How Long Should an Effective Cover Letter Be (Ideal Cover Letter Length) [2020]

how long should a cover letter be

Knowing the ideal length of a cover letter can help to determine what to write, how to write it, and how to ensure that your hiring manager reads your cover letter. Hiring managers read through thousands of resumes and applications. Your cover letter length is imperative for the hiring manager. They often scan through your job application assets, only stopping to read when something significant draws their attention.

An effective cover letter is similar to an effective email. It is short, contains insightful information, and has a call to action to the reader to entice them further. As a job seeker, writing your cover letter for your employer versus for your resume is key. This means to tailor what you write, how you write it, what accomplishments you focus on, and more. It should speak to both the employer and the job description or job posting.

Here are some guidelines when considering the length of your cover letter during your job search.

Write briefly and with intent

Speak to your prospective employer directly. And with clear intent. Support why you are a good fit for the position by showing career accomplishments you feel the hiring manager will appreciate from a job applicant. Avoid telling your life story or telling stories that don’t align with what the job advertisement suggested. This will keep your communication brief, naturally.

Tip: Avoid introducing yourself by saying “Dear Hiring Manager” — find the hiring manager’s name and use that to open your cover letter.

Make your second paragraph metrics

Instead of writing a paragraph explaining why you’re a good fit for the job, include relevant work accomplishments that speak volumes about your experience. And avoid writing a story that shows your fit to the recruiter or hiring manager. For example, having your entire second paragraph be telling the hiring manager why this is your dream job. This will naturally keep your cover letter on the more terse side. A great cover letter has at least 3 high-impact career accomplishments that show relevant experience to the job title.

Make your first paragraph a supportive statement

Make your first paragraph a reiteration of what you believe the company values. For example, state, “It appears the job requires a high degree of collaboration with teams and challenging the financial industry.” For your potential employer, this can manage their expectations about what you’re presenting in your cover letter.

Don’t aim for a specific word count

How long should a cover letter be? Only as long as it takes to make your point. Don’t have a specific word count in mind that you want to reach. If you can make your point in 200 words, use 200 words. If you need 400 words, then use 400 words. Keep your cover letter one-page at the most but keep it terse. The ideal cover letter length is one that packs a targeted punch with as little words as possible (remember, hiring managers don’t have much time).

Aim for a strong cover letter

A unique cover letter will stand out to your hiring manager. It’s one that has relevant career accomplishments that support what you can bring to the company. It speaks to each qualification the job requires. And it shows strong presentation skills and communication skills when the letter is short, impactful, and free of grammatical errors.

Make your third paragraph an ask

When ending your cover letter, write a question instead of just simply thanking the reader. Mention available times for a phone interview or ask the reader to go to specific parts of your resume to see more insights on what you can bring to the position or company. Having a call to action at the end of your cover letter will keep it short since this replaces your closing paragraph.

Keep your cover letter format basic

Use a business letter format. Don’t try to make a unique cover letter format. While a business letter format might feel like you’re creating a generic cover letter, it’s what’s inside your cover letter that your hiring manager cares about. Speak to the accomplishments of a specific job you’ve had in the past and how that relates to the job requirements and company values. But do so in a terse fashion by thinking of it as a sales pitch. These are the elements that make up a perfect cover letter, not the number of words you have on the page.

If you feel confused, check out the cover letter template and cover letter example resources.

Cover Letter Resources

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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