How Short is Too Short for a Cover Letter?

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Though they may seem outdated and unnecessary, a cover letter can make or break a jobseeker’s chances at an interview or callback, and cover letter length is very important. In fact, given that many job applications now take place online and through email, cover letters are more essential than ever in introducing applicants or conveying their personality and communication skills.

Unlike a resume, there is no set cover letter length, though professionals recommend keeping a cover letter to three or four paragraphs.. A cover letter’s purpose is to introduce jobseekers to hiring managers and showcase their writing and communication skills. While writers should aim to impress a hiring manager with information on experience, skill sets and more, applicants should not overwhelm those managers by writing up extremely long or drawn out pages in cover letters.

If a cover letter is organized in an effective manner, being within three to four paragraphs isn’t difficult. Open with a personal referral, then focus specifically on skills and knowledge. Each claim made should be backed up with specific details. Skip generalities and don’t offer an abundance of personal information. Hiring managers are interested in the applicant’s skills and qualifications, not in a life story.

However, adding in skills and specific details may make the cover letter length more than four paragraphs. This is acceptable as long as applicants aren't overselling their experiences or adding fluff like humor. Including jokes or witty comments in a cover letter is frowned upon due to the hit or miss chance of the hiring manager's sense of humor. Trim down the pages of the cover letter if there are more than two. Drowning a hiring manager in an abundance of information, especially fluff, may hurt an applicant's chances for an interview.

While keeping cover letter length to one page at most is important, key skills and qualifications should not be sacrificed for the sake of length. Do not undersell or leave out important aspects of education or previous work experiences. Applicants just joining the workforce may find that they can bolster cover letter length with more detailed notes about their education such as grade point average or specific classes taken. However, if a recent graduate did not achieve a high GPA, it may be best to exclude it from the cover letter entirely.

In conclusion, though cover letter length is more flexible than resume length, it’s important for jobseekers to understand that a cover letter should provide skills and knowledge, not life stories or a lot of personal information. Don’t oversell less relevant qualities, and don’t undersell vital skills. Cover letter length can vary, but most professionals recommend sticking to a range of a few paragraphs to one full page.

"paper" by Sean MacEntee licensed by CC BY 2.0

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