Cover Letter vs Resume – What’s The Difference?

Elizabeth Openshaw
Elizabeth Openshaw

7 min read

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Ever wondered what the difference is with a cover letter vs resume? If you are on the lookout for a new job, then you need to be aware of both, and the true functions of each. Although both a resume and cover letter should outline your experience, skills, and professional qualifications--they should do so differently. In this article, we will discuss exactly what the difference is, and what to focus on in the cover letter vs resume debate.

The major difference of a cover letter vs resume

Cover Letter

This gives a brief introduction to who you are, the position you are applying for, and why you would be a good fit for that specific role. It should contain between 3 and 4 paragraphs and be written in a more subjective and friendly tone while still projecting an air of professionalism.


This is a detailed overview of your work history, including your career experience, hard and soft skills, education, and other relevant information, such as your prowess in languages, if appropriate, or your technical skills. If you have any recent awards and honors, add them in their own separate section as well.

In essence, your resume should explain how you are qualified for the job, while your cover letter is more of an introduction, and should be written so effectively that it encourages the hiring manager to look into your resume in more detail.

Expert Tip

For more detail on what a good cover letter looks like, dip into this recently updated article for further hints and tips.

 Another major difference between a cover letter vs resume is the formatting.

  • A cover letter is written in paragraphs and takes on a more subjective and conversational tone.

  • On the other hand, a resume should contain numerous sections and be filled with bullet points rather than paragraphs, as the bulleted areas will stand out more and be easier to read and digest.

What is included in a cover letter vs a resume

There is certain information that is included on a resume, but should not be in a cover letter. Let’s take a look at what those are.

A resume summary

Your resume should include a well-written professional summary that brings attention to your major skills, qualifications, and achievements. It also gives an overall view of you as a professional, and is normally between 4 and 5 sentences long, in paragraph style.

For example:

A proactive, reliable and personable Childcare Assistant with a wealth of transferable talents acquired during recent academic achievements and an impeccable career in childcare. Applies exceptional listening and communication skills to all tasks. Thrives with minimal supervision combined with the ability to flourish in stressful situations. Strives to deliver a positive working environment for colleagues while paying close attention to detail.

Core competencies and skills

You should list relevant core competencies and skills on your resume that relate to the role you are after. There is no need to list out all your competencies and skills on a cover letter, though it’s worth drawing attention to the major ones throughout the letter.

A detailed work history

A resume should contain a relevant and detailed work experience section. Remember to mention specific accomplishments throughout the resume, rather than just listing job duties and responsibilities. There could be hundreds of other candidates gunning for the role, so you need to stand apart, showing the hiring manager why you are the best fit and should be the one called for an interview. This is best done through showing quantifiable achievements, and how you went above and beyond expectations.

You can mention one or two major achievements within your cover letter, written in a different way, but save the specific details for your resume.

For example, on a cover letter, you could mention how you increased sales by X in a snappy bullet point, but your resume should go into more detail about how you managed that.

The education section

Your resume should contain a detailed education section, the space where you list degrees, the schools you attended, and the dates–as long as they are within the last 10 years. You could briefly mention your degree and school on a cover letter, but only if you are a recent graduate or your degree is more relevant to the role than your career experience. This might be because you are wanting to change careers and have just completed a relevant course.

5 tips to keep in mind when writing a cover letter vs resume

1. Keep your cover letter short

Your cover letter should be 3 to 4 paragraphs long and never dribble over onto a second page. Again, save the juicy details for your resume by keeping your cover letter short, concise, and relevant, but tempting enough for a prospective employer to reach for your resume. Think of the cover letter like a starter, getting the juices flowing for the main course.

2. Avoid being repetitive

Steer clear of the trap of regurgitating your resume word for word onto the cover letter. No one wants to read the same thing twice, especially a busy recruiter! Adopt a more conversational tone, and mix it up a bit. Your cover letter is telling the potential employer or hiring manager who you are, how you’re qualified, and why you are the best fit. Save specific details for your resume, but re-word some special highlights to incorporate into the cover letter.

3. Make a good impression

The cover letter may be the first impression an employer or hiring manager has of you. So make it an impressive one! Make sure you utilize captivating language and use a friendly tone. Mention the position you’re applying to, how you’re qualified, major achievements from previous positions, and a call to action. The call to action in this situation would be an invitation for an interview.

4. Be subjective

The cover letter can contain more subjective information than a resume. While a well-written resume is hampered by a specific style and includes particular elements, you can mention certain things on a cover letter that you simply cannot on a resume. You could elaborate on how you found the position, why you are so passionate about that position or particular industry, and a deeper explanation of why you would make a good fit for the role and within the company culture.

5. Show your worth

While a resume gives an overview of your skills and achievements, a cover letter can dig deeper by showing how you will contribute to and fit into the organization. Demonstrating how your goals dovetail with the organization’s ethos and mission statement illustrates that you have done some background research and will certainly go in your favor towards securing an interview.

Overview of a cover letter vs resume

The cover letter is a good way to add a more human touch to your job application, as it allows you to tell a short story of why you deserve the job. A resume, on the other hand, is a more detailed document, directly outlining your experience, skills, and any other relevant information. Most job adverts will require a cover letter, so pay as much attention to this document as you do to your resume. Remember, first impressions count!

The best of luck with your ongoing job search.

If you are still not sure about the cover letter vs resume debate, then let the professionals at ZipJob handle it for you. It is easy with the free resume review because all you need to do is feed your resume into the system, and you will receive an honest and forthright explanation of how you can improve the document. ZipJob writers also draft the perfect cover letter as well!

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Elizabeth Openshaw

Written by

Elizabeth Openshaw, Editor & Content Writer, Elizabeth Openshaw, Editor & Content Writer

Elizabeth Openshaw is an Elite CV Consultant with over 12 years of experience based in Brighton, UK, with an English degree and an addiction to Wordle! She is a former Journalist of 17 years with the claim to fame that she interviewed three times Grand Slam winner and former World No.1 tennis player, Andy Murray, when he was just 14 years old. You can connect with her at Elizabeth Openshaw | LinkedIn.

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