After spending all that time perfecting your CV, the last thing you want is to fall at the final hurdle with a poor cover letter.
One of the most common questions people ask about writing cover letters is how long it should be.
So just how long should a cover letter be?
As a general rule, at Success at School, we recommend that a covering letter should be no more than an A4 page in length – somewhere between 250 and 400 words should be long enough for you to explain why you’re applying for the role and why you think you’d be a good candidate.
‘A cover letter should be between 250 and 400 words long’
Anything longer than an A4 page is too long. The real nuts and bolts of why someone should hire you should be contained in your CV, whereas a covering email should act as an introductory summary or ‘sales pitch’ about what’s contained inside.
Have a look at this covering letter template we created to show you how long a covering statement should be:
As you can see, the cover letter example above is short and to the point. It's long enough to contain all the information a prospective employer would need but not short enough to encourage the reader to read to the end. You can use our sample cover letter to form the basis of your own.
Although we recommend 250-400 words as a general guide, there a few other considerations to take into account when planning how long your covering email should be.
Are you sending a CV or an application form?
Most statements are sent alongside CVs as a way of encouraging employers to take a look at what’s inside. If you’re sending an email to supplement your CV, then an A4 page is what you should be aiming for.
However, in some cases, you’ll also want to send a covering email if you’re sending an application form. In this case, everything that an employer will want to know will already be included in the application form itself, so there isn’t the same need for you to sell yourself in the statement. In most cases, a short, introductory letter of around 100-200 words will be more than enough to introduce yourself and inform the employer that you’re applying for the position.
A covering statement of this type could be something as simple as:
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am writing to apply for the position of Customer Assistant as advertised on your website. I have attached/enclosed my application form with this email/letter.
Please contact me if you need any more information.
[insert telephone number]
Will your cover letter be emailed or posted?
Nowadays, most employers prefer you to send CVs and applications by email, in which case you should bear in mind that people read emails online differently from how they read in print.
If you're emailing your cover letter...
When reading online, people tend to scan information rather than reading every single word. We’ve become used to reading dozens of blog posts and articles on the internet every day and most of us have become really good at filtering out the information that we don’t think is relevant to what we’re looking for.
For this reason (and the fact that employers receive hundreds of emails every day), keeping your email covering statement short and to-the-point is a smart move.
If you're posting your cover letter...
If however, you’re sending your CV or application from by post, then you can get away with writing a little bit more than you would in an email but only if it’s relevant. There’s something about having a physical piece of writing or printed text in your hand that makes you slow down your reading and pay attention to every word.
What type of job are you applying for?
Another factor that may influence how long a covering statement should be is the type of job that you’re applying for.
If you’re applying for a work experience placement at school for example, then you probably don’t need as much information in there as you would if you were applying for a job as a Chief Executive Officer with a large organisation.
It’s important to think about the job itself and ask whether an employer would expect a candidate to have a full page of writing as a cover statement or something less heavy.
If the job requires someone with a lot of specialist experience in a certain field, then perhaps you’d expect the candidate to have a lot to say about their suitability for the role. Whereas, if the job is more of an entry-level role that doesn’t require any specific qualifications or experience, then maybe you’d expect the candidate to have less to pitch in their covering statement.
Who will read your covering statement?
Sometimes, doing a little bit of investigating before sending your covering statement can be a good idea. For example, will you be sending your letter to a generic email@example.com email address or will it be sent to a specific person like firstname.lastname@example.org?
If the email address is more generic looking, then there’s a chance that the email address has been set up specifically to receive and filter CV and application emails and so there’s less chance that someone will spend time reading each and every statement.
However, if the email address is for a specific person and you address your email to that person specifically, then there might be a higher chance that your letter will be read by that person in question because their name is on the email.
For more advice on how to write the perfect covering letter, check out this video from Career Cake:
Now we've answered the question "how long should a cover letter be?", make sure yours really stands out by finding out how to write the best darn cover letter out there!