What's the difference between a resume and a cover letter? Both a cover letter and a resume share the common purpose of proving that you have the right skills to excel at the job for which you are applying.
However, there are clear distinctions between the structure and intent of the two documents. Job seekers should view their cover letter and resume as a complementary but unique pair of documents. That is, your cover letter should be more than just bullet points regurgitated from the resume.
Many employers require that a resume is submitted with a job application.
A cover letter may not be required. But, including one when you apply for a job can help your chances of getting selected for an interview.
The Difference Between a Resume and a Cover Letter
You can think of your resume as a general summary of your work experience and your cover letter as a summary of your work experience as it relates to the job at hand.
A resume is a document that itemizes your employment history. It summarizes the jobs you have held, the education you have attained, certifications, skills, and other quantifiable information about your background and work experience.
The most common resume format is a list with your contact information, and experience section that includes job titles, position descriptions, dates of employment, an education section, and other relevant information.
Typically, a resume is written in the third person and uses as few words as possible to summarize the experience. So, instead of writing "I supervised the large buying team at XYZ company" a resume would have a bullet point that says, "Supervised 19-person buying team."
Whenever possible, you'll want to use numbers on your resume, such as the number of people you supervised, percent sales increased, the number of customers helped, etc.
A cover letter is written to highlight the qualifications you have for the job for which you are applying. It is used to provide the employer with additional information as to why you are a good candidate for the job. The main function of your cover letter is to show off how your qualification makes you a match for the job.
A cover letter is written in a letter format including a salutation, several paragraphs, and a closing. Unlike a resume, you should use the first-person to write your cover letter. (That said, avoid using "I" too much.)
What a Resume Includes
Your resume should provide employers with a detailed list of your work experience and education. The skills and accomplishments associated with each job you have held should be described in enough detail to show employers how you have added value in those specific roles.
Often, resumes provide information in bulleted lists; this helps make the document concise and allows recruiters to scan through it quickly.
What a Cover Letter Includes
A cover letter is a short three or four paragraph document. It should be written with the assumption that employers will consult your resume to match it to the statement you are making in the letter about your qualifications.
A cover letter will help employers to interpret your background as represented on the resume and will help prove how your previous experiences qualify you for a job.
When you are writing a cover letter for a job, first review the job requirements that are detailed in the job posting. Use your cover letter to explain how you meet those criteria.
Use a Cover Letter to Convey Subjective Information
A resume states the facts – who, what, when, and how. In contrast, a cover letter provides an opportunity to explain why you are qualified for the job. This document adds a bit of color and personality and is intended to persuade employers that you're a good fit for the position at hand.
A cover letter is a better vehicle than a resume to convey more subjective information like the basis of your interest in a position, how your values motivate you to pursue a job, or why the culture of a company appeals to you.
Your cover letters will help you sell your qualifications to prospective employers while your resume provides the details to back up the information included in your letters.