Resume vs. Cover Letter: What's the Difference?
Updated July 5, 2023
The hiring process gives you many opportunities to show a potential employer your personality, qualifications and experience. Among these, your cover letter and resume often make the first impression on a hiring manager. However, a resume and cover letter have separate purposes.
In this article, we will discuss what you should include in a resume and cover letter, the differences between the two documents and give examples of each.
What is a resume?
A resume is a brief document that summarizes you as a job candidate. Most resumes include these elements:
List your highest degrees and the ones most relevant to the position you’re applying for. If you’re seeking a job as a biochemist, you can list your post-secondary degrees like a master’s and Ph.D. If you are in high school or pursuing a degree, include when you started attending classes and your expected graduation date.
This shows potential employers your abilities as they relate to the role. If you’re applying as an administrative assistant, for example, include your typing speed and mention that you’re adept at different word processing or data entry software.
Summary of qualifications
This section should include any official certifications or workplace achievements. For instance, you can include that you’re a certified electrician or that you raised customer satisfaction levels by 28% in two years. Hiring managers and recruiters should be able to scan your summary of qualifications.
Include any clubs or associations that will help you in a potential role. For example, if you are interviewing for a job as a counselor in a hospital, you can list your membership in the American Psychological Association.
To upload the template into Google Docs, go to File > Open > and select the correct downloaded file.
Related: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing
"Resume Format" is the title of this infographic that shows an image of an example resume.
On the left side of the infographic, a numbered list points to each section of the resume.
Name and contact information
Summary or objective
a. Company name
b. Dates of tenure
c. Description of role and achievement
Optional (Awards & Achievements, Hobbies & Interests)
On the right side of the image is a sample resume with the name Janet Chobot and lines representing text underneath. Then the headlines Summary, Professional History, Educational History, Skills, and Awards & Achievements. Under each section are lines representing text.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a detailed document that shows hiring managers your desire for a particular job. It is an opportunity to demonstrate more of your personality than you can on your resume. Throughout the letter, you can discuss specific items listed in the job description and how your skills and experience match those requirements.
Cover letters are often optional, so sending one with your resume can show your eagerness to get the job. Including a cover letter when a company doesn’t require one lets your future employer know that you aim to exceed their expectations, which could make you a more desirable candidate. An exception to this is if the application specifically notes not to include a cover letter, in which case you should follow the employer’s directions.
Make sure to include these items in your cover letter:
As with other professional letters, the heading of your cover letter should include your name, your address, the date and the recipient’s contact information.
Introduce the letter with a professional greeting. If you know the name of the intended recipient, you can use a title like “Mr.,” “Ms.” or “Dr.,” followed by their last name. If the job posting does not specify a company contact, you can use “Dear Hiring Committee” or “Dear Hiring Manager.”
How you found the job
Letting your potential employer know where you found the position will help them in future hiring efforts. For instance, if the company used a recruiting website, mentioning the posting in your cover letter will show them they can find qualified candidates through that resource.
How you will contribute to the organization
Listing your goals for the position shows your potential employer that you understand the expected duties. Try to create objectives that align with the company’s mission statement to demonstrate you can be a vital part of the team.
Your goals for future contact
Stating that you wish to set up an interview will show the recipient you’re interested in proceeding to the next step of the hiring process.
To upload the template into Google Docs, go to File > Open > and select the correct downloaded file.
"Cover Letter Format" is the title of this infographic that shows an image of an example email.
On the left side of the infographic, a numbered list identifies each section of the cover letter:
Date and contact information
Salutation or greeting
Letter ending and signature
The cover letter reads:
January 23, 20XX
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am excited to be applying for the web developer position at [Company Name]. I’ve been programming websites and using CSS to create user-friendly experiences since I was in middle school, so it’s always been a passion of mine. I’ve also been intrigued by your company since it won Most Innovative at the National Web Development Awards two years ago. I strive to stay on the cutting edge of web design and development, so when I saw this job posting, I knew I had to apply.
During my previous role at [Company Name], I built a website completely from scratch for a recently rebranded business both ahead of schedule and within budget. I started by gathering requirements for my clients and holding a focus group to perform user research. My favorite part of web design is building a solution that impresses the client and meets the needs of users and customers. My new website was responsive, extremely fast, and included the latest e-commerce features. After launch, I continued to lead optimization efforts. Through AB testing, I improved the click-through rate by 10% and reduced the bounce rate on the website’s landing page by 35%. As your web developer, I would bring the skills to develop websites that exceed the expectations of clients and customers and drive real business results.
Thank you for your consideration in time I’m looking forward to learning more details about the position and company.
The differences between a resume and cover letter
There are three main differences between resumes and cover letters:
Your cover letter is a professional communication structured in full paragraphs, while your resume should have sections with bullet points that convey specific details like dates of employment and job duties.
A resume is a broad overview of your educational and career history. It can list most or all of the relevant skills and professional experiences that apply to your current job search. A cover letter should focus specifically on the job you’re applying to. While some information might appear in both documents, a cover letter usually focuses more on present and future objectives, and a resume represents previous jobs and accomplishments.
Your resume should convey a wide range of information in one or two pages. Employers use resumes to review your skills quickly and gauge if you are qualified for a job. Your cover letter allows you to create a comprehensive view of yourself as an individual and applicant.
The image is titled Cover Letter vs Resume. An example cover letter is on the left with tips written below it.
The cover letter reads:
May 1, 2020
Dear Hiring Manager, I am grateful for the opportunity to apply for the associate marketing position at Retail Ocean. Storytelling through marketing is a true passion of mine, and I graduated with a four-year degree in Marketing from Coral Springs University. Marketing is a full-time commitment, and it is essential to always look for ways to improve a company's outreach. A successful marketing campaign is crucial to the long-term success of any company, and I believe that my unique skill set is perfect for this job.
I have previously worked in the marketing department at Rivher Tech, and I supervised a wide variety of successful marketing campaigns. My primary goal was to increase brand awareness and reach new clients through social media, SEO practices, and traditional advertising platforms. Reaching marketing goals is always a top priority and I always prioritize the best interests of the company — my work at River Tech, for example, resulted in a 45% increase in customer engagement. I am never satisfied with the status quo, and I believe that a company should continually look for ways to improve and reach new clients through innovative campaigns.
Thank you for taking the time to read my cover letter. I hope to speak with you soon and learn more about the opportunities for a Marketing position at Retail Ocean. Working in the marketing field is a fantastic opportunity, and I believe that I am a great fit at Retail Ocean with my unique skill set and prior experience.
Formatted like a business letter
Explains your interest in and qualifications for a position with specific examples
May either be optional or required as part of a job application depending on the employer
The resume on the right side of the image reads:
Analytics-driven, inbound Digital Marketing Manager with 3 years of experience designing powerful social media strategies, growing engaged online audiences, and developing eye-catching email campaigns that convert prospective customers.
Digital Marketing Manager I Aug '16-Current
Built content marketing strategy/calendar from the ground up
Launched new email marketing campaign, improving email open rates from 15% to over 50%
Develop content partnerships with online influencers, including a blogger with 1M+ Instagram followers
Wrote and directed series of YouTube videos that reached 20,000+ in total views
CRANE & JENKINS
Marketing Associate I May '15-Aug '16
Established company's first social media presence across Pinterest and Instagram, and grew Twitter followers from ~50 to 2,500÷ in 4 months
Conducted market research to develop targeted buyer personas
Championed inbound marketing strategies (replacing traditional outbound methods) to create brand awareness and attract more buyers
Wrote press releases, newsletter articles, and email copy
Coral Springs University I Aug '11-May '15
Bachelor of Science in Marketing
Graduated with honors
Certificate in Business Foundations
Areas of expertise: Social media marketing, email marketing, copywriting. SEO
Software: Google Analytics, HubSpot, Salesforce
Reverse-chronological, functional or combination formatting options
Summarizes your relevant experience and achievements including education, professional history and skills
Commonly required when applying for a job
Example resume and cover letter
For a visual idea of the differences between a resume and cover letter, view the following examples:
Resume example for a copy editor
This is a simple one-page resume for a copy editor:
firstname.lastname@example.org | 918-990-6754
University of California, Los Angeles
Bachelor of Arts in Communications
Summary of Qualifications
Copy editor certification from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders
Adobe Certified Expert
Director of Content, January 2013–Present
Lovato Marketing | Portland, OR
Supervised a team of 12 copywriters
Produced up to 30 unique blog posts per week for a popular lifestyle website
Created landing pages for the websites of several Fortune 500 companies
Senior Copy Editor, August 2008–January 2013
The Houston Ledger | Houston, TX
Edited up to 20 news stories per day for print publication, ensuring all writing adhered to AP format
Supervised content creation for the newspaper’s website
Taught writing techniques to journalists, including concision, tone and style
Proofreader/Copywriter, April 2005–August 2008
Suburban Living Monthly | Fresno, CA
Scanned feature articles for spelling and grammar issues
Requested revisions from writers by the magazine’s standards of form, content and style
Wrote short articles on suburban lifestyles every month
American Marketing Association
Sales and Marketing Executives International
Cover letter example for a professor
This is a detailed cover letter for a college professor:
7560 Wellington Blvd.
Spartanburg, SC 29304
July 19, 2018
Durham, NC 27708
Dear Hiring Committee:
I recently learned about the tenure-track literature professor position at Duke University from your website, and would appreciate it if you consider me for this role. I have long admired Duke’s commitment to excellence and desire to work at an institution that consistently ranks among the best schools in the nation. I have seven years’ experience teaching at the college level, extensive knowledge of a variety of genres and styles and a strong desire to help students hone their critical-thinking and writing skills.
As a graduate teaching assistant at the University of South Carolina, I taught four sections of Introduction to Literature and two sections of World Literature. As an adjunct instructor, I have taught two classes each of British Literature from 1640 to 1800 and African American Literature. During my time as an educator, I have helped develop my students’ passion for reading an array of authors, and I intend to continue this mission as a professor at Duke.
Your job posting states that you seek candidates with expertise in a variety of literary genres and periods, and I am confident that my experience at USC has prepared me for this role. Further, you explained a need to find a professor with extensive scholarly publishing experience. Yale University Press published my doctoral thesis, and I have several upcoming articles in academic journals.
As a professor at Duke, I would continue your school’s commitment to the intellectual development of its students. I look forward to joining the English Department faculty so I can foster my students’ love of literature and scholarly writing. I have also included my resume with this application. I would like to speak with you further about this position. You can reach me at 555-718-3489 or via email at email@example.com. I look forward to your response.
Clarissa Chen, Ph.D.
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