A reader writes:
I am struggling with cover letters. I think I write thoughtful, well-organized letters. I have revised my layout so that my letters are more concise; however, I often still struggle to keep them within one page. I think it’s part conditioning from having to write 10-15 page papers in college and part that I don’t want to leave out anything that could impress them and strengthen my candidacy. I think I get nervous because I know I have a very limited window for grabbing their attention and I want everything that could remote qualify me on the paper.
I think this is hurting my chances of getting a job because a) I spend so much time agonizing over every single line I may have to eliminate in a letter that I neglect other job-searching duties and, b) with the limited amount of time employers have to spend on applications, being too wordy could get me disqualified right there.
If you have any advice for getting my cover letters down to the basics, I would really appreciate it.
You just … have to do it.
Writing concisely is a demonstration of respect for the reader’s time and an indication that you understand that employers are busy and don’t want to read pages from you. Those are things that you should want to demonstrate just as much as whatever else you’re trying to demonstrate through the cover letter.
Employers are going to want you to write quickly and concisely on the job, so start showing with the letter that you’ll be able to do that.
And those lengthy college papers? Banish them from your mind. In the work world, the shorter you write, the better. Some managers literally refuse to read any memo or proposal that’s longer than a page or that isn’t written in bullet points. In the workplace, the more efficiently you can convey what you need to convey, the more you’ll be able to advance your own interests and projects.
(Besides, most of what qualifies you should be in your resume anyway; don’t repeat it in your cover letter. Your cover letter is for stuff that isn’t in your resume.)
So just make the switch, and stop indulging your own desires to say more. (And it is self-indulgent; hiring managers certainly don’t want it.) Give yourself a firm time limit of 20 minutes per cover letter and no more than a page, and stick to it.