There are three instances when you will write a cover letter. The first is the most commonly-known: when you’re submitting a job application. The second type is the networking letter, when you write to people in your circle of contacts to tell them you’re seeking a new job. The last is the broadcast letter. In it, you write to an employer letting them know your interest in their company, even if they have no positions open.
Though necessary in several situations, cover letters are difficult to write because of their brevity. While length does worry job candidates, be sure to focus on the goal of this letter over its length expectations.
“The main purpose of a cover letter is to get the reader, whether it is a recruiter or hiring manager, to read your resume. Showing how your background fits with their needs is the most basic way to catch their eye and keep their attention – get them interested in your background,” we wrote in a recent article.
Conciseness is key, but how short does a cover letter need to be? Here, we’ll discuss the ideal length of a cover and the content you should include in it.
Writing a job application or networking cover letter
Unless your specific field is unique, the cover letter has specific formatting expectations. It should be at least a half-page but no longer than a page. Specifically, that’s around 250 to 400 words. Too short, and hiring managers will believe you are inexperienced, or that you haven’t spent enough time on the application. Too long, and hiring managers won’t read all of it, or they’ll think you’re overly-verbose.
Most cover letters are no longer than four paragraphs. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence that previews the content that will follow. Hiring managers should be able to read each paragraph in about 10 seconds.
Begin your cover letter with your name and contact information, followed by the date. Greet the hiring manager, by name if possible.
Your first body paragraph should describe why you’re excited about the position and company. Then, it should provide an overview of you and why you’re qualified for the role. No need to go into elaborate detail about yourself in this first paragraph; you will provide specific examples later.
The middle paragraph or paragraphs should provide examples about why you’re a strong fit for the role. Here, you can describe your skills or positions you’ve held in the past. Give specific, quantifiable improvements if possible. Conclude the paragraph or paragraphs by mentioning how you’ll bring these abilities to the position for which you’re applying.
The conclusion should restate your interest in the position. You can also include a call to action. Depending on the type of cover letter you’re writing, this can be anything from setting up a meeting to checking in about your application within the week.
Finally, thank the hiring manager for their time, and sign off with a salutation and your name. No need to hand-sign the cover letter if you’re emailing it or submitting it through an applicant tracking system.
Here is a cover letter template that can get you started.
Writing a broadcast letter
Think of the broadcast letter as a hybrid cover letter and resume. The one-page document can include a number of components depending on your field. For instance, you can include paragraph-style descriptions of yourself like you would find in a cover letter, bolded highlights of your core qualifications, and even endorsements from previous employers or clients.
Next, find a template that works for the style best for you. For instance, this example includes employer testimonials to the left-hand side of the text. Then, start with a paragraph focused on why you are impressed with the company. Follow that up with another short paragraph explaining your background and why you’re interested in working for them.
The next section looks similar to a mini-resume. Include two or three of your key qualifications or highlights of your work history. Consider using bullets, or even a separate section delineated with lines, to separate this section from the rest.
Conclude the letter with a paragraph-style request. What are you seeking? A meeting with an individual? Updates about job openings that will soon be posted?
As always, conclude with a salutation and your name.
Writing your cover letter
Anyone who has ever written a cover letter knows that its briefness makes it more difficult to write, not easier. First, identify what you want to convey about yourself in your letter, before you even start writing. Next, make a plan for what skills, qualifications, and work history you intend to include before you start writing. After that, use one of our opening line templates to get started.