Resume vs. Cover Letter - What you need to know

Essential résumé writing guide January 15, 2020 · 7 min read

If you’re in the job market or applying to go to college or university, you’ll have heard about resumes and cover letters; they’re key to the process. They go hand in hand because what you include in one is likely to be mirrored in the other, but they are very much different beasts and need to be treated as such.

You need to know what the key differences between the documents are so that you can get both of them on point.

What is more important: a resume or a cover letter?What is more important: a resume or a cover letter?

Things can get baffling real quick when you enter the job market for the first time or are applying for work after a long career break. Don’t worry, we’re here to answer the burning questions, like:

  • What is a resume vs cover letter?
  • Should a resume or a cover letter go first?
  • What are the resume vs cover letter differences?
  • What are the resume and the cover letter purposes?

And finally, should you choose to use a resume, or cover letter, or both?

Let’s get into this! We’ll start with a table that puts the basics together to keep things simple, read on the get to full lowdown.

A resumeA cover letter
WhatA document that summarizes the jobs you have held, education, certifications, skills, and other information about your background and work experience. A resume is usually expected for any type of job application. A document to complement your resume, with an introduction and highlighting what in the resume makes you great for the specific job.
HowMultiple sections covering education and experience, using bullets and white space.A subjective letter addressing the reader directly, usually around 3-4 paragraphs using a conversational tone.
Length1-2 pages1 page
ToneProfessional toneMore conversational
PhotoSome parts of the world require a photo, read about where it’s needed and what’s the difference between it and your LinkedIn pic.Photo isn’t needed
WhoYou’re not writing to anyone, in particular, just making statements.Address it to the hiring manager or recruiter directly.
ReasonGives employers key facts about your education, experience, skills. Don’t go over 2 pages.Gives subjective and relevant information, highlighting key details but still to the point.

Want to get into specifics? Here we go…

Define a Resume

Resumes and CVs are quite the same things: a document that you write about you and your skills and experience that you send out when looking for a job in a company.

A resume is a document with information about your education, work experience, achievements, hobbies and contact details.A resume is a document with information about your education, work experience, achievements, hobbies and contact details.

In your résumé, you need to include a detailed list of your past employers and what you did for them, as well as your education and qualifications. Point out the great stuff you achieved in your past roles, often this the best tool to boast and show how you can add value in a role.

Pro-Tip
Bulleted lists are a great way to keep your resume slick and concise, it also makes it more readable to potential employers - no sifting through long paragraphs. Feel like it’s going to take forever? In five minutes our resume builder will have you off to a flying start.

So Then, a Cover Letter is…?

Also, something that you use to help get a job, it’s a letter that you use to give your future employer more detailed information about yourself by way of an introduction. You normally attach it along with your resume, giving an overview of what’s in there that’s relevant to the role and giving them a reason to read the resume through.

A cover letter is a document that helps you to show your interest in the company and the motivation to get a job.A cover letter is a document that helps you to show your interest in the company and the motivation to get a job.

It should only last three to four paragraphs, giving brief information so the employer can get to grips with your background and understand how you’d fit into the organization. Besides, you have yo show your interest and motivation to work in this particular company.

Pro-Tip
Make sure you pay attention to the job requirements for the role you’re applying for and tailor your cover letter to highlight your skills, qualifications, and experience that make you perfect for the job.

Resume and Cover Letter - Key Differences

Often, the easiest way to understand the difference between a resume vs cover letter is to get to grips with what you actually need them for:

Resume

A resume is a summary of your previous jobs, education, and training and shows the hiring manager reading it who you are as a professional. Think of it like the “product”.

Cover letter

A cover letter is the sales pitch for your resume, giving the recruiter reasons why what you’ve done in the past makes you a perfect hire for their role. Tell them why you want to work for them and how you’re going to help develop their business.

A resume and cover letter are the team players, however, for a successful result, you must follow some rules while compiling them.A resume and cover letter are the team players, however, for a successful result, you must follow some rules while compiling them.

A resume is typically written in a formal style, using the third person and you should use as few words as you can to get your experience across, keep it short and simple. Most resumes you see will have: a list of contact deets; a collection of your past experience with your job title, your key responsibilities, and achievements, and the dates you worked in each role; a list of your education and professional qualifications; and any other relevant information like volunteering or professional association memberships.

Your cover letter is there to pull out exactly what is in your resume that will make you the perfect hire. You’re writing a letter rather than a factual list so format it properly, with an appropriate greeting - ideally with the name of the recruiter - using paragraphs and a polite sign-off. Your cover letter needs to be in the first person, but don’t overuse “I”, focus on the reader instead.

Pro-Tip
When you’ve got facts to boast about, use them. Include details like how many people you supervised, what you raised the productivity levels too, how much you exceeded your targets by; details give you credibility.

Are There Any Similarities Between Resumes and Cover Letters?

Absolutely! The main job of a resume and a cover letter is to help you get an interview invitation.

The main job of a resume and a cover letter is to help you get an interview invitation.And finally to get a job offer!

Reading this, you’re probably thinking whether a resume and cover letter need to be prepared and handled differently. As much as these documents have two very different functions, which are important to know about, there are things that are needed in both to get you ready to make it big in the role of your dreams.

Some of the main tips are: both of them need to be accurate, focus on the key activities and actions that you did, and of course, your spelling and grammar needs to be on fleek.

Pro-Tip
Both in your cover letter and your résumé, use definites when talking about you and your skills, rather than “I believe” and “I think” use assertive words like “I achieved”.

Key Takeaway

Look at your resume as an overall picture of your career until now, and see your cover letter as a summary of why your experience related to the job that you’re actually applying for. Here’s a rundown of the important bits you need to remember when looking at the differences between a cover letter and a resume:

Both CV and a cover letter have one common aim to attract the attention of your future employer and get an interview invitation.Both CV and a cover letter have one common aim to attract the attention of your future employer and get an interview invitation.
  • Your resume is a historical account of your work until now, using bullet points and broken down into sections.
  • In your cover letter, you go into more detail, giving insight into your work history in a personalized letter.
  • A resume is a list of qualifications and achievements - a cover letter describes them.
  • Keep a resume formal and direct; make your cover letter personal to the reader.
  • Cover letters are a complement to a resume and are standard practice to send out - hiring managers expect them.

Hopefully, with the tips given above, we’ve helped you navigate your way through choosing the right document for the right purpose when you want to apply for a job and introduce yourself as a perfect candidate for the desired position. We’ve got free resume templates for you to try out and make your curriculum vitae look professional, the perfect one is waiting for you!