What is the ideal length of a cover letter? Too short and your cover letter will seem generic and lacking in effort, too long and you’ll come across as unfocused. Employers only spend a limited time reading your cover letter. You can make the most of that time by including compelling, brief descriptions of your experience and qualifications—all without repeating your resume word for word.
Below, we’ve included eight ways to reach the correct length for your cover letter, and impress the hiring manager along the way.
1. Check length requirements
Sometimes employers may include specific directions for your cover letter in the job posting. They might give you a cover letter word limit or provide a writing prompt or questions for you to answer. Make a good first impression by following any instructions they give you, including word count or cover letter length directions.
2. Don’t focus on hitting a specific word count
How many words should a cover letter be? Unless the employer has specified otherwise, 250 to 400 words is the right amount. This length will fill half a page or one full page using 12 point font, while still leaving room for the correct spacing and margins.
The important thing, however, is to focus on the content of your cover letter and use word count as a general guideline to keep you on the right track.
3. Embrace whitespace
Whitespace makes your cover letter more enjoyable for the hiring manager to read. Break up your text by adding a blank line between paragraphs, setting 1-inch margins on each side. With lots of white space, your cover letter will look like an enjoyable read rather than a wall of text.
4. Limit your cover letter to four paragraphs
Generally, your cover letter should be between half a page and one full page in length. Divide your cover letter into three or four short paragraphs that can be read in around 10 seconds or less. In these paragraphs, include a strong topic sentence and write just enough to prove that you’re interested in the job and company, as well as highlight the skills you can bring to the new role.
Read more: How to Format a Cover Letter (With Example)
5. Keep paragraphs focused and sentences short
For maximum impact, focus each of your paragraphs around one central idea. Lead with a strong topic sentence. This sentence will tell the reader what your paragraph is about. Next, add several short, descriptive sentences that support this main idea. Finally, wrap up each paragraph with an attention-grabbing final thought or a brief conclusion sentence that recaps your main idea.
Here’s an example of how to structure your cover letter paragraphs:
Topic sentence: One of the factors that really attracted me to this role is that [Company Name] values giving back to the community.
Conclusion: As I grow in my career, applying my skills to help others and make an impact on the world becomes more important—I believe this role would give me that opportunity.
6. Include impactful and relevant stories
Your cover letter should briefly explain why you’re qualified for the role using highly relevant examples from your work history. If you’re not sure about which qualifications or experiences to include, look back at the job description for clues. Match your skills to requirements the employer is asking for. Expand upon those qualifications in your letter by citing recent accomplishments.
You can make your stories impactful by using the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation (the context of your story), Task (your role in this situation), Action (what you did in this situation), and Result (the outcome you achieved). This format makes it clear what happened and what you contributed.
Here’s an example of how to use the STAR method in a cover letter:
Situation: Recently, my current employer launched a new service to meet a specific need for small businesses.
Task: My role was to draft the press release and engage local media to create interest in the launch.
Action: I took the press release through several rounds of review with the company’s senior leadership and incorporated their feedback. I was able to secure media coverage in our city’s leading publications as well as with the Chamber of Commerce.
Result: On the day we launched the service, the new service was covered on the front page of the business section of the leading local paper—both print and online. We saw our site’s traffic increase 5X the daily average and received unprecedented inbound interest from new and existing small business clients. It was one of the most successful launches in the history of the company.
7. Don’t give everything away
The purpose of your cover letter is to generate curiosity and land an interview. For this reason, avoid explaining every single quality you will bring to this new role. Instead, focus on your proudest accomplishments and reveal just enough about yourself to catch the hiring manager’s interest and encourage them to invite you for an interview. Slightly less than one page is a great cover letter length for achieving this.
8. Trim it down
What if you can’t fit everything you want to include on one page? Consider having your friends and family read through your cover letter to edit out unnecessary details and wordy language. Leave in your most impressive achievements, but cut out any mention of day-to-day job duties. Remember, cover letters should never extend beyond one page—even for the most experienced candidates.