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Right now I am writing a cover letter to apply for a job, some people tell me cover letters should be short while other people tell me a cover letter should take up a page. Anyone who works in HR knows which one is the truth? Thanks

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By page, you mean a full page? No. I've not set eyes on such a cover letter. If by page however, you mean a paragraph or two on a page by itself,on a single page, then yes. Your cover letter is a concise summary of the good bits of your resume, including a brief intro to yourself as a professional. All this shouldn't fill a page. Don't think anyone will read all that –  kolossus Dec 21 '12 at 22:44
    
And then, if I receive a cover letter that isn't a page long, I have a negative impression. Then again, I specifically ask for a cover letter, & expect it to perform a set of tasks: tie your experience to the position, give me a reason to read your resume, & address any questions stated in the ad. Is this an entry-level position, or one with more experience? –  jcmeloni Dec 21 '12 at 23:23
    
No more than a page, but that doesn't mean you should ramble on to fill the whole thing. –  JeffO Dec 22 '12 at 13:43
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I don't work in HR but my opinion is that the cover letter should be to the point in terms of showing how great a fit you are for the position by citing specific examples so that you demonstrate that you believe you can do the job well. The idea is to get the interview to further discuss specifics to validate the initial match. While a cover letter may be a page on the high end if one has more than a handful of points to make, the key is to keep the fluff to a minimum in the cover letter and demonstrate how you fit this position so well.

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A cover letter should show:

  • that you are aware of what the position is
  • that you are aware of who the company is
  • that you've considered why you would be a good fit for this position and this company
  • that you didn't just carbon copy a bunch of cover letters for every position you are applying to

It's the one place in most applications where you can sum yourself up and present a picture. It can highlight reasons for oddities in your resume or make specific selling points out of what may otherwise be uninsteresting resume bullet points.

There's no maximum or minimum here, but I'd be surprised if you can write a cover letter worth reading in less than 4-5 sentences, and unless you have an incredible history and you are applying for a one of a kind position, it shouldn't take up a whole page.

I usually keep a few things in mind:

  • I'll write and rewrite cover letters for positions 2-3 times a week when I'm in the throes of a gentle job application process, 5-10 times a week in a heavy search - so if I take more than 30 minutes writing it, I'm wasiting time better spent on other job research.

  • The recruiter/managers reading this cover letter will probably read 10-30 such cover letters - if they have to read a dense, long cover letter for each candidate, they will stop caring after about 5 candidates - so the cover letter has to be tightly written and to the point.

In essense - don't say a lot of nothing, but don't be so terse that you don't make a point.

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Cover letters should reflect the position. If you're applying for a writing position, for instance, you would want to write a good story about yourself. If you're applying for a sales position, you want to make a solid sales pitch in your cover letter. One of the most effective cover letters I ever used (in sales), which got tons of attention started with two huge words in 72-font: "HEY YOU!" The purpose of the cover letter was to stop them from reading YET-ANOTHER-COVER-LETTER and make them stop and think about mine. It worked - I got to pick from some great positions.

So, depending on the position you're applying for, figure out a creative way to draft a letter which communicates that you'll excel at that position.

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In the hiring process it really helps to understand roles, responsibilities and motivations of all the players involved:

In many cases the first person to read your cover letter is an HR staffer that has no specific knowledge about the position nor any personal interest in getting it filled. His/her task is to weed out the obviously unqualified candidates and check the requirements against a list. A staffer doesn't get dinged if they throw a good resume away: nobody will ever know. However, they might get dinged if they pass bad resumes along to the next level, so they are more likely to be picky and play it safe.

The task of your cover letter is to get your resume through this gate!

So, put yourself in their shoes! If you were an HR staffer who has to scan through 200+ resumes before lunch, what would you like to see in a cover letter? I have had very good results with basically copy & pasting the posted requirements and listing my own qualification against them. Most staffers will love that because you make their life really easy. It's perfectly okay if you don't meet all of the requirements. As long as you have a decent match and you are upfront about the holes, you have a good chance to get to the next level.

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