How long should a cover letter be?

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So you’ve spent hours perfecting and tailoring your resume for that dream job you want. You are ready to apply when they ask for…a dreaded cover letter. How long should a cover letter be? What do you write in a cover letter anyway?

How long should a cover letter be?

A cover letter should be as concise as possible and never more than a page. It should answer the “what”, “why”, and “how” clearly. What are you applying for? Why are you applying for it? And How are you qualified? You can accomplish this in 3 paragraphs max.

Do not cram a lengthy essay into a page just to make it fit! Make sure you leave white space. White space is important as it causes less eye strain and makes it easier to read.

In my opinion, a cover letter provides little value. It is just another useless step to the job-hunting process, comparable to uploading your resume document and then having to fill in every single detail on the website that is already on your resume.

A cover letter has never gotten me a job interview. But if they ask you for a cover letter, and you do not provide one, it might stop you from getting an interview.  The job-hunting process is hard enough, so it is probably best not to do anything that can harm you.

Here are 3 things to address when writing your cover letter

What position at what company are you applying for

This may be obvious, but your cover letter should start with addressing the right person and the position you are applying for at the right company.

If you have been networking consistently, ideally you will have a contact at the company that you can reach out to and ask who the hiring manager or HR person is. Addressing a person by name will make you look a lot better than someone dressing a generic or vague title such as “to whom it may concern” or “to the hiring manager”.

Addressing your cover letter to a person will show that you did your research and put in the work to find out. It can set you apart.

Related: How to network effectively for a job

Make sure you are also addressing the position and company, and make sure it is correct! Sometimes you can put the wrong position and company in your cover letter on accident, especially when you have been applying to hundreds of jobs.

If you have a generic cover letter template, which is not something I recommend, it can be easy to forget to replace the position and company to the correct one you are currently applying for. Make sure to always proof-read!

If you must use a generic cover letter to apply to all your positions, a trick I have used in the past is to highlight the specific things you need to change in red. That way you can see exactly what you need to change for every position you apply to.

Why you are applying for the position

Here you should describe who you are and why you are applying for the job. State your background and education (degree or certificate) and what school you obtained it from. Mention why you want this job.

Perhaps you have always had a passion for science and helping people and working in healthcare is a perfect role as it allows you to combine both your passions.

Perhaps you are deeply passionate about the company itself and really care about their mission and values. Mention how you would love to be a part of it!

Do not go on and on about why you want this position. The focus of your cover letter should not be about what YOU want. The main focus of the cover letter should be about convincing the hiring manager why THEY want to hire YOU!

How you are qualified for the position

You should state how you are qualified for the position. What skills and qualifications do you have that make you desirable for the role? How does your previous experience make you competent for the job?  Can you tie in your experiences to what the company is looking for?

It is important that you do not just rehash the information that can be found in your resume.

Your cover letter is an opportunity for you to demonstrate you understand the job and company values. It allows you to explain your skills or qualifications through examples. This is especially important if you do not have the exact experience they are looking for, but you have the qualifications through transferrable skills or personal experiences.

When explaining how you are qualified for the position, make sure you tell your story with the STAR method. It is especially important to highlight your quantifiable results! In addition, try to include the keywords that the job posting indicates are important qualities for candidates to have.

Related: How to use the STAR method in an interview

Finish your cover letter by being concise. Thank them for their time, reiterate how excited you are about the role, and how they can reach you. Your contact information should also be available at the top of your cover letter.

So there you have 3 things your cover letter should address when you are considering how long should a cover letter be.

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