Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Along with your resume, a well-written cover letter is one of the most imporant pieces of your job application. But what exactly does it take to write a good cover letter? And how long should a cover letter be?

Many job applicants struggle with writing their cover letters, but most employers want to see them. Even if your potential employer doesn't require a letter as part of the job application, it's still a good idea to send one. If you write a great cover letter, it will show that you care enough to take that extra step, as well as add additional information that could strengthen your candidacy.

Determining the ideal length of your cover letter is tricky. While your potential employer will most likely want you to keep it under a page, how much shorter than a page varies according to the hire manager. In many cases, the shorter the better—that way, you know you're highlighting crucial experience and qualifications that's relevant to the position at hand, rather than including filler and fluff just to fill up space.

Most hire managers prefer cover letters that are shorter than a page, with half a page being the ideal length for many. Still, if you feel that you're not adequately addressing why you're qualified for the job, it's okay to go a bit beyond that. Just be as concise as possible, and definitely keep your writing under a page. Just as it's important to send a one-page resume (although that may vary based on your field and profession), keeping your cover letter length to a single page is also crucial.

So how do you fill that page—or half-page, as the case may be? For starters, don't just regurgitate your resume. Instead, highlight and focus on important skills and experience. That information may be on your resume as well, but in your cover letter, you'll expand on it and use examples to bring your skills to life.

In the first paragraph, briefly describe your interest in the position and why you are qualified. This is the paragraph that the hiring manager is most likely to read; she may just skill the rest. In the rest of the letter, highlight some specific talents and describe how they will serve you—and the company—well in that position. Read over the job description to get a good idea of what the company is looking for, and align your skills with the skills the hiring manager seems to want.

Ultimately, your cover letter should answer the question, Why are you the best candidate for this job?

In terms of your cover letter length, there is a such thing as too short. If you don't say much about yourself or the position, your prospective employer may think you're not very interested in the job. You need to strike a balance between explaining why you're a good fit and including enough details and not going on and on. A good cover letter says what it needs to say and answers the question of why you're the best person for this role.

And if you're interested in a company that doesn't have a job posting that fits you, you can always send a letter of intent, to show your interest and to get on the hiring manager's radar.