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Written by Charlotte GraingerCharlotte Grainger

How long should a cover letter be? Read our snappy guide

7 min read
How long should a cover letter be? Read our snappy guide
Artwork by:Alina Kugush
Before you put pen to paper, you need to know how long your cover letter should be. Read our guide to make sure that you get it right.

Recruiters are busy bees… so keep your application short and sweet! 

Your creative juices are flowing and you’re itching to put pen to paper. Before you get writing, there’s one question that’s burning in your mind. How long should a cover letter be? Too long and you will bore the socks off the hiring manager. 

Too short and you might end up leaving out vital information that could land you the interview. Much like Goldilocks, you’re looking to get the cover letter length “just right”. 

Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Here at Resume.io, we have everything you need to enhance your job search. In the following guide, we will go over these topics: 

  • Why you need to include a cover letter in your next application
  • The ideal cover letter length and why
  • Advice on how to keep your cover letter to the word count.

What is the point of a cover letter, anyway?

Before we talk about the ideal cover letter length, let’s get down to the basics. Why should you write a cover letter in the first place? If your CV has done its job, you might think that you’re a shoo-in for the interview. However, adding a cover letter to your application can strengthen it. Here are some of the reasons that you should include this document: 

  • Showcase your personality. Hiring managers don’t want robots — they want humans who fit neatly into the company culture. A well-written cover letter shows off your unique personality and gives them a taste of who you are as a professional.
  • Add some color to your application. “Colour” is the name we give to the interesting details that help to tell your career story. Think of it as painting a picture for the reader. When you write your CV, your space is naturally limited. You need to get the basics down on paper. With a cover letter, you can afford to elaborate more.
  • Offers a personal introduction. A cover letter gives you the chance to say a warm “hello” to the hiring manager. It is your only opportunity to address them directly. If you have anything specific you want to say to them, speak up now.
  • Fill in the blanks. Did you take a career break? Do you have blank spaces on your CV? If the answer is yes, your cover letter is the ideal place to fill them in. Since this is a freeform document, you will have room to explain anything you need.

If you’re a creative type, the cover letter will be your favourite part of any application. It’s where you can let loose and make your case to the hiring manager. Consider what it is that makes you perfect for the job at hand and include this information in the letter. 

The ideal cover letter length

Okay, so how many words should a cover letter be? While there’s no hard and fast rule here, your cover letter should not exceed 400 words (ideally, it should be closer to 300) and needs to fit onto one A4 page. Here’s what you need to include in the letter:

  • Header
  • Greeting/salutation
  • Introduction
  • Middle section (body)
  • Closing (conclusion and sign-off).

Using the above structure means that you won’t stray too much from the central topic. Crafting an engaging cover letter that piques the interest of the hiring manager is a real art form. If you want more information on how to master it, read our full cover letter guide now.

What happens if a cover letter is too long?

If words are spilling out onto the page in front of you, it’s time to start editing. Writing a long cover letter may do more harm than good. Hiring managers are busy and don’t have the time to read long application letters when they are selecting candidates. 

Put simply, they want to glance at an application and swiftly pop it in the “yes” or “no” pile. While some readers may persevere with your lengthy letter, others won’t bother. Don’t give the hiring manager any reason to reject your application before fully reading it. 

Statistical insight

Every second counts! 

Recruiters spend an average of seven seconds looking at each new application. That’s not a whole load of time to win them over. Keep your cover letter length short and keep their attention. Confronting the reader with pages of text is likely to overwhelm them. 

Tips on sticking to a short cover letter length 

Worried about sticking to the 400-word limit? Don’t panic. While it may not sound like a whole load of space to get your point across, there are some tips you can use to help: 

  • Keep your writing lean. There’s more than one way to skin a cat… and there are countless ways to say the exact same thing. So, when you’re writing your cover letter, consider the leanest way to get your point across.
  • Cut out the preamble. Do you take five sentences to get to the point? Cut it out — literally. You don’t need to add a big lead-up to every point that you put across. Read your cover letter back and see whether every sentence is valuable.
  • Don’t try to cover everything! Save your childhood anecdotes for your memoir. When writing a persuasive cover letter, you need to stick to the most important nuggets of information. If you’re unsure whether a particular point makes the grade, ask yourself whether it will help to convince the hiring manager of your credentials.
  • Edit, edit, and then edit some more. The final thing that you need to do is edit your cover letter. When you have written your first draft, go back and read through it in its entirety. Which sections stand out to you and which could you cut?

Using the above tips should help you keep your word count on point. If you’re looking for some extra help along the way, ask a friend or family member to read the letter. Their feedback may help you to create a cover letter that turns hiring managers’ heads. 

How to start a cover letter (with 14+ examples)
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How to start a cover letter (with 14+ examples)

Candidates don’t have an automatic right to a hiring manager’s time. The start of a cover letter should give their future boss a compelling reason to read further.

The takeaway 

  • Writing a persuasive cover letter is a smart way to get ahead when applying for jobs. You can show off your personality and build upon the information in your CV.
  • As a general rule, your cover letter should be no longer than 400 words.
  • Get straight to the point when writing your cover letter. You want to engage the reader from the very first word!
  • Ready to get started? Take the heavy lifting out of writing your application by using one of our field-tested cover letter templates now.
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