Four Ways Your Cover Letter Should Differ from Your Resume

Everyone knows cover letters and resumes aren’t the same thing—but exactly how are they different? Formatting is the most obvious and visually recognizable difference: cover letters are generally written in full paragraphs, while resumes feature specific job-related facts in bullet-point style. But the distinctions between the two goes so much deeper than surface looks! Read on for more ways in which your cover letter and resume should differ.

cover letter resume

1. Purpose

If you think writing a cover letter seems redundant when including your resume, you’re under the mistaken impression that the two documents serve the same purpose. Hint: They don’t. A resume is a quick way of demonstrating whether or not you’re qualified for the position. It’s a compilation of your past jobs and current skill sets—nothing more, nothing less. A cover letter gives potential employers a more multidimensional look at who you are as a professional and individual. It takes the job roles and skills listed in the resume and applies them to you as an employee and a human being.

2. Style

Just as you use a different style of writing when composing an email to a friend than you do to an employer, Resume Writing Lab points out your style of writing should differ from a resume to a cover letter. A resume doesn’t allow any room for personalization and should be written as clearly and concisely as possible. A cover letter, on the other hand, gives you a chance to showcase your personality a bit more by providing (specific, job-related) anecdotes that illustrate your qualification for the job. While you don’t want to necessarily be cracking jokes throughout, the style of a cover letter can be a bit more personal.

3. Contents

A common mistake applicants make is assuming resumes and cover letters contain the same information. However, resumes are strictly objective (You worked at ABC company for X number of years and were in charge of XYZ duties) while cover letters are subjective (You increased sales by X percentage on a particularly difficult project). Both convey facts, but your cover letter is an opportunity to tell more of a story, expanding (quickly and succinctly) on the simple facts reflected in your resume.

4. Audience

Yes, it’s true your cover letter and resume will be read by the same group of recruiters/hiring managers/potential employers within a single office and should therefore be extremely professional in nature. However, your resume is likely to be mostly applicable to any job you’re applying for. Your cover letter, on the other hand, should specifically address an individual person and needs to be altered (not only in the greeting line, but also in the contents of the letter) for each job. A cover letter requires more research in the sense that you must figure out who is going to be reading the letter—one that begins “Dear Hiring Manager” is much more likely to be tossed in the trash than one that begins “Dear Mr. Jones.”

The differences between a resume and a cover letter may seem minor or incidental, but they add up to create two completely different documents. Nothing bores a hiring manager (and thus severely decreases your chance of scoring an interview) more than reading a cover letter that mirrors what you already wrote in your resume.

Choose one or two highlights from your resume and expand upon them in a way that connects you to the company to which you’re applying, and help the hiring manager connect the dots between the employee you have been and the employee you could be.

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