You’re applying for a new job and you know a good cover letter is key to getting that interview. Employers are going to get a ton of résumés from a ton of good candidates, so you want to set yourself apart with your cover letter. But how long should a cover letter be? How much is too much? How much is too little?
Your cover letter should never be longer than one page, and will usually have 300-500 words in the body of the letter. That said, exactly how long it should be will depend on the type of job you are pursuing, and the amount of experience you have that is relevant to the job.
A cover letter should, er, cover:
Introductory paragraph – Start the cover letter by making it clear which job you are pursuing and show your confidence that you’re the person for the job. For example: “I am writing about the ________ position you advertised. I believe I have the right track record for the type of candidate you are seeking, and I am excited about the opportunity to work for ___________ (company name in the blank).”
Here’s why I am a great fit (paragraph or list) – Talk about your work experience and how it fits the position. The more specific you can be about things you have done that are related to the job, the better you will look. No matter how great you are, though, don’t go on for more than three paragraphs. Human resource pros have a lot of résumés to get through; they can make a decision on whether to interview you fairly quickly. (BTW, if you don’t have much experience in the industry to which you are applying, you may want to acknowledge that fact and explain how your skills could be relevant. Otherwise, an HR manager might be confused as to why you are even applying and throw your résumé out.)
Some career experts will suggest you use a “You Seek/I Offer” framework in this section. In other words, use this section to show you understand what the job entails (“You are seeking a candidate with proven sales experience.”) and match that with how you fit (“I have eight years of sales experience in the ____ industry, and have assumed greater responsibilities each year.”).
(Optional) State any background or experience you have with the company – Most cover letters will not have this, but if you have worked in a certain industry for a long time, you may have worked as a competitor or vendor of the company, or maybe even have worked at the company in the past. If so, a short paragraph about that may be appropriate, such as “Having worked in the _____ industry for over 20 years, I have had numerous opportunities to go head-to-head against XYZ Company when pitching projects, and have always admired the professionalism of XYZ’s sales force.”
Restate why you’re the right fit and ask for the interview – “Taken together, the skills I have just outlined make me a great fit for the position. Please contact me for an interview so I may discuss my skills and experience with you in person.”
Keep It Simple
Your cover letter is one of many that a human resources employee will read, and no one ever gets hired from a cover letter alone. So, keep it as simple and concise as possible, making your relevant experience the star of the show. You want to hook them quickly so you’ll get that interview, but not include so much detail that it looks like you’re desperate (or so little that it looks like you don’t care).