Cover Letter vs. Resume: A Direct Comparison
Written by Sarah Edwards, Author • Last updated on July 10, 2024

The difference between a cover letter and a resume

Understanding the difference between a cover letter and a resume is essential. While both cover letters and resumes play a crucial role in your job application, they serve distinct purposes and convey different information. So is a resume a cover letter? Learn everything you need to know in our cover letter vs. resume breakdown.

Is a resume a cover letter (and vice versa)?

A resume and a cover letter are two separate documents, each with a unique purpose. A resume details your professional and academic history. It includes information such as your: 

  • Work experience
  • Educational background
  • Skills
  • Certifications
  • Other achievements

A resume should provide a complete overview of your professional journey, making it easier for employers to assess your qualifications for a particular role. 

A cover letter complements your resume. It should be a one-page document that concisely provides personalized information about who you are as an applicant. Use it to share why you are interested in the position and how your skills and experiences make you a great fit. Tell your story and highlight your most relevant achievements. 

The biggest takeaway from the cover letter vs. resume comparison is that they should complement one another. Don’t just reiterate the same information in each document. Your resume should present “just the facts,” whereas your cover letter links your professional experience to the job you are applying for. 

Cultural contexts

Both resumes and cover letters are important when applying for jobs. However, the style and format of each can vary slightly depending on the specific cultural context and market. 

Some European countries, for instance, consider the cover letter to be one of the most important aspects of the application process. Employers expect you to share details about your personal life and experiences, as they understand that these experiences will impact how you work.

In contrast, some parts of Asia focus heavily on the resume itself. It’s not uncommon for the document to be several pages long. Applicants can use this additional space to detail internships, projects, and other unique experiences that make them stand out from other candidates. 

However, even if the employer you want to work for doesn’t require a cover letter, including one is always a good practice. It allows you to explain your motivations for applying and showcase why you’ll be a good fit. 

For example, suppose that you are transitioning to a new industry. In a situation like that, a cover letter can help you explain how your skills are transferable and why you are excited about the new field. 

Key differences between a cover letter and a resume

Here are the key differences between a cover letter vs. resume: 


While both your resume and cover letter should be concise, your resume can be up to two pages in length. The goal of your resume should be to give a comprehensive overview of your experience. 

In contrast, your cover letter should never exceed one page. It should be focused primarily on convincing a hiring manager that you’re a good fit for the position you are applying for.

Experiences and qualifications

A resume focuses on providing a thorough record of what you’ve achieved and what makes you a qualified candidate. It includes descriptions of your past job roles, educational accomplishments, skills, and certifications. Each section should showcase your abilities and demonstrate how your background makes you a suitable candidate.

A cover letter should be much more selective. Rather than listing everything you’ve done, highlight a few key achievements that are particularly relevant to the position you are applying for. This is not the time to be subtle. Instead, directly spell out your professional experience and how you intend to apply that knowledge to your new role. 


You’ll use a resume to provide a detailed overview of your professional history. The document makes it easy for employers to assess your qualifications. 

Resumes are often used as a reference throughout the hiring process. Hiring teams may even compose interview questions based on the information you provide on your resume. In other words, hiring managers may use this document as a starting point for a deeper dive into your background. 

In contrast, a cover letter gives you an opportunity to share more about who you are, not just what you’ve done. You can use it as an opportunity to express your enthusiasm for the role and explain why you want to work there. A cover letter is helpful because it allows you to put your experience in context.

Check out our resume examples to gain inspiration for creating your own job application documents.

Expert Tip:

Keep your paragraphs short, but use your cover letter to tell a story about how your experience or interests align with the company’s goals and the position you’re applying for.

Similarities and best practices

We can’t wrap up the cover letter vs. resume conversation without exploring the similarities between the two and sharing some best practices to help you land an interview. When you are composing these vital documents, you should: 

Choose appropriate formats and fonts

Always select a clean and professional format. Use a readable font like Arial or Times New Roman and keep the font size between 10 and 12 points. Additionally, it’s important that you give your document room to breathe by leaving enough white space between sections to make it skimmable and easy to read. 

Cover letter templates often feature preset fonts and formatting. Just make sure you use a resume template that matches your cover letter so that the two documents feature consistent fonts and layouts. 

Using a template can save you a lot of time and help you create an aesthetically pleasing set of application materials. Compare several options until you find a format and layout that aligns with your preferences.

Align your resume or cover letter to the job application

Your resume and cover letter should never feel generic. Ask yourself, “Could I submit these documents to virtually any company?” If so, they aren’t adequately tailored to the position you are applying for. 

Instead, make it your goal to subtly weave in information from the job description to showcase that you’ve studied the position. Mention skills that the hiring team is looking for and draw connections between your accomplishments and what the employer describes as their ideal candidate. 

Also, make sure that your resume and cover letter contain separate but supporting information. Check out our cover letter examples for more insights into what your documents should include. 

Experiences and education

Your qualifications and education are Central to both your resume and cover letter. In your resume, provide detailed descriptions of your education and work experience. Focus on the most relevant aspects of your background and explain how they make you a suitable candidate for the job. 

Explore our resume articles for examples of how to showcase your experiences and education in an easily digestible way. You’ll find numerous formats and layouts to choose from. Some of our examples prioritize education, whereas others showcase your professional expertise and capabilities by using quantifiable data. 

Where possible, use data to support your claims and demonstrate your achievements. Providing an employer with hard numbers can help prove your proficiency as a professional. 

Proofread and edit

Never turn in unpolished documents. To keep that from happening, thoroughly review both your resume and cover letter to ensure they convey the right information while maintaining a professional tone throughout. Look for any spelling or grammatical errors, and ensure that your content is clear, concise, and free of jargon. 

If possible, you might have a trusted friend or professional mentor review your document. They can provide objective insights and help you refine your resume and cover letter. Apply their insights and confirm that your documents are easy to read. 

“Your cover letter should always be concise and to the point. Don’t ramble or repeat the same information from your resume.”

Cover letter vs. resume: Which do you need? 

Most employers require both a cover letter and a resume. You’ll need to craft complementary documents that encapsulate your professional experience and showcase your fit for the job. 

For help with these crucial application materials, you can turn to Jobseeker. We offer an expansive library of examples, templates, and tools. 

Use our resume builder to make your application stand out and increase your odds of landing an interview. We also provide a cover letter generator so you can create the perfect complementary document for your resume. 

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Sarah Edwards
Sarah Edwards
A seasoned HR writer with more than a decade of experience, Sarah crafts insightful guides and timely articles that help people grow their skills.

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