I’m sure we can all agree that it’s a good idea to submit both a resume and a cover letter when applying for jobs.
But what is the difference between the two? And what are the similarities?
You stand a much better chance of getting that job if your resume and cover letter complement each other, and you don’t simply replicate the same information in both.
In this post we’re going to explain how your resume and your cover letter should work hand-in-hand as a winning combination in your job search.
Essentially, a resume is a summary of all your work experience and achievements. Its purpose is to provide a recruiter or hiring manager an overall impression of your ‘worth’.
A cover letter is a formal written document that usually accompanies a resume, both for speculative and formal job applications.
It is more specific to the job that you are applying for, and it should describe how your experience and skills make you the ideal person for the job.
After having condensed your work experience, skills and qualifications into your resume, you should view the cover letter as a way to expand on these in relation to the job.
What Information to Include
What to include on your Resume
Typically, a resume would include the following information:
- Employment history and work experience
- Education and qualifications
- Contact details
Whilst details of referees can be included, we don’t recommend adding references to your resume.
What to include on your Cover Letter
It should ideally follow a precise format (which we have laid out below) and include within the body of the text the following:
- Where you heard about the job to which it refers
- How your skills and experience are relevant to the job and the business
- Why you are interested in the job and the business
- A demonstration of your abilities with listed examples
What format should a resume be?
There are a number of different resume formats available, and each has their pros and cons:
- Chronological – stating work experience in date order
- Functional – prioritising information by experience, rather than by date
- Achievement – Similar to the Functional format, but focuses on key achievements
- Combination or Hybrid – Blend of Chronological and Functional
- Targeted – Specific to the role you’re applying for (Quick Tip: this is the best one!)
For more information on each of these, and to select the right option for you, read our resume format guide.
What format should a cover letter be?
The format should be that of a standard letter. This means including:
- Your address in the top right-hand corner
- Address of the recipient
- Formal greeting, such as ‘Dear Sir / Madam’
- Series of paragraphs
- Formal sign-off, such as ‘Yours sincerely’
Resume writing style
A resume should be written in the third person (don’t use “I”), be as concise as possible, and be fact-based.
Sentences should be short and to the point – often bullet points are used as a good way of keeping statements succinct.
So instead of writing a sentence that says “I managed a large team of salespeople” within a paragraph, you should use a bullet point to say “Managed a sales team of 10 people”.
Cover letter writing style
A cover letter should be written in the first person (use “I”, but not too much!), with proper sentences and paragraphs.
A cover letter is a formal document, so you should include a salutation, and an appropriate closing (e.g. yours sincerely).
How long should a resume be?
Your resume needs to include all relevant information, without being so long that it never gets read. As a general rule of thumb, your resume should be no more than two pages.
Read more about resume length, including exceptions to this rule.
How long should a cover letter be?
Ideally, aim for less than one page, and certainly don’t spread it out over two pages or more.
As long as you have made a strong case for you being the best person for the job, and you haven’t just repeated your resume, then it’s a good length.
Read more about cover letter length, including exceptions to this rule.
Cover Letter vs Resume – Summary
In short, there is very little difference in the content of the letter and resume, although as we have seen the cover letter expands on the redacted detail of the resume.
The resume has a number of options for pre-determined formats, whilst the cover letter simply follows the format of a standard letter.
The style of writing in each document is quite different, with the resume being more concise and ‘punchy’ than the cover letter, which should contain full sentences and paragraphs.
And in terms of length, your resume should ideally be two pages, and your cover letter nno more than one page.