Guess what cover letters and goldfish have in common


Our average attention span is 8.25 seconds. After that, our intense concentration drops off.

The average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.

What’s our point? 

That nowadays, you need to write a cover letter as if it’s for a goldfish with attention disorder deficit. 

We’re joking, of course. But ….

The Microsoft study 

Microsoft conducted a large study in Canada to track our attention span — which it defines as “the amount of time we spend concentrated on a task without becoming distracted.”

And the research shows that in 2000, our attention span was 12 seconds.  Today, it’s 8.5 seconds.  So yes, the goldfish now out-focuses us.  goldfish-face

How’s that even possible?  Blame it, if you will, on all the pulls and pings of our electronic devices.

Bottom line for job candidates:  You’re sending your cover letter out into a very distracted universe.

Here are some recent numbers that drive home your challenge:

30:    Number of times officer works check their email in an hour ( and remember, hiring managers work in offices).

593:  Number of words on an average webpage

166:  Number of words on a webpage that people actually read.

4.4:   Seconds that readers will devote to each additional 100 words on average.

2.7:   Minutes on average that people will spend watching a single internet video.

6: Tips for writing a cover letter from the experts at The Bagg Group

Think Twitter:

Keep your sentences short.  Luckily, we have a lot of practice from years on Twitter. It’s debatable whether Twitter grew out of our short attention span, or whether it created it. But in any case, at least now we know we can say a lot in 140 carefully chosen characters.

It’s far easier to write long sentences than good short ones. But taking the easy way out won’t get your cover letter read.

Cut to the chase:  

Since we know we don’t get a lot of concentrated time, it’s essential to deal with what people care about most – right away.  First line.

Figure out what the company wants above all — and open by showing you’re the solution to whatever it is they’re looking for.

Have white space, short paragraphs: 

Eye tracking studies show that we tend to read  (or scan) in an F pattern.  Basically, our eyes travel the width of a screen or page for the first few lines. Then, as we scroll f_patterndown the page, we read vertically, not horizontally.

In other words, our eyes stop before the sentence does if the sentence goes across the page.

Use bullet points:

You can include 3-5 short bullet points –each one should show a result.

  • Each bullet should say what you did, and the outcome.
  • Bullet points, like tweets, get noticed.

It’s about them – not you:

We’re going to be cruel to be kind. A lot of people write about what they want – and honestly, that’s not of great interest to your audience.  Hiring managers care about what you can do for the company. 

If you are writing to get an interview, it’s safe to assume you believe you’d like the job.  So there’s no need to go there.

What matters now is to show how you can meet a need.

Show fit that matters to them:  

Beyond your skills, include an ending short paragraph about why you’re the right fit for the company—and take your cues from the company’s website or/and job posting.

You can use bullet points here too.  Include two relevant facts about what’s meaningful to you or what extra-curricular activities you do that you really love.  But keep it short!

Want to check your attention span? Try this fun test

A final point.  Recruiters at Bagg Pro, Bagg Technology Resources, Bagg @ Your Service, Bagg Managed Resources, and Turn Key Staffing are much more dedicated readers than most. But that’s our job. Still, potential candidates will lose even our attention too if they submit long paragraphs that don’t get to the point.

Ask a friend or family member to read your cover letter quickly –in real world time.  Next, ask what they remember about what they read. If they can’t recall the major points you want to make, start editing.

Spend the time it takes to make your point quickly. It’s really worth the effort.  (And we made that powerful point in just 81 characters!)

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