So you need to write a cover letter for the job you are applying to. Most employers ask for a resume to go along with the cover letter, which can leave people confused about the difference between the two and what to include in which. First off, let’s talk about the difference between a resume and cover letter and where they overlap.
A resume is a short, concise document that outlines your most relevant accomplishments and achievements, including your employment experience, academic history, leadership experience and other noteworthy experience. We recommend that you update your resume at least every few months, as your role in a company may change or you may have other things to add. Even if you don’t plan on applying to a job in the immediate future, it is always a good idea to have a current, updated version of your resume on hand.
A resume is meant to be no more than a single side of one page, except when you are much later on in your career, and should contain only the most relevant information. This doesn’t always mean just including your most recent experience or the achievements where you were the leader of the group. Although there are sections that you may keep on your resume regardless of what you are using it for, such as your educational degree, your current job responsibilities, or a big award you won a few years ago, your resume shouldn’t look exactly the same for every job you are applying to.
Finally, your resume should not be wordy - avoid long sentences or unnecessary words. Descriptions of your experiences should not be full paragraphs or even contain complete sentences - aim for concise bullet points that are straight to the point with strong action words. For more detailed tips on resume writing, check out some of our other articles:
A cover letter is a document that provides additional description and explanation of your skill set, accomplishments and experience. Like your resume, your cover letter usually discusses your employment experience, academic history, leadership experience and other noteworthy experience. However, while your resume is more of a short summary of many experiences, your cover letter is more an interpretation of these experiences and usually goes more into depth, allowing you to craft these experiences into a story, and talk about the progression of what you have done.
Say you are applying to a job for a fashion magazine and last summer, you interned at a clothing and beauty app. On your resume, you would include the name and location of the company you interned at, what your title was, the dates you worked there, and maybe two to three bullet points briefly describing your responsibilities. On the other hand, your cover letter is your chance to talk about what you learned from this experience, what your favorite part of the internship was, where you struggled and/or why that experience would serve you well in the position you are applying for.
Your cover letter can be used to establish connections between different sections of your resume that may not be so obvious to the employer when they first glace at it. Going back to the example above, say that the job you are applying for is in the digital media department of the magazine. And let’s say that at your school, you are in a club that puts on musical performances for students, and a main part of your role is to create flyers and posters for each event. On your resume, you can list and describe this position, but if it is not outwardly obviously relevant to the job you are applying for, you can use your cover letter to tell an employer that this experience is in fact relevant to the job. In this example, you could focus on the graphic design experience and talk about how one reason you are applying to a job in the digital media department is because of your passion for and experience with graphic design.
Especially if you have many interests and have done a variety of different experiences that don’t necessarily follow a clear path on a resume, your cover letter can be a chance to tell a story. You can talk about how your interests progressed and how that is reflected in your employment history, you can talk about how you use your degree or what you studied in school in your day to day life or how you decided to work in a certain industry.
Although the cover letter is a chance to expand on your achievements and skills, you don’t want to address every experience and detail that is listed on your resume. Keep in mind that your cover letter generally shouldn’t be longer than one page single spaced. There is no need to go into detail about an experience that isn’t very relevant to the job if you have other experiences that are more relevant. Also, use the space to interpret your experiences, not just explain them in more detail. Don’t use up a whole paragraph talking about your day to day responsibilities in your summer internship, talk about your most challenging assignment and what you learned from overcoming the challenges.
One thing to keep in mind about a cover letter is that it should always be different for each job you apply for. If you don’t know exactly what your role would be in the job you are applying for, it is a good idea to do research on the company and the department that the position is in and address a couple of projects that you feel would be a good fit for you based on your previous experiences. In addition you can always use your cover letter to talk about what you like about the company or those certain projects and why you feel you would fit in with the culture and nature of the company and what they do.
Lastly, remember that your cover letter gives you a chance to use your voice. This is probably the biggest difference between the resume and cover letter. A resume shows the facts and the evidence, while the cover letter brings that to life and makes it unique to you. Show your personality through your writing style, and tell your story from your voice. An employer often gets their first real impression from you when they read your cover letter, so keep that in mind when you think about word choice, style of writing, and the feel of the letter. For more tips and information on resumes, cover letters and other job application essentials, check out our other articles.