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Written by Lotte van RijswijkLotte van Rijswijk

Study: how do cover letters differ around the world?

5 min read
Study: how do cover letters differ around the world?
Artwork by:Antonina Kasyanikova
Applying for jobs happens all around the globe, of course. But how do job seekers in different countries apply for a job? Does a Dutch cover letter look different than it does in another country? To shed light on the differences, resume.io analyzed over 350,000 cover letters from 19 countries.

Dutch job applicants in the top 5 of the longest letters

Dutch job applicants turn out to write relatively lengthy cover letters. On average, they need 275 words. There are only four other countries where a job applicant outlines their motivation using more words than average.

Danes are the only ones to use more than an average of 300 words in their job application letter. Brazilians are the briefest: they argue why they are a good fit for a job in just over 150 words.

Italians and British write the longest sentences

How well does such a cover letter sound to a recruiter? Italian recruiters, in particular, have to wade through long sentences. On average, Italian applicants use 23 words per sentence.

The British are also apparently fond of long sentences. They formulate sentences that average 22 words. In the Netherlands, sentences are a lot more compact; with around 17 words per sentence. Canadians put a full stop after every ten words and as such, write the most concise sentences.

How people are addressed by title varies from country to country

Even the way people are addressed by title varies from country to country. In the Netherlands, as in five other countries, job applicants address their letter most often to ‘meneer/mevrouw’ (Sir/Madam'). In many English-speaking countries, including Australia, Canada and the United States, a letter is addressed directly to the recruitment manager.

While in some other countries, a particular gender appears to be preferred. Indians address their letter to "Mr. Manager," and in Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic, the predominant title is also male. Belgian and German applicants address their letter most often to a woman.

Most commonly used title Countries
Sir/madam Britain, Indonesia, Malaysia, Netherlands, Poland, South Africa
Recruitment manager Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, United States
Mr Italy, Spain, Czech Republic
Madam Belgium, Germany
Mr. Manager  India

Only the Czechs usually don't start a cover letter with 'I'

In almost every country, a job application letter often starts with 'I'. It is only in the Czech Republic that a different word is chosen: ‘Recently'. Australians start most often talking about themselves, in almost half of all letters. In the Netherlands, 18.1% of all letters begin with 'I'.

Aside from the Czech Republic, the use of a time indication to start a cover letter is also no exception in the other countries. In all the countries surveyed, words such as "when" or "after" are also in the top 10 words that an applicant opens their letter with.

Belgians and Britons who are looking for a job also regularly start their letter using very polite language. The word 'graag' ('please' or 'gladly') is also listed among the 10 most used opening words in those countries.

Work is usually the central theme, but not in Dutch letters

In most countries, the words 'work' or a verb conjugation of 'working' are most often used in cover letters. Things are slightly different in the Netherlands and Belgium, however. In Dutch letters, ‘graag’ ('please' of 'gladly') is the most frequently used word. 

The list of most commonly used words does not differ all that much between the different countries. What is notable, however, is that many applicants focus primarily on what they can already do, and less on the progress and personal development they hope to make in the prospective position.  

It is customary everywhere to refer to 'experience' and 'skills' in a cover letter, while 'development' and 'opportunity' are rarely ever high on the top 10.

Most commonly used words Countries
Work United States, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Britain, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, India, South Africa
Graag (please, gladly) Netherlands, Belgium
Position Italy, Czech Republic
Experience Germany, Malaysia

Study Method

What do cover letters usually look like, and are there any differences between countries? To answer this question, resume.io researched the length and word usage of thousands of cover letters around the world. A total of 361,312 letters were analyzed, of which 62,149 came from job seekers in the United States.

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