This post is part of a series which answers your real careers questions. In this post we are answering a question from Robin, an MA Medieval Studies student. If you’re reading this, you might find our other post useful too: ‘How do I write a great CV?’
When a company requests a CV, unless they explicitly state otherwise, you should always send a cover letter. Many students come in to see us with questions about cover letters and a common question we are asked is ‘How long should it be?’
Every recruiting manager is different
The first thing to realise is every company and recruiting manager will be different. Some will prefer a one page cover letter, while others might be happy to read a slightly longer one. There are even companies that don’t request a cover letter at all!
1 page is the norm
Most recruiting managers prefer a one page cover letter. Many will have to sift through a large number of applications, so make their lives easier and keep yours concise and on one page.
It’s important to use a traditional cover letter format – if you don’t know what this is Google it! If you use this format you will have about two thirds of a page for your content.
Attaching a cover letter or sending in the body of an email
A common question we get asked is whether the cover letter should be in the body of an email or as a separate attachment. Unless the employer has stated which they prefer, you will need to use your judgement on this one.
We advise that if you’re sending your application to a small company and a named contact including your cover letter in the body of your email might create a good first impression. However, if you’re sending the email to a generic email address or a larger employer who is likely to be receiving more applications you might want to consider attaching it to the email instead. Just make sure you give it a file name which indicates it’s your cover letter e.g. ‘Cover Letter – FULL NAME’ (and do this for your CV as well!)
It goes without saying that if you do decide to add your cover letter in the body of your email you don’t need the address information which you normally find on a formal cover letter document.
The importance of content
While the length of your cover letter is important, your focus should really be on its content. A stand-out cover letter isn’t about length, it’s about the message. A cover letter needs to address three key questions:
Why are you applying for this particular role?
Why are you interested in working for this company?
Why should the company consider you?
The answers to these three questions should total half a page. If you find you go over this re-visit the purpose of your letter and what you’ve written. Are you adding too much fluff? Is it all relevant? Are you repeating what’s on your CV?
More help from Careers Network
If you’d like more help with cover letters visit our website. You can also book an appointment to have your cover letter reviewed (we also review CVs and application forms). If you’d like some feedback on your letter but would prefer help over email just send us a message via Student Help and we’ll get back to you within 5 working days.