With ever-decreasing attention spans, there is much debate these days as to how long a cover letter should be. Read on to get answers, learn tips, and attain gainful employment
Why write a cover letter?
A good cover letter can illuminate your personality in a way that resumes seldom can. Instead of being restricted to listing what you did at previous jobs, you’re free to say point blank who you are, what you’re about, and what you can do for your new potential company. And you can show off your personality in the writing itself; if not, sell whatever you do have—everyone has something.
How long should your cover letter be?
Most experts recommend a minimum of half a page, and maximum of one page. The optimal word count ranges from 250-400 words, broken into three to four paragraphs. And in the busy world we live in, shorter is better. We tend to repeat ourselves and overemphasize our points; cutting the fat will ensure your words hold more power. Think of how much poetry or song lyrics can say in surprisingly few words.
What about email cover letters?
If you’re emailing a cover letter, especially in the body of the email as opposed to an attachment, it’s best to write an even shorter message.
The person reading it is likely inundated with emails and will appreciate something that gets to the point and packs a punch.
Adjust length based on your audience
Think about who is reading your cover letter. If you’re writing to a university, consider a longer letter, since most academics are used to and even enjoy—reading. You may opt for a higher level of diction as well.
On the other hand, if you’re writing to a Hollywood producer — one more accustomed to images over words — keep it as short and easy to read as possible.
What should you include in a cover letter?
- Key information about what you’re good at, what you like about the job/field, and why you’d be a good fit for the company.
- A dose of personality. Show them who you are! Just as you select items of clothing to form an outfit, the words you string together to build sentences will reveal your personal style.
- Evidence that you’re well-versed in the company’s history and/or culture.
What shouldn’t you include in a cover letter?
- Cliches. Everybody will say they’re a hard worker. Make a list of things you bring to the table. The attributes that are most unique are the ones you should lead with.
- Grammatical errors. Anything less than impeccable spelling/grammar suggests a lack of care. An attention to detail is reassuring for someone making a financial investment in you as a hire. Despite your best intentions, you might not get hired if you’re not sure which “your” and “you’re” is correct in this sentence.
- Irrelevant information. Now I may care that you love to play pickleball on Sundays, but will your future boss? Don’t risk it! Stick to what makes you a good hire, and down the line at the holiday party you and your boss can discuss hobbies.
There you have it, folks: cover letters are important, shorter is better (but cater to your audience) and try to capture your unique personality on the page. If you heed the advice laid out here, you’ll soar above the competition, getting that much closer to your dream job.