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Those 250-400 words are difficult to get out. It is so tempting to just take a whiteboard marker, write “Hire Me, I’m Awesome” in really big letters across the page and call it a day. No! Just me?
What if I told you that sometimes less is more? After all, time is money.
Recruiters and hiring managers don’t have the time to read through every application in detail. Sometimes a cover letter that is short and sweet is what you need to grab their attention without wasting their time.
Your general cover letter is usually between 250 and 400 words. You can get away with less than 250 words in certain circumstances, but you should never go over 400 words. It’s just too much.
Your cover letter should highlight your qualifications and sell you as the ideal candidate, yes. When you break it down, though, you really only need to answer three questions.
Your three why’s:
WHY did you choose this company?
WHY should they choose you?
When to Write a Short Cover Letter
If you’re applying for a high-level executive position, it makes sense for you to write closer to 400 words.
As an entry-level employee? That’s overkill.
An entry-level cover letter should be closer to 200 words, or even less.
When else should you keep your cover letter short?
Email cover letter. Emails are short and usually to the point by nature. Email cover letters should not be long. Otherwise, it would look like a gigantic block of text that the hiring manager will likely not even bother with.
Electronic application. If you are submitting your cover letter through an online application, you will need to keep it short. Many of those supplied text boxes have strict character limits.
You’re not tied to the above scenarios. If you don’t feel like the position calls for a long cover letter, then don’t include a lengthy attachment. You should still include a cover letter, though. Just keep it short. Think short story, not novel.
How to Write a Short Cover Letter
You want to remember your three C’s: Clear, concise, convincing.
A short cover letter does pose an interesting challenge. There is a lot of information you want to convey, and you have so much space to do so.
Generally, a cover letter is about half a page in length and consists of 200-400 words broken into three to four paragraphs. The same cannot be said for a short cover letter.
A short cover letter should be about 100-250 words. You can, and should, still break it down into three to four paragraphs, though.
Now, you only have a few sentences to highlight your qualifications. That almost seems harder somehow.
We’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s not that hard.
You can still include all of the same elements you see in a regular length cover letter. You just have to be more selective with the words you use and the achievements you highlight.
Sum up your best points quickly and in as few words as possible.
Ready for a few more “secrets”?
Cut the fluff. Nobody wants fluffy cover letters. Despite how it sounds, fluff is actually a technical term. It means adding more information than is really necessary. So cut the fluff and remove unnecessary details.
You may find it easier to remove the fluff after you’ve finished your cover letter. Or, you may find it easier to be aware of it as you write and avoid it altogether. Your preference really matters.
But, how do you cut the fluff? Simple.
Avoid adjectives. Sure, adjectives liven up your writing, but this isn’t a creative writing piece. It’s a cover letter. You don’t have to cut them completely, but you should use them sparingly.
Avoid buzzwords. Try not to fill up your sentences with words like self-motivated, results-oriented, deadline-driven, or team-oriented. They just make your writing feel bulkier.
Write concisely. Get to your point quickly. If you can shorten the sentence, do it. Be careful, though. Sometimes when we write concisely, it comes off as terse or rude. Your tone really matters, so be aware of it.
Focus on relevant skills and experience. Technically, any cover letter you write should focus on the skills, experience, and achievements that relate to the position you’re applying for.
In a short cover letter, you want to be very selective. Use the job description to identify the qualifications and skills they find most important and focus on those.
Use bullet points to your advantage. Seeing a bulleted list in the middle of a cover letter is completely normal. Many job applicants use bullet points to highlight their most attention-grabbing (and relevant) qualifications and achievements.
Those bullet points can make a bigger impact in a short cover letter. You can include more in fewer words.
Focus on the value. Your cover letter should be conveying your value. Focus your attention on what you can bring to the position and the company.
Formatting a Short Cover Letter
As a general rule, the format of your cover letter should not change much, no matter the length. The biggest difference between a short cover letter and a regular length cover letter is the delivery method.
Your short cover letter should include:
Header. If you are emailing your cover letter or submitting it via an electronic application portal, you will not need to include a header. If you are submitting it more traditionally, then you will still need to include the header at the top.
Your header should look like this:
Your full name
(Optional) Your current address
Your phone number
Your professional email address
Your online portfolio
(Optional) Your website, LinkedIn
Date of submission
Hiring manager’s name
Hiring manager’s title within the company
(Optional) Company address
Greeting (Salutation). Regardless of how you are submitting your cover letter, you will need to address it properly. “Dear [hiring manager’s name]” is the standard. If you can’t locate the name of the hiring manager, you can use a more generic greeting. But, you should never use “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam”.
Opening lines. Your opening lines should capture the reader’s attention and convince them to keep reading.
Body paragraph. This is where you will highlight your relevant skills and experience. Remember to pull information from the job description to help you determine which qualifications and achievements to focus on.
Closing lines. End your cover letter with a strong call-to-action. Give the hiring manager a reason to reach out to you.
Sign-off. Similar to your greeting, there is a right and a wrong way to close your letter. Even if you are submitting via email, you should use a formal closing such as “Sincerely”, “Respectfully”, “Thank you”, or “Best regards”.
You may also want to include your contact information below your name. This is especially true if you are excluding a header.
Short Cover Letter Samples
Example Answer 1: Short Email Cover Letter
Subject: Customer Service Representative – Eloise Greene
Dear Ms. Chatner,
XYZ Department Store is known for its incredible customer service. I believe I would make an excellent addition to your team, and I have the customer satisfaction ratings to prove it.
I take pride in the companies I serve, and it shows through my professionalism and enthusiasm. At ABC Shoppe, I was regularly mentioned by name in customer feedback surveys and had the most positive feedback ratings each week.
You will find that I develop an excellent rapport with my customers, solve customer problems quickly and efficiently, and can work well independently. My coworkers and superiors know that there is no one more dedicated, reliable, or efficient than me.
I look forward to speaking with you about this position.
Example Answer 2: Sales Rep Short Cover Letter
January 1, 2021
VP of Human Resources
Dear Ms. Hudson,
As a talented sales professional with eight years of proven history generating new leads, converting leads to customers, and driving growth in my territory, I believe I would be an asset to 123 Sellers.
During my tenure at XYZ Enterprises, I have earned multiple awards and was named top seller three years in a row. I have expertise in client retention, new customer acquisition, and cold calling and am comfortable using CRMs like SalesForce and Hubspot.
Highlights of my achievements include:
Growing a $1M territory to a $4M in two years
Converted 300 new customers over the course of a year
Exceeded sales goals by 50% in my first year
Maintain expert knowledge in complete product line up consisting of over 200 products
I am confident that with my sales experience and techniques, I will help your company gain a larger market share. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to discussing this opportunity further.
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