What's the Difference Between a Cover Letter vs a Resume?


Knowing what makes a cover letter and resume different will prevent you from making a mistake and maximize your chances of getting hired.

Your resume gives employers an overview of your professional skills and experience. It offers a snapshot of your career progression. On the other hand, cover letters offer a more personal introduction. It focuses on highlighting why you’re the ideal candidate for a role. A cover letter is where you can explicitly explain why your background aligns with what the company is looking for. 

Cover letters are where you can let your personality shine. It’s an opportunity to highlight and explain how your background makes you uniquely qualified for a particular job position in a company. In contrast, resumes allow you to concisely present your work history, professional growth, and significant achievements from a logical perspective. 

So, cover letter vs resume: do you need to know more about the differences?

Knowing what makes a cover letter and resume different will prevent you from making a mistake and maximize your chances of getting hired. There are some things that don’t belong in a resume that should go on your cover letter instead.

A resume is a concise summary of your work experience and skills, while a cover letter is a personalized document that explains why you're a strong fit for a specific job and expresses your enthusiasm for the role.

Even though both forms of applications are designed to sell yourself, they both take a different approach.

Cover Letter vs Resume: The Key Differences

A resume is a brief, one to two-page document that highlights your work experience, skills, and qualifications, typically in a reverse chronological format. A cover letter, on the other hand, introduces you to the employer, explains why you are a strong candidate for the position, and how your qualifications match the job requirements.


Why Write a Resume?

You write a resume to give hiring managers an overview of your professional background. 

The main thing recruiters are looking for is relevant work experience. A good resume is professionally formatted and easy to navigate. In other words, list previous experience and mention relevant achievements that demonstrate the extent of your skills. 

With a resume, you can showcase a linear career history alongside steady growth. Ultimately, it should be factual and logical. 

Resumes are typically a mandatory requirement for almost all job applications, whereas, cover letters can be optional.

Why Write a Cover Letter?

You write a cover letter to directly explain why the company should hire you. This doesn’t mean you should blatantly write paragraphs praising yourself. It’s about making it clear that you’re genuinely interested in working for the company and explaining how your background makes you a qualified candidate. 

Unlike a resume, cover letters allow you to shed light on your personality. You have more room to express yourself. 

Resumes are for giving recruiters a concise report that shows you have all the relevant skills and experience for carrying out the job responsibilities. Cover letters are for elaborating and putting together a thoughtful message that tells hiring managers why they should hire you. 

As your resume focuses more on what makes you qualified, your cover letter complements that by showing why it makes you the best candidate.

You might also find our other cover letter guides useful: 

What a Resume Includes 

Resumes do not resemble the structure and format of a cover letter. Rather, it can be seen more like a formal documented report that’s made up of different sections which focus on specific areas. 

Here are all the key bits of information that a resume needs to include: 

  • Contact details
  • Professional summary 
  • List of previous job titles and projects, as well as key achievements and responsibilities, using data to emphasize the impact of your contributions
  • Formal qualifications, certifications, and licenses
  • Hard and soft skills in the skills section 
  • Any additional certifications, relevant experience, or qualifications that help highlight your skills

Let’s break down Rezi’s HR Resume Template below:

HR Resume Template with high amount of experience and skills in related fields from various companies.
HR Resume Template

Notice how this resume uses clear headers to label each section. 

Firstly, at the top of the resume is the header section which includes your contact information and location.

As we get into the main part of the resume, each section is made clear by a heading. To highlight the candidate’s job position and the company that they’ve worked for, or other key points, the font size is usually larger and made bold. 

Also, compared to cover letters, resumes will mainly use bullet points to provide a description under each section. 

What a Cover Letter Includes 

The standard cover letter includes the following: 

  • Contact details, as well as the company name and date. 
  • Opening paragraph—mention career highlights and show that you align in values.
  • Main body—directly show that you have what it takes to address specific company needs. 
  • Thank-you note and reiteration of enthusiasm. 
  • Professional sign-off.

While resumes can be seen as a formal overview of your professional background, cover letters are a formal letter that further explains why you're a good fit for the role.

This time, let’s break down Rezi’s HR Cover Letter Template below:

HR Cover Letter Template
HR Cover Letter Template

In contrast to a resume, the cover letter header section takes a lot less space.

It begins with a formal greeting before getting into the opening paragraph, which then explains why the candidate is making an application. They’ve also introduced themselves by providing a brief background.

The next few paragraphs in the main body showcases the candidate’s skills and explains the behind the scenes of what they were responsible for. Along with this, they’re also providing their own personal input. 

Where a resume is made up of sections that focus on different areas, cover letters focus on different areas too but it uses paragraphs instead.

However, a cover letter is more detailed and showcases your personality more than a resume.

The Format of a Resume and Cover Letter 

We’ve established that the formats of both applications are different. 

That doesn’t mean they should be completely separate from each other - it still needs to be somewhat consistent. 

For example, you should still be using the same font style and font size.

Also, for cover letters, you should always aim for a one-page cover letter and no further than that. One-page resumes are just as effective, and two-page resumes work when you have a lot of experience to talk about.

When sending over your application electronically, the file type for both your resume and cover letter should be sent as a PDF file with an appropriate file name.

Key differences between cover letter and resume

At this point, we’ve got the bigger picture of the fundamental differences between resumes and cover letters. But, there are a few more differences to know. 

Your resume is more of an overview while your cover letter goes more into the specifics. 

From both applications, you’re selling yourself by showcasing your skills and background. Your resume focuses more on what makes you the best candidate and your cover letter focuses more on why you’re the best candidate.

The Tone of Voice for a Cover Letter

Compared to your resume, the tone of voice for cover letters are friendlier and more conversational. 

Since you should be showing your enthusiasm on your cover letter, you have more freedom to be a bit more subjective and personal. However, that doesn’t mean you can talk to the hiring managers like they’re a close friend

Whenever you do make an opinion-based statement, just make sure you provide evidence so you don’t come off as arrogant. 

The Tone of Voice for a Resume

As mentioned earlier, resumes take on a more factual approach. Think of it as a scientific perspective to your job application as opposed to being more personal. 

Unlike a cover letter, the tone of voice for resumes tend to be more formal. 

Cover Letters Complement Resumes 

Most of the time, resumes are the main job posting requirement and cover letters may not be necessary. 

Where ats resume focus on proving you're qualified for the role and that you meet the main requirements, your cover letter prioritizes the “why” aspect for what makes you the best person to hire. With this complementary aspect, it can improve your overall application and help the recruiters make their hiring decision.

Resumes are more difficult to distinguish from one another. On the other hand, cover letters are more noticeable.

With cover letters, it’s easier for the hiring managers to determine which candidate is a better fit for their company culture. And, seeing whose mindset is more aligned with their mission and long-term goals. 


Here are the key takeaways:

  • Resumes are like a formal report—they summarize your skills, work experience, and qualifications.
  • Cover letters are a documented letter structured in paragraphs which explains in detail why you’re the best fit for a particular job position at a company.
  • Resumes will take a more scientific, logical approach, whereas cover letters can take a more personal approach.
  • Cover letters complement your resume by going in-depth into how you can contribute to the organization.

Cover letters aren’t always needed, but resumes are almost always mandatory. 

That doesn’t mean you should skip your cover letter. When it’s well-written, it can help you increase your chances of getting noticed.

With Rezi’s AI-powered ATS templates, you can create a job-specific resume and a tailored cover letter that will beat the resume scanners within a few clicks. 

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Astley Cervania

Astley Cervania is a career writer and editor who has helped hundreds of thousands of job seekers build resumes and cover letters that land interviews. He is a Rezi-acknowledged expert in the field of career advice and has been delivering job success insights for 4+ years, helping readers translate their work background into a compelling job application.

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