When you’re working on job applications, it can be stressful to understand the difference between cover letters and resumes. Not to mention all of the other details you have to keep track of!

Although there are several similarities between the two, cover letters and resumes are markedly different. Understanding these key similarities and differences is integral to writing noteworthy versions of both – versions that are sure to get you noticed when it comes time to interview. 

Here are some of the main differences when it comes to a cover letter vs. resume – as well as how to write showstopping renditions of both. 

Checking resume

Is A Resume A Cover Letter?

This is something employers always groan at when they see them slide across their desks – far too many job seekers assume that resumes and cover letters are the same thing, submitting just one as a “blanket” application that they assume checks off both boxes and meets the requirement.

Don’t fall victim to this fatal mistake! A resume is not the same thing as a cover letter (nor is it the same thing as a CV, which is, in essence, simply a longer and more professional version of a resume.

A resume is meant to give a detailed overview of your work history, letting prospective employers know what kinds of skills, educational background, and work experience you have. A cover letter, on the other hand, is a document tailored specifically to the job posting you are applying to and letting the hiring manager know in summary who you are and why you’re a good fit for the position. 

Cover Letter Vs. Resume Similarities

A resume is a brief document that summarizes your qualifications as a job candidate, while a cover letter is a bit more subjective. Though the two are markedly different, here are some of the similarities between the two. 

Resume

Formality

Here’s the biggest similarity you need to know – both a cover letter and resume should be formal. You should not use slang or improper spelling in grammar in either a cover letter or resume – ever! In addition to that, a cover letter will be written in a formal letter format with a salutation, a few paragraphs, and a closing. 

Used To Demonstrate Interest In A Job

Both a resume and cover letter can be used to show that you are interested in a job. 

Personally Tailored 

Again, both your resume and your cover letter should be personally tailored. Although a resume can be used again and again, you may want to make tweaks for every job you apply for to make sure the resume nicely fits with the job description. 

Many hiring managers and departments now use software to scan resumes for certain keywords – and if yours is lacking those keywords, you can be sure it won’t make it to the top of the pile. The same goes for your cover letter!

Give Indication Of Qualifications

Both a resume and cover letter will give a hiring manager or employer a good idea of whether you are qualified for a job, though a resume will be more detailed. Put the time into both!

Cover Letter Vs. Resume Differences

There are some clear differences between resumes and cover letters, although both can be used to convey your interest in a job. However, while a resume is essentially bullet points highlighting the most important features of your background, a cover letter is a more tailored document. 

Cover letters aren’t required for all job applications, while resumes typically are. A resume is a document “itemizing’ Your employment history, skills, certifications, and other information. It is normally written in the third person and includes as few words as possible to convey a message about who you are and why you are qualified for a job.

Creating resume

Cover Letter Conveys Subjective Info

A main difference between a cover letter and a resume is that a resume states the facts – while a cover letter explains why those facts show that you are the best candidate for the job. You can use your cover letter to highlight why you are qualified for the job and it can also be used to add a bit of personality and “flair” to your application.

That said, a cover letter should still be written in formal language and contain proper spelling and grammar. 

Format

Another difference between a cover letter and a resume is the format. While a cover letter is structured, as you might expect, just like a professional letter, a resume will have separate sections with bullet points (often not complete sentences) meant to convey specific details and dates.

Content

A resume is a broad overview of your career and educational history, listing your relevant skills and professional experiences. A cover letter will focus more on the job you are applying for. Some information will of course appear in both, but a resume is more past-centric while a cover letter focuses more on the future.

Purpose 

A resume will cover all the bases, giving your employer all the information they need to know in a few pages. It will let an employer quickly review your skills and figure out if you are qualified for a job. A cover letter serves as a more comprehensive overview meant to entice an employer to review your resume.

What To Include in a Resume

A resume will generally include short but sweet bullet points highlighting who you are as a candidate. You’ll normally write in third person, using as few words as you can to give an idea of your experience. It’s a good idea to use numbers whenever possible on your resume to help quantify your experience – for example, percent sales increased, number of people supervised, etc. There are a lot of solid resume formats out there that can differ in many areas such as page length or bulleting set-up, so let’s go over what is most essential to include.

Work Experience

Of course, your work experience and past jobs will be the most important things to include on your resume. Be sure to include any positions you’ve held that are relevant to the job you are applying for. If you don’t have much experience to list, don’t worry. You can still make a solid resume with no experience.

Education Section

The education section is one of the most important features to include on a resume, especially if you don’t have a ton of work experience yet. You will want to list your highest degrees as well as those that are most relevant for the position you are pursuing.

Skills

If there’s room, you may want to list your most applicable skills, for example, if you are applying for a job as an administrative assistant, it’s smart to include your typing speed and competencies with various computer programs like Office. 

Qualifications

This isn’t a mandatory section on your resume but can be helpful when it comes to applying for jobs. You may want to list any official certifications, honors, or workplace achievements you’ve included. If you’re pressed for space, these things can always be included in other sections of the resume, too.

Professional Memberships And Other Information

Some other information you may want to include in your resume will be things like professional memberships, clubs, and associations. For instance, if you are applying for a job in the psychology field, you may want to mention that you are a member of the American Psychological Association.

What To Include In A Cover Letter

A cover letter, unlike a resume, is generally written in first person. It highlights the qualifications you have for a job but doesn’t list them all out like your resume. The goal of a cover letter (which should never be more than a page long) is to provide an employer with information about how your qualifications make you a good match for the job.

Normally, a cover letter will be just three or four paragraphs, written with the assumption that employers will then consult your resume to match it to the statements you have made in your cover letter. 

Typing Cover Letter

Heading And Salutation

First up – the greeting! A cover letter is a formal letter so it will include a heading with your name, address, and the date – as well as the contact information for the letter’s recipient. You’ll Also include a professional greeting. 

How You Found The Job

You will also want to let your prospective employer know how you found the job. This may help them in future hiring efforts and can also get your cover letter noticed. 

Your Qualifications 

The most obvious piece of a cover letter – and the component that will form the bulk of your cover letter – will be a detailed overview of your qualifications. You’ll tend to include objectives that hopefully align with the company’s mission statement, too.

Goals For Future 

Let your prospective employer know how you are interested in proceeding and invite them to contact you via one of your chosen contact methods.

What Information Should Never Be On A Cover Letter Or Resume?

There are a few things you should never include in your cover letter or your resume. For example, be sure that you don’t include:

  • Spelling or grammatical eros
  • Too-long paragraphs or bullet points
  • The wrong contact information or company name
  • Anything that is not true
  • Salary expectations
  • Negative comments about past employment
  • Information unrelated to the job
  • Highly personal information (such as sexual orientation or religion)

Do You Put Your Cover Letter Or Resume First?

In today’s digital age, most resumes and cover letters are meant to be submitted digitally. Because of this, the question of whether your resume or cover letter should come first is more or less now a moot point.

However, it’s important to note that most employers actually look at a resume first, which is contrary to common belief. The exception to this is when you email a job application – in that case, the cover letter will typically be posted in the body of the email.

How To Show You Are The Ideal Candidate With Your Cover Letter And Resume

Ready to start writing? Always take some time to research the specific requirements of a job before you start working on either a cover letter or resume. Then, keep these tips in mind.

Don’t Be Repetitive

Although you will undoubtedly have some of the same information on your cover letter as you do on your resume, you should avoid repeating or regurgitating your resume word for word on your cover letter. 

Stick to a more conversational tone in the cover letter and don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit! Although your cover letter should not contain any bombshells of information that isn’t anywhere on your resume, you can save more specific details for the resume.

Keep The Cover Letter Short

A resume should, at most, be around two or three pages. A cover letter, by contrast, should only be three to four paragraphs long. It should never spill onto a second page and it’s rare that it should go past three-quarters of a page. Remember – the most important details will be saved for your resume. The goal of a cover letter is to be concise and relevant. 

Make A Good Impression

In both your resume and your cover letter, your goal should be to make a good impression. The cover letter is often the first chance you’ll have to make your mark on the employer! Take the time to skim over the job requirements and plug in any keywords that you notice mentioned on the job description – if it says you need to be experienced in C++, you may want to make sure that’s included on your resume and cover letter (as long as you have that qualification, of course). 

Be Subjective In Your Cover Letter – Not Your Resume 

Although you should be professional in both the resume and the cover letter, your cover letter gives you some freedom to be a bit more subjective. You can mention things that you simply won’t have room for on a resume – like how you found the job, the name of a person who referred you, or why you are passionate about the position. 

Which Is More Important – Cover Letter Vs. Resume

Neither! At the end of the day, the biggest similarity between a resume and a cover letter is that both are extremely important. While a cover letter will allow you to target a job and employer in a specific, targeted way, a resume will market your skills and experience as part of the larger overall picture.

Spend time tailoring both to the job and making sure they are perfectly polished. Your job search will be much more successful as a result!

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