First impressions are critical when it comes to landing a job. Your resume and cover letter are the first two things most prospective employers will see, so it’s important to get them just right. If you’re not quite sure what a cover letter is and how it differs from a resume, we’ve got all the information you need to know.

What Is a Resume?

Your resume is essentially a brief summary of your education, work experience and workplace skills. Since employers typically have to weed through several applicants, this makes it easy for them to quickly compare applicants. Not only is properly formatting your resume important, but you also need to make sure you’re doing a good job of highlighting your skills and experience.

What Is a Cover Letter?

Cover letters are often sent in with resumes, but they’re a little bit different. A cover letter is a sort of introduction that supplements the information you provide in your resume. You can use a cover letter to explain why you’re a good fit for the job, expound on your skills and experience and more. Ultimately, your goal is to grab the attention of whoever is in charge of hiring and position yourself as a qualified candidate for the job.

Key Differences

As you might expect, there are some key differences to cover letters and resumes. Your resume is essentially a list of all your skills, education and experience, so it’s short and to the point. Your cover letter, on the other hand, gives you the chance to expand on things and add a little bit of personality to your application.

Your cover letter is also a chance to highlight some of the characteristics that make you a good candidate but aren’t necessarily work skills or experience. For example, you can talk about positive experiences you’ve had working in large teams or why your self-motivated nature makes you a good fit for the job you’re applying for.

Do You Need a Cover Letter and a Resume?

Whether or not you need a cover letter and a resume depends on the job you’re hiring for. Often times, a job will require a simple resume and nothing more. However, it’s always a good idea to put your best foot forward, and a well-written cover letter is a great way to do that.

Ideally, you should have one base version of your resume which you alter a bit to fit the job you’re applying for. When it comes to your cover letter, however, you should rewrite it from scratch each time. Not only will this add a more personal touch, it will help you improve as a cover letter writer and land better jobs in the future.

How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?

The difficult part about writing a cover letter is getting everything just right. It’s important to convey the right things in your cover letter and use the right voice. Perhaps most important, however, is making sure your cover letter is the right length.

So, how long should a cover letter be? For starters, you should never make your cover letter longer than a full page. In fact, it’s best for your cover letter to be between a half page and a full page. Two to four short paragraphs is more than enough space to introduce yourself, highlight some of your strong points and position yourself as a good candidate for the job. Employers generally don’t want to read a long cover letter, so keeping it short is convenient for both of you.

If you want the best shot at landing a job, you need to make sure you have a strong resume and cover letter. That means including the right information, formatting things correctly and keeping it short and sweet. With a little bit of research and practice, you can write a great cover letter to land yourself the job you’ve always wanted.