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Cover Letter vs Resume: Do You Need to Know The Difference?

Author —
Astely
June 14, 2021

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.

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

We’ve also included examples of a resume and cover, and broken each of these down.

What is The Purpose of a Resume?

The purpose of your resume is to provide an overview of your professional background. 

Resumes are an outline of your professional qualifications and corporate background that prove you’re qualified for the role. This is broken down into different sections, e.g. work experience section, skills section, education section, and more.

In contrast with a cover letter, a resume is more factual and takes a more logical approach towards the job application process. 

For nearly every job posting you see, resumes are a mandatory requirement. On the other hand, cover letters can be optional.

What is The Purpose of a Cover Letter?

The purpose of a cover letter is to show your hiring managers why you’re the best candidate for the job opening. 

It’s a documented letter that’s usually sent along with your resume. 

Unlike a resume though, with a cover letter you have more room to express yourself personally and to go into detail on some of your personal traits.

Your cover letter can add further description from what you’ve mentioned on your resume to give recruiters more insight into your profile and personality. This also helps them determine if you're a good fit not just for the job itself, but for their specific company too. It’s especially made clear by seeing whether or not you’re a good match with their values and working environment.

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 

Now that you’ve got a good idea of what a resume and cover letter is as well as their purposes, it’s important to know how their structures are different. 

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. 

The main sections that a resume include are:

  • Resume header
  • Professional summary or career objectives
  • Work experience 
  • Education
  • Skills 
  • References

Additional resume sections can include:

  • Hobbies and interests
  • Training and relevant coursework
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Volunteering
  • Certifications
  • Languages
  • And more…

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

HR Resume Template
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 

As mentioned, cover letters and resumes are not formatted in the same way.

By the name itself, cover letters resemble exactly that - a letter. On that note, here’s what the standard cover letter format includes:

  • The header
  • Opening paragraph
  • Main body 
  • Closing Paragraph
  • Signoff

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.

Cover Letter vs Resume: The Key Differences 

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 resumes 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. 

Conclusion

For a quick summary of everything we’ve gone through, here are the key takeaways:

  • Resumes are like a formal report that summarizes your skills, work experience and qualifications in sections 
  • Cover letters are a documented letter structured in paragraphs which explains in detail why you’re the best fit for the job and company
  • Resumes will take a more scientific, logical approach whereas cover letters take a more personal approach
  • Cover letters complement your resume by going in-depth and describing what you’ve mentioned in the first place

While resumes might seem more important as you see them everywhere as an essential part of the hiring process, cover letters are still a deciding factor that helps your prospective employers make a decision. 

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. 

We’ve helped over 120,000 happy job seekers land their new job at even the most competitive companies such as Facebook, Spotify, and Amazon. To top it all off, 62.18% of users who created an application with Rezi were offered an interview!

This article's author, Astley, is an avid content marketer who specializes as an SaaS copywriter. Learn more at Minimalist Copy

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