How to Fix Your Way Too Long Cover Letter

Dear Work Coach,

I am having a tremendously difficult time editing my cover letter. I am attempting to beef up my candidacy by specifically detailing my job skills. I didn’t want to be general nor did I want to seem like I padded it, which is probably why I became obsessed with lifting the specific points of the job description and supplying my direct experiences.

Now I am facing a one and a half page long resume where I do not know what details must be sacrificed. I would hate to have not gotten the job based on editing out the one or two vital details needed… and I am really into the structure of the letter and the relationships/connections I was able to make from varied experiences.

I am only applying for an entry level position and am working off primarily an internship background, so I knew some points needed a bit of explanation, which I provided as succinctly as possible. I’ve integrated my experience and background in a way I am pleased with but it is just too long… help! Some editing tips or things to bear in mind? It’s part of an application to a non-profit arts institution.




Hi Marcel!

Great question. Here’s the good news…you’ve already done a lot of good thinking and come up with strong points you want to make. Including all the points related to the job description is a good way to start. It’s much easier to edit down your cover letter from all those ideas than to have a blank page staring at you.

I’m a bit confused since you say it’s a one and a half page resume. Not sure if that’s a typo or you simply mean the cover letter is so long it’s almost turned into a resume…or maybe you’re also trying to get the resume down in size. Just in case it’s the latter, for a non-profit, don’t worry too much about a resume of more than a page, even at an intern level – especially if you have enough great experiences.

Less is more for cover letters

Now back to your main question…even though a non-profit will often be a bit more willing to read through a long cover letter, you are right to want to get it down to a page at the most. Less really is more for cover letters…and it can help make you MORE memorable in this case. Otherwise you leave them with so many “important” points that you’ll just blur into all the other candidates’ cover letters and resumes.

You’re job is to hit them with your best shot at being remembered and, as a result, selected. You’re giving them a taste of who you are and what makes you so special. This is not the place to tell your whole story. That would only work against you.

Glad you looked at the job description and tried to use that to highlight where your skills mesh with those required by the job. That’s the first tip in writing a good cover letter. But as tempting as it may be, you don’t have to match every item! Now you need to go through it with your editor’s cap on and pick out four or five of the strongest points you can make for yourself. Maybe something you did as an intern or volunteer or even as part of a program at school that sets you apart from others.

Did you create something? Did you take charge and see a project through from start to finish? Did you find ways to improve business processes? Were you known for a certain skill? Did you do something especially interesting that will grab their attention?

Use bullet points in cover letters

Make these into bullet points in your cover letter. You don’t want to go into details at this point. I know you think they require explanation to make the connection, but your job now is to select only the key points you want to leave them with and give enough of an interesting summary of each one (almost a headline, in effect) to make them want to know more.

You also say it’s part of an application. Is there the ability to attach an extra page called “Additional Information” using bullet points to offer a few more things you want to highlight in a way your resume doesn’t? (Of course, I would then want to ask…why doesn’t it? Make sure you look at resumes samples and see how you can clearly present the strongest picture of yourself.) Or, alternatively, you could use the extra page to tell ONE really great story about something you did that you think speaks to the organization and the role you might be able to play. That could work well for you, if it’s not specifically prohibited. This way you can have a strong, clear cover but also cover yourself. 😉

Since you’re applying for an entry-level job, the most important things they want to see are evidence of initiative, creativity, strong follow-through, leadership, the ability to play well with others, and overall likability. A good cover letter and resume can help convey all this.

BTW…for you or my other readers, some ideas on resumes and cover letters, you might want to check out Resume Help on my blog.

I wish you much luck, Marcel. PLEASE let us know what happens!

Ronnie Ann


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

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