Difference between a Cover Letter and a Resume

Updated on February 3, 2017

If you are currently job hunting or have gone job hunting in the past, you may have come across job postings that require you to submit a cover letter and a resume, or just one or the other. To make sure you bring the right documents the next time you look for a job, it is vital to learn the difference between a cover letter and a resume. This article will discuss the difference between the two.

Descriptions

Cover Letter

A cover letter is a letter that generally answers a job advertisement. It is also a tool that you can use to briefly introduce yourself and to request an interview schedule.

Contrary to popular belief, a cover letter does not explain every detail of your work history. It should state, however, your interest in the position you are applying for. It is where you establish a connection between yourself and the reader (i.e. the hiring personnel). In the cover letter, you highlight your qualifications related to the job posting and on how you can contribute to the company’s success.

A cover letter is always written clearly in complete sentences and should contain 3-4 paragraphs on a single page. Like other formal letters, it contains:

  • Header
  • Salutation
  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Closing
  • Signature

A cover letter is not always required by all employers. If you are applying for multiple job posts, you should create different cover letters for each application.

On the other hand, a resume is a document that gives the hiring personnel an overview of your skills. It is a tool that allows you to “market” or “sell” yourself to the company which you are interested in joining. It focuses on your strengths and professional background that make you stand out from the rest of the applicants.

In the early 1900s, people included basic personal information like height, weight, gender, and religion in resumes. Nowadays, however, a resume focuses on:

  • Personal information (name, address, and contact details)
  • Objectives
  • Education background (including honors received, degree, name of school and year attended)
  • Relevant job history (including the name of the company, position held, job duties, and dates of employment)
  • Skills and certifications
  • Relevant associations or memberships
  • Awards received and accomplishments
  • Activities (volunteer works or social involvement)
  • References (if requested)

Because a resume includes numerous details, it should be written in bullet form and should be one or two pages long so as not to overwhelm the reader. However, senior executives who have worked for more than 30 years may have resumes that are three or four pages long. The following are the acceptable resume formats being used these days:

  • Chronological format – lists the history in chronological order
  • Functional format – job history and skills are categorized into areas or functions
  • Hybrid format – a combination of chronological and functional formats
  • Infographic/Video/Website format – usually used by artists or those who work in the creative field or multi-media

Most employers require a copy of your resume. If you are applying for multiple jobs, it is acceptable to provide the same resume to different employers.

Cover Letter vs Resume

What, then, is the difference between a cover letter and a resume?

In terms of format, a cover letter is written in a formal letter format, whereas a resume is usually written in bullet form. If you work in the creative field or when the employer specifically requires one, it is also acceptable to create a video or infographic resume.

When it comes to the content, a cover letter explains why you are interested in the job posting and why you are qualified. It allows you to focus on how you can use your experience and skills to carry out the tasks if the company decides to hire you. On the other hand, a resume gives the hiring personnel an overview of yourself. It is a document that itemizes your job history, educational background, skills, etc.

Since a cover letter focuses on your qualifications related to the position you are applying for, you have to create different cover letters for different job posts. On the other hand, a resume contains facts about you, so you may send the same resume to different employers.

Comparison Chart

Cover LetterResume
Written in letter formatTypically in bullet form; artists may have video/infographic/web resumes
Explains why you are qualified and how you can use your skills and experience to carry out the tasks if hiredProvides an overview of yourself; contains itemized details about your job history, educational background, skills, etc
Should be personalized; different cover letters should be created for different job applicationsThe same resume may be sent to different employers