What is the Difference Between a Resume and a Cover Letter?

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What's the difference between a resume and a cover letter? Both a cover letter and a resume share the common purpose of proving that you have the right skills to excel at the job for which you are applying.

However, there are clear distinctions regarding how each should be structured. Job seekers should view their cover letter and resume as a complementary but unique pair of documents.

Many employers require that a resume be submitted with a job application.

A cover letter may not be required. However, including one when you apply for a job can help your chances of getting selected for an interview.

The Difference Between a Resume and a Cover Letter

A resume is a document that itemizes your employment history. It summarizes the jobs you have held, the education you have attained, certifications, skills and other quantifiable information about your background.

The most common resume format is a list with your contact information, an Experience section that includes job titles, position descriptions, dates of employment, an Education section, and other relevant information.

A cover letter is written to highlight the qualifications you have for the job for which you are applying. It is used to provide the employer with additional information as to why you are a good candidate for the job.

A cover letter is written in a letter format including a salutation, several paragraphs and a closing.

What a Resume Includes

Your resume should provide employers with a detailed list of your work experience and education. The skills and accomplishments associated with each job you have held should be described with enough detail to show employers how you have added value in those specific roles.

    What a Cover Letter Includes

    A cover letter is a concise three or four paragraph document.  It should be written with the assumption that employers will consult your resume to match it to the statement you are making in the letter about your qualifications.

    A cover letter will help employers to interpret your background as represented on the resume and will help prove how your previous experiences qualify you for a job.

    When you are writing a cover letter for a job, first review the job requirements that are detailed in the job posting. Use your cover letter to explain how you meet those criteria.

    Use a Cover Letter to Convey Subjective Information

    A resume states the fact – who, what, when and how. In contrast, a cover letter provides an opportunity to explain why you are qualified for the job.

    A cover letter is a better vehicle than a resume to convey more subjective information like the basis of your interest in a position, how your values motivate you to pursue a job, or why the culture of a company appeals to you.

    Your cover letters will help you sell your qualifications to prospective employers while your resume provides the details to back up the information included in your letters.

    Review Resume and Cover Letter Examples

    It’s always helpful to review examples to get ideas for writing your own resume and cover letters. Here are examples of both:

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