Along with its partner, the resume, a cover letter is one of the only chances you have of being noticed by a hiring manager.
A cover letter gives you the opportunity to express your interest in a position and then enumerate the ways that your specific experiences and education have equipped you for it. This breathes some life into your application, especially compared to the stoicism of a resume.
The problem is that it’s easy to miss the mark with a cover letter. One of the most common mistakes is with cover letter length—too long and you appear disorganized and rambling; too short and you seem disinterested or ill-prepared. The length of a cover letter indicates your level of interest and professionalism to potential employers.
So, just how long should a cover letter be in terms of pages, how many words should a cover letter be, and what are some tips meet that length? Read on to find out!
How long should a cover letter be?
Your cover letter should fall somewhere between half a page and one page. To be clear, this means that half a page is too short, and a full-page is too long. The proper balance hangs between these two points.
What does this mean in terms of how many words a cover letter should be? The magic number is somewhere between 250-300. That word count should be broken up into 3-4 paragraphs so it’s easy for a hiring manager to read quickly. This will result in your cover letter length falling within that one half to one-page range.
Some cover letters must be sent as an email rather than attached with an application. This doesn’t have much bearing on how long a cover letter should be, but pay extra attention to concise wording. You can still use the same parameters as with other cover letter lengths (250-300 words broken up into 3-4 paragraphs) but work extra hard to front-load the cover letter in case the hiring manager simply skims the rest.
How can cover letter length be reduced?
More often than not, you’ll find yourself with more to say than space allows, particularly if you’re excited about a prospective position.
Beyond combing out irrelevant information, there are a few tricks you can use to ensure your cover letter length does not exceed a page.
Watch your spacing — double spacing is a hard habit to break, but it’s unnecessary for cover letters. Since these letters are relatively short (and should be broken up into several paragraphs anyway), you don’t need to worry about them looking crowded.
Choose a different font — most college graduates are very familiar with the fact that some fonts take up more space than others. For your cover letter, play around with some of the standard fonts to find one that fits your spacing needs.
Rework wording — cover letters are not the time to display your creative writing prowess. Be expressive, but watch out for wordiness. It’s a good idea to seek out some cover letter examples you can follow.
If none of these tips help to get you to the optimum length, it’s time to do some self-editing. Think hard about which sentences truly exemplify you as a candidate, and eliminate any that fall short.
It’s possible you’ll feel a little stuck when trying to craft a winning cover letter within these length parameters; if that’s the case, seek out an online resource to help walk you through the process.
Write a killer cover letter
Now that you’re past the point of asking, “how long is a cover letter?” you can get down to business. Every cover letter is different, but the process of writing them is largely the same.
Start by listing all of the reasons that you’re excited about a position, and why you think you’re qualified to fill it. From there, consolidate as many points as you can, and write a rough draft. If it reaches beyond a full-page, work on editing it down, or use some of the previously mentioned formatting tips. Make sure you take a break then return to re-read the letter at least once before submitting.
After you’ve double-checked the quality of your cover letter, make sure the length falls between half a page and a full-page, which translates to 250-300 words broken into several paragraphs.
If all of this sounds a little tedious and you’d rather feel certain you’re creating a winning cover letter from the start, consider reading our "How to Write A Killer Cover Letter" eBook to take the guesswork out of the process!