Cover Letter vs Resume: The Difference and Comparison Definition of Resume and Cover Letter Difference Between Cover Letter and Resume How to Prepare a Resume and Cover Letter How to Write a Cover Letter and Resume Frequent Questions Mistakes in Cover Letters
Cover Letter vs Resume: The Difference and Comparison Definition of Resume and Cover Letter Difference Between Cover Letter and Resume How to Prepare a Resume and Cover Letter How to Write a Cover Letter and Resume Frequent Questions Mistakes in Cover Letters
Updated 04/01/2021

Cover Letter vs Resume

Still hesitating between a resume and a cover letter? Arm yourself with both! This article will show how to use these application documents to your advantage.

Still hesitating between a resume and a cover letter? Arm yourself with both! This article will show how to use these application documents to your advantage.

Nowadays, most candidates are aware that a well-written resume is a must for a successful job hunt. But what about a cover letter?

According to the Society For Human Resource Management statistics, a missing cover letter is a faux pas for at least 20% of organizations (government agencies value cover letters more than private-sector companies though).

However, candidates are at times perplexed as to the purpose of a cover letter. If their resumes are detailed and well-written, what should they put in a cover letter? Should they simply reword the same information?

Indeed, at first sight, both documents seem to share similar traits and mention similar information. But they differ in purpose and mechanics.

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Definition of Resume and Cover Letter

A resume is a formal document that showcases your professional experience and skills in a concise form, following a certain structure. It usually lists your education, qualifications, and key achievements, supplemented by occasional and optional details such as personal information, hobbies, etc.

A cover letter is a semi-formal addendum that usually introduces your resume in the body of an email. It informs the employer/recruiter that you are a good fit for a vacancy and prompts them to read your resume.


Difference Between Cover Letter and Resume

PurposeA resume is the focal point of the application and details your professional experience.A cover letter is instrumental in getting a recruiter to read your resume by highlighting that you meet the job requirements and want to work at this particular company.
ContentA resume contains your work history, education, skills, qualifications, contact details, etc.The cover letter should indicate why you are interested in the job and address how your work experience and skills meet the job requirements.
DetailsA resume is a more detailed list of your information.The cover letter is a less detailed summary of your resume.
FormatThere are several resume formats. The reverse chronological format is the most common. The resume is written in the third person, in incomplete sentences.A cover letter has a typical letter format with 1 to 3 paragraphs. It is written in the first person, in full sentences.
LengtIn most cases, a resume should not exceed one page. If you have an extensive career, 2 to 3 pages can be acceptable.A cover letter should never be over one page.

How to Prepare a Resume and Cover Letter

Writing a resume and cover letter does involve some of the same information and writing skills.

  • Include your personal details. Make sure you add your name, email address, and phone number on both documents;
  • Avoid using “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Many recruiters will not read past such a generic greeting. Make an effort and find the name of the person in charge of recruiting;
  • Peruse the job description. Your resumes should be tailored according to the employer’s job description. For a cover letter, cherry-pick the information to perfectly match your interest and experience to the job description;
  • Answer “Why are you the best fit for a position?” This is the main aim of both documents. You should clearly communicate your desire to get the job and the fact that you have the necessa ry qualifica tions.
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How to Write a Cover Letter and Resume

If you want to get a better understanding of how to make a good resume and cover letter, check out sample cover letters and resumes.

If you don’t feel confident in your writing skills or you simply want to save some time, you can find dozens of templates to use or you can order professionally written application documents from online builders.


Frequent Questions

Career experts respond to the most common question about the peculiarities of creating and sending cover letters and resumes.

Should I send a cover letter or resume?

You should send both. Even if a cover letter is not mentioned in the list of required application documents, send it just to be on the safe side.

Do you send a cover letter and resume separately?

Absolutely not. The point of sending a cover letter is to signal to the recruiter that you are a viable candidate and your resume is worth their attention. If your cover letter succeeds in this endeavor yet there is no resume attached, your efforts are in vain. If you send a resume sans a cover letter, the odds are that the former will not be read without the latter.

What goes first, the cover letter or resume?

This question is relevant if you are attaching both documents as two files to an email. A sure-fire tactic is to attach the resume as a pdf-file and copy-paste a cover letter into the body of an email. Then the recruiter is sure to see both of your documents.

What to put in a cover letter for my resume?

A cover letter has to complement your resume. So there is no sense in repeating the same information twice. Use the cover letter to reinforce to the recruiter that you fit the job. If the job requirements specify work experience in years, mention the number of years you have in this field. Next, show you have the skills needed. Finally, briefly mention how you want to work for them. Avoid using fluff and beefing your copy up with irrelevant information.

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Mistakes in Cover Letters

Let’s take a look at the most typical mistakes made by applicants when writing cover letters.

Too long

Limit it to one page. Whether the body of your copy is made of three sentences or three paragraphs, it should contain information about three things: 1) why you are applying and want to work at this particular company; 2) why or how you meet the job requirements; 3) a call to action (contact me by…, I will contact you on…, etc.).

If you have a referral, mention your personal/professional connection and the type of role you are pursuing in the second paragraph.

Too banal

Avoid saying obvious things. For example, you are advised against starting your document with “I am writing to apply for [job] at [company].” It makes the applicant look lazy and is an indication of lack of imagination or empathy. Both are bad signs for you as a candidate.

Recruiters get tons of boring and almost identical emails, so your task is to stand out. For example, start with a statement of your achievements: “In my two years at Mazda Ltd, I doubled our annual sales.” After such an introduction, a recruiter is more likely to become interested in reading your application. A cover letter is not as formal as a resume, so you can afford to add some personality into it.

Too vague

If you think that it is enough to toss a list of skills and qualifications at the recruiter right in your first email, you are very wrong. Like any other individual, recruiters are excited by a fresh approach and non-trivial descriptions. Your cover letter can be short, but the word choices need to hit the recruiter right in the heart, piquing their interest to keep reading and eventually invite you to a job interview. And that’s the end goal, right?

It is a good idea to write detailed descriptions so that the recruiter can visualize how great you are at problem solving and the other skills and duties you are referring to. For example, you could write: “If I’m in the middle of a Skype call or a conference and there is an IT problem, I would try to check the wires and plugs while we are all waiting for the IT staff to fix it, rather than sitting idly.” Now, the recruiter immediately grasps your great problem-solving skills and quick reaction.

Be Attentive

Always make sure you follow all the prospective employer’s requirements. Check out whether you included all the documents required. In addition to a typical set of documents, employers may require letters of recommendation and certificates.

Additionally, see if a CV is required instead of a resume. Although you may never need both a CV and resume, it is always better to know the difference between the two. A CV is a longer and more detailed version of a resume. However, in Europe resume and CV are often considered as synonyms.

And remember, cover letters are never abbreviated. If a CV is required, it stands for Curriculum Vitae. It is not an abbreviation for a cover letter.

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Adjust the Tone

A resume is a fully fledged, formal document where you have little room to manoeuvre. It follows a certain structure and has specific rules - don’t include pronouns, use short sentences, pack it with information.

In contrast, a cover letter is a semi-formal document in which you stick to the rules of writing a letter - address the recruiter, add a closing, remember to add your name and contacts, etc. In a cover letter, you have more flexibility and can, for example, explain gaps and inconsistencies in your resume. A cover letter allows a conversational tone as if you are talking to … no, not a friend - a mentor!

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