.
I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a specific format for a cover letter, the only rule I’d suggest is to keep it to one page. It’s more important to stay focussed and provide information relevant to the role itself. If you have lots to say on the matter then that’s fine, but unnecessary waffle will reflect badly on you.
One easy tip is to print a copy of the job specifications and a copy of your cover letter. Line them up side by side and each time one of the prospective employer’s requirements is mentioned in your letter, cross that sentence out.
Once you’ve been through it, there shouldn’t be too many sentences left, and certainly no big paragraphs. And if you can’t cross out without the pen going on to the next line, it probably needs to be a little better spaced!
Founder & CEO, Begin Within
There is no “one size fits all” cover letter. A great cover letter is short, sweet and easy to scan for the hiring team. People are busy and the last thing they want is to read a detailed novella about your work history. The best cover letters tell a tangible story about how your accomplishments solve the problems faced by the hiring team or company.
Key Cover Letter Tips:
- Ensure the cover letter heading and font matches your résuméto create a tidy and professional package.
- The first paragraph is a great place to name drop or mention why you’re interested in the position. “My mentor John Smith the XYZ, Inc. Human Resources Director recommended I reach out.”
- Finish the first paragraph with a simple statement about how your work experience and personal “why” align with what the company is searching for.
- Next, use several bullet points with bolded and italicized headings to highlight accomplishments for the top competencies specified in the job announcement.
- The closing paragraph should include a thank you statement, an invitation to contact and express your interest in the position.
Every cover letter should be different because every job is different. Hiring managers, recruiters and HR specialists can spot a generic cover letter from a mile away and generic demonstrates laziness and a lack of effort on behalf of the applicant.
Recruiting Director & Career Strategist, Kforce
Some people are familiar with the concept of a “resume heat map.” The summary of this concept is that most recruiters and hiring manager spend about 6 seconds on a resume, so eyes are specifically scanning for certain words, phrases, and focal points.
Cover letters are also subject to the heat map phenomenon. Employers are looking for specific words, skills, and phrases that are directly applicable to this position, positioned in the upper portion of the document, and a cover letter should never be more than 1/2 to 2/3 of a page long (or the equivalent in an email).
Some specific tips:
- One size does not fit all. You should craft a unique custom letter for each position you apply to. Each cover letter should specifically use language and keywords from the job description that describe your skills as they relate to the role.
- The subject line should be quick and relevant – always mention the job title. Example: “Applicant for Senior Tax Accountant role – Job ID #543”
- Keep important information about your fit for the role in the first paragraph. This is your “hook” statement – if the manager or HR person reads nothing else, make sure you mention in the first few lines why you are a great fit for the position and worthy of further review.
- Don’t regurgitate the resume. This is an opportunity for you to bring some new selling points about your skill set and your personality to the table. If they want a full list of your technical skills, they can review our resume for that.
- Check your grammar and spelling, and then check it again. If you don’t have attention to detail in the cover letter, the perception is that you won’t have it anywhere else.
Managing Director, Full Stack Talent
I’d like to offer the perspective of a recruiting agency. We see resumes come through with cover letters when really, there’s no need.
When we take you on as a candidate and submit you to our clients, it’s without the cover letter. Those never, ever make it in. When we talk to you, we write our own summary of your skills, which we call a ‘sizzle’: it’s basically a short paragraph about how amazing your core skills are.
So, I’d say if you’re going to send your resume to recruiting firms, save the time and nix the cover letter. We are your cover letter.
Customer and Career Services Division Manager, Virtual Vocations
When it comes to cover letters, always keep it to one page or less. Employers have hundreds of applications to sift through, so yours needs to make a good impression quickly.
Start out with an opening paragraph that describes the position you’re applying for and why you’re a good fit for that specific job posting.
I even encourage job seekers to use bullet points in their cover letters to outline specific achievements and credentials they have that are related to the job requirements in a way that’s easy for employers to read.
It’s often overlooked, but it’s also important to create a brand for yourself in your application—and stick to it. Your cover letter should always have the same branding as your resumé as far as appearance and style, and both should contain the same information. If you highlight different skill sets in each one, you won’t get a callback.
Director of Operations, MyCorporation
Your cover letter is the first impression an interviewer or recruiter will have of you, the applicant. The ideal cover letter should be no longer than a page long.
It should be addressed to someone specific within the organization — either the name of the contact associated with the job listing or a member of HR. If you don’t know the proper name to include, look up the company on LinkedIn and find out the name of the current contact in their human resources department.
Each cover letter should cover four key areas.
- How your professional experience and skills apply to the position.
- If you are passionate about the industry or job.
- The amount of knowledge you have about the company.
- What makes you the perfect candidate for the role.
Open with an introduction paragraph that immediately grabs the recruiter’s attention. Your intro paragraph should include your name and the position you’re applying for. It can have a humorous or witty opening comment or it can describe what you are passionate about in relation to the job opening. It can also reflect on one of your professional accomplishments.
Keep your cover letter short and to the point. Include a separate section for skills, instead of cramming every skill into two sentences.
Don’t forget your contact information for how to reach the applicant either! This should include your phone number, professional email, and your home address (as needed, depending on whether or not it was requested by the recruiter).
You may also consider using online tools, like Canva or Stencil, to design a cover letter that stands out from the rest. These tools allow you to organize your cover letter in a fun manner and include pops of color.
CMO, GoodLife Home Loans
A cover letter is an essential part of the job application process and unfortunately is something that is often overlooked by applicants because it is not always required. Some job applications have a cover letter as an optional addition to your application but applicants should consider it a requirement. This is an opportunity to present yourself to an employer in a more personal way than your resume will.
A cover letter should never be over a page long. Typically, a good cover letter has about 3 paragraphs and is roughly around 200-400 words. Your cover letter should be formatted into 3 sections.
The first section should be a brief statement of how you found the job and why you qualify for the position. The second paragraph should highlight your most important skills and experience that show why you are qualified for the job. Use that second paragraph as an opportunity to demonstrate qualities that are going to help you stand out. Don’t write about all of your skills, that’s what your resume is for, just focus on the most important ones.
The third paragraph should be a closing statement that thanks to the employer for their consideration and the best times to reach you to discuss the opportunity further. If you’re actively applying to jobs, you may have a set template for your cover letter that you’ve been sending out.
While it’s fine to include the same skills and experience in each cover letter, it’s important that you make the letter specific to the position. Another great tip when it comes to a cover letter is making connections. You can easily reach out to current employees via LinkedIn. Make these connections to get insight into the company and the specific position. You can create that connection and use them as a point of reference in your cover letter when letting the employer know how you came across the job.
The purpose of a cover letter is to grab the employers attention and convince them why you are the best candidate for the position. Make it clear, concise, and specific, while still adding that personal touch to sell yourself and land an interview.
Founder & CEO, United Capital Source, Inc.
It is still true, cover letters do matter. When I am seeking out top talent, my team and I review their resume and cover letter thoroughly. This means we are looking for something that stands out.
When writing a cover letter, be sure to engage the reader immediately, skip the “I am writing to apply for XYZ position” introduction and create a compelling opening.
Instead of diving into your skills and past experience (which is on your resume), consider what you can do for this company, and then create content that shares this answer. Use creativity and show your personality through the story you tell. Be sure to gauge the culture of the brand and cater your word choice and level of conversational writing accordingly.
As someone who has read through countless resumes and cover letters, you want to use this as an opportunity to showcase what goes beyond your degree and your years in a job.
Everyone can say they are hardworking and passionate, instead of listing out your skills, show the company how you are doing these things through an example, through a story, within the letter.
Nothing generates memory and connection better than a compelling story that applies to their company or the role. Conclude the letter with all of your contact information and share a CTA (call to action). Let them know how to reach you and what your next steps are, and hopefully theirs.
President, PMG Home Loans
A good cover letter will be addressed to the organization and reference the job in which they are applying. An excellent cover letter will be addressed to a specific department or recruiter, describe the position they are applying and not just reference the organization but also qualify their opinion of the company with an adjective.
Several sentences describing how they believe their skill set and work experience (or life experience if no prior history yet exists) would benefit the company culture (as they understand it) should also be included.
In addition, adding some personal touches that relate to the position are very helpful when reading through a cover letter. Everyone says they are a “team player” but by describing what that means to the job seeker and how that trait can fit into the company structure and available position is important when sifting through resumes of applicants for a position.
A nice, clean font such as Times Roman is appreciated—avoid fancy or script fonts. A separate cover letter or electronic submission with the resume is acceptable.
This is the job seekers first opportunity to make an impression so no “short cut” or text language. Full sentences and proper use of grammar and punctuation matter, so take your time to submit a thoughtful and well-composed cover letter to set yourself apart from the mass of applicants.
CEO and Co-Founder, LLG Events
At LLG Events, length of a cover letter doesn’t matter as long as it conveys three things:
- How you’ll add value to the company.
- Why you believe in yourself.
- One thing you would improve about our company.
I want to see that you’ve done your research and you’re able to demonstrate the skills listed on your resume – so if you’re a graphic designer, your materials should reflect. Create a personal brand, link to your bigger portfolio. And when you mention what you would improve about our company, always offer a solution. That is your value added to the company.
As long as those aspects are conveyed, your cover letter will be read. If you provide supporting materials beyond the cover letter, that’s even better.
Director of the Division of International Health, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
If the application process does not include an application form, you should definitely include a cover letter. If there is an online application form, then only attach a cover letter if there is a prompt to attach additional documents.
The format of the letter should be the same as the resume you sent. If you sent your resume via email, the cover letter can be in the body of the email or attached as a pdf. If you send the resume on paper, then the cover letter should be provided on paper.
One of the main things that many people forget to include in the cover letter is the exact position that they are applying to, which should be part of the heading. I often have several opportunities available at the same time and unless your cover letter says which you are applying for, I will have to guess.
The letter should be polite, but not overly flowery or including unnecessary pleasantries. The line: “I hope this letter finds you well…” is one of my most hated and makes me wish that I could have back all the time I have spent reading that. Start your letter with the necessary information such as: “This letter is to express my interest in the position of…” is a good enough start.
As an employer, I prefer to receive cover letters that are bulleted, stating highlights about why you would be a good candidate for the position, saying intangible things about you that may not be in your resume. It could also include information about your availability for interview and various ways in which you can be reached for an interview. The letter should not be more than the equivalent of 1 page.
It is important that when I receive a cover letter, it is detailed as possible. I expect the candidate to have done their research on the company and address their application directly to the responsible person internally. Performing this research always indicates seriousness on the part of the candidate.
When I have finished reading a cover letter, I expect to have an insight into the background of the candidate in question. Therefore I like to see someone selling their previous relevant experience as well as displaying their genuine interest in an open role and the company as a whole.
In my opinion, a cover letter should be as concise as possible. I believe that it should be restricted to four paragraphs of relevant information at the most.
Finally, I believe that cover letters should be forwarded in PDF format. Aesthetically cover letters look far more professional when sent on in the aforementioned style than Microsoft Word for instance.
Here’s a twist— no one needs a cover letter anymore unless you’re in academia. Cover letters are not read by recruiting/HR professionals and further, they aren’t integrated into most applicant tracking systems.
Career Expert, Zety
The ideal cover letter can immediately land you a job interview. It sends a signal you’re worth looking into, so you have to make it just right. If your cover letter is too short, the recruiter may think you don’t care. Too long? Discard Pile. It indicates you are unfocused.
The optimal cover letter will not exhaust your reader while still conveying all important information. It will be approximately 1/2 to 2/3 of a page in length with 3 or 4 paragraphs and a word count around 300. It should never be 2 pages long.
Since you don’t have much space, fill your cover letter with information that is professional and attention-grabbing at the same time. Make each word count. Answer three important questions: Why this company? Why this position? Why you?
Include your email address, the date, the name of the hiring manager and their professional title, the name of the company to which you’re applying. Optionally, add a link to your online portfolio (for electronic versions).
Have three formats of your cover letter ready: paper, PDF, and email. For the email cover letter, use short sentences and short paragraphs. Recruiters tend to skim most emails.
Co-Founder & CEO, Chargebacks911®
In my experience, a cover letter is like any other piece of writing: it needs to be long enough to tell the story, no more, no less. I had a copywriter once respond with a 2-page cover letter that was so engaging and informative, I was all the way through it before I realized I was still reading. On the other hand, I’ve received 2-paragraph covers that were pointless.
What I look for in a cover letter is an insight into you, as a person. Don’t tell me the jobs you’ve had — that should all be in your résumé. I love that you’ve done some background on my company, but reciting my own statistics back at me isn’t impressive.
Show me why you are the best person for this position. Show me the drive that makes me say “I really want this person working for me, and not for my competition.”
The vast majority of cover letters are perfectly fine, perfectly formal, and perfectly “bleah”! You want to catch my attention, don’t be “bleah”.
HR Director, Astreem
A cover letter may seem unimportant, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort to master in order to impress your potential employers. The first thing to consider would be the length. For our company, we think that it should be approximately 300 words – succinct enough to tell us significantly, relevant details without narrating your entire life story.
Next, the format matters as well because it’s one of the things (besides length) that will catch our eye when we first come across your cover letter. To make your letter more digestible, you can consider breaking the paragraphs up with subheadings. Also, keep in mind that each paragraph should not be too long/chunky.
After we have ticked the boxes on the length and format of your cover letter, then comes the content. Ensure that all the information that you have included fulfills the purpose of showcasing how you are fit for the role and how you are different from the rest.
Lastly, always make sure to double check your work – the company name should be correct and the content has to be relevant. There should be no spelling or grammar mistakes no matter what role you’re applying for, but especially for editing and content writing roles.
A cover letter is an impression of how you present and sell yourself, so there should be a lot of thought and effort put into it.
Career Counselor, ResumeGenius
Generally, cover letters should be one page long. Most cover letter samples available online are this length for a reason: employers’ interest takes a dip if they have more to read. Savvy job seekers should keep their cover letters concise to maximize the chances it’ll be read in its entirety.
If you do find that you’re struggling to keep your content to one page, there are some general formatting tips that can help you fit everything in. For instance, you can shrink your margins to anywhere from 1”–1½”. You can also try reducing your font size, but be careful — the last thing you want to do is hurt the overall readability of your cover letter.
From a structural standpoint, I always suggest that cover letters be four paragraphs long.
The first paragraph should introduce you, your qualifications, your expertise, and why you’re applying for the job.
The second paragraph should describe how your prior job experience, skills, and achievements will ensure you meet the company’s needs. While some of this information is touched upon in your resume, your cover letter is a chance to explain such career highlights in greater detail.
For the third paragraph, you should do a little research into the company’s ambitions and explain how your contributions will help the company realize its future goals. While these may not always be easy to locate, you’ll definitely leave an impression on a hiring manager if it’s clear you’ve done your homework.
Finally, the fourth paragraph is the “call the action,” where you formally express your interest in being interviewed. Repeat your email address and phone number here for the hiring manager’s convenience, and thank them for their time (hopefully, they made it all the way to the bottom to receive your thanks!)
If you include a subject line before the salutation (which can be a great idea), make sure it’s something similar to “Application for XYZ position,” where “XYZ” is the job title.
Co-Founder and Realtor, Chance Realty, LLC.
As an employer, I feel as though one page is sufficient for a cover letter. This offers ample space for prefacing their resume without going over the top with excess information.
People who tend to do multiple pages tend to overthink and ramble on instead of just saying what needs to be said. This sets the tone for another important quality that we look for in employees which is the ability to communicate fluidly and cohesively.
Someone who can express themselves while keeping the dialogue professional and concise is better suited for tackling issues that arise in the workplace.
Marketing Director, Mashvisor
A cover letter should be about one page in length. It should definitely not go over the one-page limit. Recruiters and HR professionals go over dozens, sometimes even hundreds of applications to fill in a single position, so you don’t want to get them bored and fed up while reading your cover letter.
Moreover, you should be able to summarize the most important information about yourself in a few paragraphs in a way that captures the attention of the recruiter. The purpose of the cover letter is to introduce you to the employer and get his/her attention to invite you for an interview, where you will be able to provide all the necessary details.
On the other hand, you should not write much less than a page because this simply doesn’t look serious. You want to show the recruiter that you put the time and efforts into writing this cover letter and were not in a hurry to just complete it.
It is crucially important that your cover letter is properly formatted and consistent throughout in order to make a positive impression and to show – rather than tell – that you are detail oriented and responsible.
These are characteristics that your employer will appreciate and expect no matter what position you are applying for. Moreover, you should make sure that your cover letter has no spelling, grammar, or other language mistakes. This can prevent you from getting a job you are perfectly qualified for.
And of course, don’t lie in your cover letter. Don’t try to fake experience or a skill you don’t have. An experienced recruiter will catch that right away.
PHRHR Director, Find A Therapist
A cover letter should highlight how your skills and qualifications are compatible with that which the company seeks. There’s no need to provide so much detail that your cover letter runs on for pages.
One of the biggest mistakes applicants make is to provide a cover letter that’s so long and contains so many unnecessary statements/words that the hiring manager is immediately turned away.
Generally, a good cover letter is limited to one page and only 3-4 helpful paragraphs. Your cover letter is meant to entice a hiring manager to continue viewing your application packet in total and to bring you in for an interview. The interview will be the proper place for fact-finding so there’s no need to provide every bit of information in your cover letter. Hiring managers already have your resume.
The cover letter is an additional application material which is supposed to make them want to continue on to read your resume. It’s not helpful if companies see the very same information provided on both documents.
Make sure your cover letter is expanding on skills and qualifications that might be addressed in your resume, but don’t repeat them verbatim. Use the cover letter to discuss, in your own words, why you’re a great candidate for the position.
Founder, Off The Clock Resumes, LLC
I’ve noticed that the best feedback has been given to cover letters that are one-page with concise, easy-to-skim paragraphs that say more than just, “I have the qualifications and skills you want!” Instead of regurgitating what your resume already says, the best cover letters connect the dots for employers that you’re the best fit for the company.
Use the first concise paragraph to not only indicate which job you’re applying for but also what it is about that company’s mission, vision, or values that make you want to work for that company.
Focus on humanizing your application in the second paragraph. Describe your career-related passions, your drive to succeed, what problems you fix, how you’ve made a difference for employers in the past, or what you’ve been told you do better than others by peers or supervisors. You can use a short bullet list with highlights from your resume to help support this section strategically.
Finally, write a short paragraph answering any specific questions asked in the job posting (such as salary requirements) or highlighting any relevant soft skills that show off your personality. End the cover letter with the anticipation of an interview and the best way to contact you to schedule an interview.
Marcia Rodes, EdD
Head of School, The Polytech
A cover letter should be one page only, if at all possible because I just get so many of them every time a position is posted. Some cover letters ramble on and on and it makes a far better impression when you simply share makes you stand out from the herd.
Your resume will say what you’ve done, so there’s no need to duplicate that info in the cover letter, which should really share why you have interest in this position. If you can say something about why you’re a good fit with the company or the position, then that’s what grabs my attention.
As both a career coach and a marketing professional who has hired new team members, I have seen a lot of cover letters, good and bad. Ideally, a cover letter should be one-page maximum, but it depends on the level of expertise required for the job and how much relevant experience you have.
An entry level position can easily be just three sections: An introduction and explanation of how the candidate found the role, a description of the experience that makes them a good candidate for the job, and a conclusion with contact information and a polite closing. For example:
“I’m excited to apply for the position of customer service representative that your company posted on Indeed.com. Given your company’s commitment to customer focus and my own history in service roles, I am well suited to take on this role with a quick transition for your team since I am already familiar with X, Y, and Z.
I look forward to speaking with you about my credentials and can be reached at 555-5555 or via email.“
Flesh out each section into its own paragraph of 2-5 sentences, but it’s okay to state that the reader should reference your resume. The cover letter is also a great place to highlight experience that isn’t listed on the resume to provide a more robust pitch all around.
Unless the posting specifies that you should apply via mail, always go digital and save your resume and cover letter as a PDF to attach. Candidates should also consider their email to the hiring manager as a secondary cover letter and should provide a truncated version of their letter in the body of the email.
The subject line should be to the point, including the position name and possibly the applicant’s name as well. For example: “Customer Service Representative – Caitlin Fisher.