And that means that as excited as you may be to rattle off all of your qualifications and accomplishments, going over that one-page mark can mean your message gets lost (which defeats the whole point). Career development expert Lily Zhang even states, “In general, for resumes and cover letters alike, don’t go over a page. Unless you’re applying for a managerial or executive position, it’s unlikely a recruiter would look beyond your first page of materials anyway.”
What if you already have the cover letter drafted and don’t know what to cut? Well, here’s where I’d begin:
Compare it to Your Resume and the Job Description
Your cover letter is an addition to your resume, not a summary of it. The two documents together should match up with the job description. So, if you find that a lot of what you discuss in one document’s covered in the other, cut it. Then use that space to fill in any gaps that your resume doesn’t touch upon.
Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss your leadership skills if your resume makes it clear you’ve been in leadership roles for years. But rather than wasting space talking about titles and times spent in them, share an anecdote instead about a time when you showed those skills.
Keep Your Opening Short
It’s usually smart to start your cover letter with an interesting line or a personal anecdote to get the reader engaged from the get-go. That being said, be mindful of how long this drags on for—if you spend half of your cover letter introducing yourself in the style of The Bachelor, or take an entire paragraph to talk about the one trip that made you realize you wanted to become an engineer, the excitement will get lost—leaving you no room to talk about why you’d actually be great for the job.
When starting out, stick to one or two sentences about who you are, then move on to the more important stuff.
Find the Fluff
I’d bet that a decent amount of your cover letter is fluff that’s trying to sound impressive, yet lacks specifics.
If you’re using typical lines like “I would be honored to work for [company] because…” or “I believe I am qualified for this role because…,” cut them out and start immediately with the “why.”
Consider Your Adjectives and Adverbs
Print out your cover letter. (I know, you’re going to have to find a printer.) Circle all the adjectives and adverbs. Now take a look at any sentence with more than one and cut it down to just one.
For example: Do you have to be a “very passionate and focused learner,” or can you just be a “passionate learner?” Did you “institute an immense amount of truly important changes” or did you just “institute important changes?”
Yes, sometimes long, elaborate sentences make you seem smarter. But, more often than not, they make your message harder to understand. And wouldn’t you rather your experiences speak for themselves than get overshadowed by your flowery, overly enthusiastic language?
Choose Two Examples to Make Your Point—and No More
There’s nothing more exciting than reading a job description and realizing, I have all of these qualities! Score!
The thing is, as perfect as you are for the role, you unfortunately have to pick and choose what you talk about. And by this, I mean take your two best examples, the ones you’re proudest of, and focus on those. Explain them enough so that there’s context behind your resume, but not so much that you’re going off track from what they’re looking for.
It may seem intimidating to select one experience over the other, especially if you have a wealth of knowledge, but remember that your resume still holds that information. Consider your cover letter your last chance to say hey, I know you can see how awesome I am for this role, but here’s a little extra that makes me even more awesome.
Length shouldn’t scare you away from writing an awesome cover letter, but keep in mind the limit is there to make sure it doesn’t get overlooked in the job search process. By following these tips, you’ll guarantee it’s not only the perfect amount of words, but the perfect read for any hiring manager.
Photo of man thinking courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
As an Associate Editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author