Cover Letter vs. Resume: Why You Need Both to Get the Job

resume and cover letter differences
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Overview

Introducing your application through a polished cover letter, balanced to pair perfectly with your resume, is a sure fire way to bring in more job offers. And in these difficult times, you need every edge on the competition that you can find. Yet despite overlaps in content and purpose, a cover letter and a resume are distinct documents. Learning the essential differences between these two employment tools will boost your job prospects.

What is a Resume?

A resume provides a tightly formatted and thorough overview of your professional skills and experience. These documents are required reading for every recruitment process and, unlike a cover letter, non-optional for your application.

The structure of a resume is usually made up of six parts:

  • Contact Details
  • Introduction
  • Educational History
  • Professional Career
  • Additional Skills
  • Awards

Through an inflexible structure, your resume gives recruiters the chance to compare candidates objectively, appraising who is suitable for the role. Your educational history and professional career should be a complete chronological account of your life, and any gaps will need to be explained (for example, if you took a gap year to travel).

Because a resume is packed with information, you’ll be relying on bullet points and abbreviated information to convey your experience. It isn’t the right place for a qualitative exploration of your skills – that’s where a cover letter comes in.

What is a Cover Letter?

Unlike a resume, which provides a neutral overview of your professional life, a cover letter is your chance to give an indication of your character, whereas resumes are required for job applications, a cover letter is often optional. Even when an application doesn’t specifically ask for a cover letter, however, it is a valuable addition to provide recruiters with a fuller understanding of your personality and skills.

A cover letter takes the format of a professional business letter and, along with contact details at the top and a header introducing the purpose of the cover letter, will be broken down into discrete paragraphs. Aim for 300 to 500 words with your cover letter – it should be concise enough to be an easy read for recruiters, but not overly brief so as to lack character.

The cover letter provides an opportunity for you to relate the skills and experiences outlined in the resume to the job at hand. Be sure to mirror language used in the advert to indicate that your skills are well suited to the role at hand.

Cover Letter vs. Resume

While a cover letter and a resume stand with different functions, they’re both important to your application. And what’s more, the relationship between them is important as they need to be able to work together, both backing each other up, to weave a narrative about your candidacy.

These two documents need to tell the right story – a story of a candidate who is exceptionally well qualified, with relevant experience to the role, but also more than just a series of qualifications. Your cover letter and resume can work together to build a picture of a complete candidate.

Four Differences Between a Cover Letter and a Resume

Now you know the outline of how these two tools work together to help you land the perfect job. Let’s take a closer look at four points on which the cover letter and the resume diverge. Importance reveals the hierarchy of the cover letter vs. resume dichotomy, and structure, tone, and purpose will help you structure your application for success.

Hand picking important parts to include in a resume vs a cover letter

1. Importance

We recommend that you send a cover letter and a resume every time you apply for a job – but they aren’t equally important. In fact, while every job application will require a resume to be attached, a cover letter is often optional.

That makes the resume the foundation of your application so it needs to be perfectly tailored to the position you’re applying for. The cover letter then adds a sprinkle of character to the mix and presents an opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd of candidates.

2. Structure

Because these two tools have different purposes, they’ll be structured somewhat differently. A cover letter is a professional and formal business letter – as well as the valuable content of the letter, its structure will indicate to the reader that you’re a professional and reliable applicant. Proper grammar, sentences and paragraphs will come together to leave a profound impression of professionalism.

Meanwhile, there’s so much information being packed into a resume that you’ll inevitably take shortcuts. There are a number of standardized resume formats to choose from, but each one contains bullet points and abbreviations to give an overview of your experience and skill set.

3. Purpose

Your cover letter and your resume are going to work together to generate a narrative of your competence and skill. The resume provides an overview of your professional qualifications, your relevant experience and your unique combination of skills. This is the big picture, and while it’ll be tailored to the job at hand it may be somewhat generalized.

The cover letter then adds supplemental information, introducing you personally as a candidate and linking the skills and experience outlined in the resume to the job description. In doing so, these two documents weave a powerful narrative about your applicability to the role.

4. Tone

Because a resume is offering a general overview of you as a candidate it should take a neutral and objective tone – something that can be compared like for like with the pile of resumes on the recruiters desk. The cover letter is your chance to find your own voice – although the formality of the tone will depend on the position you can inject some personality into this document to make sure you stand out.

Wrap-Up

Resumes are the required reading of recruiters but you can boost your chances of landing the job by including a powerful and articulate cover letter that helps you outshine other applicants. These two tools are both essential in the job hunt and, when you use them well together, they’ll tell an undeniable story about your qualifications and drive.

Katherine Rundell
Katherine Rundell
Katherine Rundell is a career writer at Paper Writing and UK Writings. She writes about resumes and has been providing services and training to professionals for over fifteen years. You can read more of her work at Essay Writing Service.

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