How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?

Businesswoman Working In Her Office.
••• vgajic / Getty Images

Cover letters are an important part of the job application process. You should almost always send a cover letter with a job application unless the hiring manager specifically asks you not to.

However, one thing that is less clear is how long your cover letter should be. If it is way too short, employers might think you do not care much about the job. If it is too long, employers might not take the time to read your letter, and will not consider you for an interview.

Read below for more advice on how long your cover letter should be, as well as additional advice on writing a strong cover letter.

Why Include a Cover Letter

Should you include a cover letter with your resume? Some employers require cover letters and you can find this out by reading the job posting.

Jobvite's Job Seeker Nation Study reports that 26% of recruiters said that cover letters aren't important in their hiring decisions, while a Robert Half poll says that 90% of executives consider cover letters an important tool for evaluating candidates. A CareerBuilder survey is in the middle, with 40% of human resources managers responding that a cover letter would help an applicant get noticed.

Cover letter requirements vary among employers, industries, and the jobs the organization is filling.

Even when a cover letter isn't required, it can boost your chances of getting hired if you include a cover letter when you apply for a job.

Therefore, only leave out a cover letter when the employer specifically asks you not to send one.

How Long Should Your Cover Letter Be?

Should you keep your cover letter short or should it be a full page or longer? Your cover letter should be no longer than one page. If you're sending an email letter, it can be even shorter.

In fact, as far as how long your cover letter should be, shorter is better. The exception would be when an employer requests a letter that's a specific length or number of words.

In general, a Saddleback College survey reported that 70% of employers wanted a cover letter of less than a full page and about 25% said the shorter the better.

Here are the preferences for cover letter length from the employers who responded to the survey:

  • Full page – 12.6%
  • 1/2 page – 43.7%
  • No preference –5%
  • The shorter, the better –1%

Your letter should concisely highlight your most relevant qualifications for the job and what you have to offer the employer.

Cover Letter Format

Just as important as the length of your cover letter is the format. You will want to choose a font that is simple and legible (such as: Arial, Calibri, Verdana, or Times New Roman) in a readable font size (typically 12 point).

  • Heading (hard copy letter)
  • Salutation
  • Introductory Paragraph
  • Your Qualifications (one to three paragraphs or a list of bullet points)
  • Closing
  • Signature (include your contact information in your signature when sending an email letter)

Your margins should be 1-inch all around, with the text aligned to the left.

You also want to leave space between paragraphs, as well as between your salutation and the text (and between your text and the signature), so that your letter is easy to read.

A good rule of thumb is that you always want a good amount of white space on the paper. This will prevent your letter from looking too cluttered and difficult to read.

Word Count

There is no specific word count you should aim for when writing a cover letter (unless the employer gives you a specific word count). Instead of focusing on the number of words, focus on making your cover letter one page or less, with a readable font and font size, and enough white space between paragraphs and in the margins.

Your goal is to highlight your most relevant qualifications for the job, rather than repeating everything that's on your resume.

However, if you use the 12-point font mentioned above, a full page letter, not including the heading or signature, would be approximately 250 to 300 words.

You might want to hand a printed out version of your cover letter to a friend or family member and ask them if the letter seems too wordy, or too difficult to read.

Email Cover Letter Length

When sending an email cover letter, it's even more important to be concise. The first paragraph is what readers pay attention to when reading an email. The rest of the message is typically skimmed. Two paragraphs – one that serves as an introduction, and one that explains your qualification for the job – and then a closing is sufficient.

Use a Concise Subject Line

You can also make your email cover letter stand out with a clear, concise email subject line. Typically, you want to include the title of the position that you are applying for and your name. For example: Editorial Assistant-John Smith (try to keep it less than 30 characters).

This is about as much as people can see on their mobile devices, which is often how people check their email.