Resumes & Cover Letters

Resume vs. Cover Letter: What's the Difference?

September 3, 2020

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.

Cover Letter vs. Resume

What is a resume?

A resume is a brief document that summarizes you as a job candidate. Most resumes include these elements: 

  • Educational history: 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.

  • Applicable skills: 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 quickly.

  • Professional memberships: 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.

Related: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing

Resume Format

Easily apply to jobs with an Indeed Resume

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: 

  • Heading: 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.

  • Greeting: 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.

Related: 7 Powerful Ways to Start a Cover Letter (With Examples)

Cover Letter Format

The differences between a resume and cover letter

There are three main differences between resumes and cover letters:

  1. Format: 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.  

  2. Content: 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.

  3. Purpose: 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.  

Related: How to Send an Email Cover Letter (With Example)

Example resume and cover letter

For a visual idea of the differences between a resume and cover letter, view the following examples:

Resume for a copy editor 

This is a simple one-page resume for a copy editor:

Lorenzo Chavez
l.chavez@lorenzochavez.com | 918-990-6754

Education 
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

Professional Experience
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 in accordance with the magazine’s standards of form, content and style
  • Wrote short articles on suburban lifestyles on a monthly basis

Professional Memberships

  • American Marketing Association
  • Sales and Marketing Executives International

Cover letter for a professor 

This is a detailed cover letter for a college professor:

Clarissa Chen
7560 Wellington Blvd.
Spartanburg, SC 29304

July 19, 2018

Human Resources
Duke University
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 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 clarissa.chen@gmail.com. I look forward to your response.

Best regards,
Clarissa Chen, Ph.D.