How long are cover letters supposed to be?

Ok, I know the correct answer is “however long it takes to make your point”, but I thought I would solicit some brief opinions from people here. So like 250 words, 3-4 paragraphs?

The one I wrote this month and that helped me get an offer (which I subsequently accepted)… I just looked in Word…446 words, about 3/4 of a page, & 5 paragraphs. I think it depends on how your experience links to the position and how well you can make it all flow.

I would say no longer then a page, including the introduction, etc.

My answer would be 0 words and avoid the cover letter altogether. If you are required to provide one, the standard is 3 paragraphs.

For a similar role, I would max 3 paragraphs and keep it short as Numi suggested. I’ve come across massive cover letters and literally puke in my mouth a little, and said screw this.

Hmm ok. Thanks for the input.

Agree with iteracom – three paragraphs is about right for career transitions. Also, if you’re looking to switch within industry, I recommend 6-8 sentences max and preferably using bullet-point form. Most people do not follow a bullet-point suggestion on the cover letter so it’s a good way to differentiate yourself, not to mention that switching from one firm to another in the same industry doesn’t require a protracted explanation. Of course, the ability to choose the right bullets is a different matter of execution but it’s one that I’ve recommended to many people I’ve worked with and it has achieved pretty favorable results as far as getting first round interviews.

so whats the point of a cover letter (really)? the way i see it is that if your qualifications/experience matches the job description, managers will want to speak with you anyways.

  • is it used as an introduction to your resume?..
  • are you supposed to elaborate or provide “color” to things between the lines of the resume?
  • do managers/hr read the letter first to decide if the resume is even worth a look?

I feel like my resume is pretty self explanatory and my “default” cover letter already comes off as too cliche… i typically use the same template for every job, reworking a sentence or two depending on the specifics/

I think less is more with cover letters. And I certainly wouldn’t make it more than a page, or you’ll get the TL-DR problem.

More importantly–I assume you sent your resume, too. That means that they have your resume. You don’t need to regurgitate it.

DON’T - say “I graduated in 2002 from Awesome University”. (They know this–they have your resume.)

  • say “I am a CFA Charterholder”. (They know this–they have your resume.)

  • give a laundry list of all the awesome things you’ve done at your last two jobs. (They know this–they have your resume.)

DO - Use your cover letter to say things that your resume can’t say, like, “I bought a house and I’m moving in three months and I’m looking for a new job in this area.” (This tells the employer that you’re in this geographic area for the long haul–if that’s important.) Or, “I’ve been working in analysis, but I am looking for an opportunity to work in sales.” (This tells the employer why you want to change jobs, which is probably the first question that they want answered.) Or, “I was putting in too many hours at my last job, and I want to be able to spend time with my wife and kids.” (This might be received well if it’s a family owned, or family-friendly business. But tread lightly here–this might backfire.)

I’ve always been of the opinion that you should tell the truth in your interviews, resumes, and cover letters–not just say what the employer wants to hear. (I know this runs contrary to what most “how-to-interview” books will tell you.)

Just like in the example above, if you put in too many hours at the last job and want to spend more time with the wife and kids, then say so. If you say that, and you still get the job, then you’ll know that the job is probably a good fit for you, becaue they hired you knowing your true motivation and expectations.

Saying, “I love work so much that I never want to leave. If I could work 24/7, I would!” is probably a bad idea. It might get you the job, but you will only get into another job with long hours, not being able to see the wife and kids (which is why you left your original job to begin with).

Now, if the real reason you want to leave your old job is “I’m underpaid, overworked, my boss is a douchebag, and my co-workers are all lazy pissants”, then maybe you should NOT put that in your cover letter. You still have to use common sense and good judgement.

I find a cover letter should talk about the following things:

  1. a sentence or phrase saying what position you are applying for, and how you learned about the position. The second is especially important if you know someone at the firm. If it goes to an HR or recruiter, they often want to know what channels are working for them. If you know someone at the firm, be sure to mention that, even if you didn’t hear about the job from them. Also mention that you have spoken to that person about the position (if you have, and you should try). These connections are most important at smaller firms, but they are not necessarily irrelevant at big firms.

  2. something that communicates why you want the job. Enthusiasm is important, particularly if it is genuine. No one wants to hire someone who’s motivation is “I just need a job and this is something that I can do that pays enough.”

  3. highlight the parts of your resume that are most relevant to your job, particularly any impressive achievements. People will often say “they have your resume, so it will be obvious,” but it is mind-boggling how often people need to have the obvious spoon fed to them with big signposts. If it doesn’t force you on to the next page, use bullet points here so they can pick it up in a 15 second scan.

  4. if you are transitioning, then highlight the transferrable skills that can be useful and how you have already used them (even if not for an employer) in work that the job requires. You can mix that in with point 3.

  5. close with a short paragraph (one or two sentences) communicating enthusiasm for taking the next step and how they can get in touch with you via email or phone. Yes, they should be able to get that info from your resume, but if they’ve gotten there you still need to show that you know how to close a professional letter. .

Make darned sure you have not forgotten to change any names from reused cover letters. It’s funny to have a letter that starts by saying how excited you are to apply for a job at Morgan Stanley, only to end with a statement about how you are confident you can help Goldman Sachs provide superior performance.

Early in your career, when you are basically a bunch of square pegs being put into square holes, hiring managers can get away with ignoring cover letters. As you gain experience, the cover letter becomes more important, even if they are not always read. It also depends on what the role is. If you are going to be client facing, how you write and communicate is important, and the cover letter is an early indication of this. Even if it’s not read, not bothering to send a cover letter is often interpreted as a sign of not being all that serious about wanting the job.

Within these parameters, try to keep it as brief as possible. I usually end up with three or four paragraphs, plus a final sentence asking for (but not demanding) an interview.

It sounds obvious, right? But you’d be surprised what kind of idiot will put in his cover letter, “I got fired from my last job for being drunk at work three days a week and sexually harassing the bitches. Plus my boss was a faggot.”

Then they’ll ask themselves, “Greenman told me to be honest, so that’s what I did. Why didn’t I get the job?”

this thread should probably be merged with the one in careers… anyways, here are 5 bullet points that i will include in my new cover letter. what do you think ? this should clear any gate keepers

  • 4 years industry experience including MS and GS
  • degree in economics, mba, and continued learning through industry certifications/designations
  • numerous professional refrences
  • local candidate, ready to work immediately
  • salary requirement (100 Billion Dollars!!)

My opinion:

#1 - It’s on your resume.

#2 - It’s on your resume.

#3 - I wouldn’t volunteer references. If they want them, they’ll ask for them. It should be understood that you’ll be able to provide references upon request.

#4 - This is good.

#5 - I wouldn’t put salary requirements unless it’s specifically asked for. People get really skittish when you start talking about money. (Kinda dumb, if you ask me. Our business is all about money. Personally, I’d like to get the money talk out of the way as soon as possible. If I want $100, and you’re only paying $80, then we might as well not interview. But that’s not the way the world works, methinks.)

Agree with this since they already have an idea what they’ll offer you. Also if you’ve done your homework you have an idea what they’ll pay you.

In the job offer I just accepted, they asked me for my current compensation right before they extended me an offer, I assume to help figure out what they’d offer me.

Mine are usually around the 3 paragraphs - 1 with a quick background, 1 with why I would be a good match, and 1 with closing comments. And it makes an email that fits nicely onto the screen without scrolling or anything.

Paragraph 1: Why them?

Paragraph 2: Why you?

Paragraph 3: Let’s meet!