Resume VS. Cover Letter

Dec 21, 2015

Do you know the difference between a cover letter and a resume? It’s as simple as knowing the difference between a donkey and a horse. When searching for a job, candidates should be familiar with writing resumes and cover letters.

A resume provides a high-level overview of your educational background, skills, accomplishments, professional associations, related work experience, job duties, and other relevant information. Resumes should include your name, address, and contact information, as well as all degrees obtained, position titles, and dates of employment.

A cover letter is your initial contact with potential employers and complements your resume by introducing yourself, answering a job advertisement, and requesting an interview. Cover letters should build a connection with the reader and emphasize what you will bring to the job.

While most applications require resumes, a cover letter may not be required, so applicants are not always familiar with the difference between a resume and a cover letter. Some applicants forego a cover letter to save time, and this mistake could cost you a job. Submitting both a resume and a cover letter gives you two chances to market yourself to potential employers.

Both documents are important in the job search and can make either a positive or negative impression depending on the formatting, business etiquette, information communicated, and writing style.

Here are some common differences between a cover letter and a resume.

Format of a Cover Letter vs. Format of a Resume

The most obvious difference between a cover letter and a resume is the format. A resume should be easy to navigate and scannable when a potential employer looks at it. To catch a recruiter’s attention, your resume’s header should contain your name and contact information. If your resume is two pages, include this header on both pages, as many companies scan resumes electronically before sending them to hiring managers. This also helps the employer remember which resume he or she is viewing.

Throughout your resume, you can use headings to highlight your educational and work experiences, especially if you have several degrees or previous job positions. This helps employers quickly review your resume. Bulleted lists are the easiest way to emphasize your skills and job duties for each position.

On the other hand, cover letters contain between four and six paragraphs in business letter format, including the applicant’s and employer’s contact information, salutation, introduction, body paragraphs, and closing.

Cover letters should be focused on how you’ll fit the employer’s needs for the position, with less emphasis on being eye-catching and scannable and more emphasis on quality content in paragraph form. Cover letters also serve as a great indicator of your overall writing ability and persuasiveness, which may be especially important if the job you’re applying for involves written communication on a daily basis. In those situations, your cover letter could have a bigger impact than your resume.

Objective vs. Subjective Information

Resumes communicate facts to employers; cover letters express subjective information. When writing a resume, applicants sometimes find communicating job duties and accomplishments in bullet points difficult. It’s hard to elaborate on your job duties and skills when you’re limited to a one or two page resume.

In a cover letter, you can go into more detail and cite specific examples of how you made a difference at previous job positions or while enrolled in a college or university. You can explain why you’re pursuing your career goals, seeking a position at that particular company, and how your previous work or educational experiences qualify you for the job.

While cover letters are important, never assume that a hiring manager will get vital information about you from the letter. Many employers simply glaze over them or do not read them in their entirety, so sell yourself as the right applicant in the beginning of your letter. Ultimately, keep it short.

Professionalism and Personalization

Another difference between a cover letter and a resume involves personalization.

While both cover letters and resumes should be professional, cover letters should be tailored to the specific position for which you’re applying and include references to specific people and positions. You should address your cover letter to a specific individual by name. For example, if the hiring manager’s name is William Smith, you would address the letter to Mr. William Smith and begin the letter with the greeting “Dear Mr. Smith,” rather than “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “To Whom It May Concern.”

If you’re unsure of the hiring manager’s name, check the company’s website, try searching on a professional social networking site such as LinkedIn, or call them. A little research goes a long way in making sure the right person sees your letter.

Don’t Repeat Information

When writing a resume and cover letter, the most important piece of advice is not to repeat information from your resume in your cover letter.

Imagine yourself in the reader’s position- recruiters and hiring managers’ time is limited. Hiring managers sift through numerous applications and they don’t want to read the same information twice. Since your resume lists degrees from college and university, as well as dates and cities of employment, you can leave those details out of your cover letter.

Your cover letter gives you a chance to market yourself and stand out from other applicants. To avoid repeating information from a resume in your cover letter, carefully study the job position or advertisement. Determine what the employer is looking for, and then write your letter to meet that need. Insert key phrases from the position’s job description that accurately reflect your skills and abilities.

Suppose you’re applying for a position as a software engineer. You may have spent several years in customer support. You should include that in your resume, as it’s a previous job position. However, since working as a customer support representative is not relevant to software engineering, you could leave it out of your cover letter, unless you’re trying to build up from that position.

When writing the cover letter, tie the skills from your resume to the job description of the position. Include how the skills in your resume apply to that position and tie in metrics and other statistics that might help the hiring manager notice you.


While both resumes and cover letters have different formats, information, and purposes, they are equally important. Remember to check for spelling and grammar errors and present yourself positively. Be honest about your skills, accomplishments, education, and work history. In a competitive job market, your first impressions will be made from your resume and cover letter. They will set you apart from other applicants, earn job interviews, and ultimately get you the job. So be sure to know the difference between a cover letter and a resume and always include a cover letter.

About the Author

Charlie Kimmel

As President and CEO, Charlie has dedicated his 25+ year career to executive search at Kimmel & Associates. Charlie joined Kimmel & Associates in 1990 as a Recruiter. In 1993, he graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he received a BA in History.

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