Applicants have many opportunities to showcase their experience, qualifications, and personality to potential employers. One way is through your resume and cover letter, which often gives a recruiter insight into your professional attributes. Equally essential while applying for a job, a cover letter and a resume serve different purposes. A resume outlines your work and education history, and a cover letter often inspires an employer to look at your resume. In this article, we discuss the differences between a cover letter versus a resume and what you need to include in each.
Are a cover letter and a resume the same thing?
No, a cover letter and a resume aren't the same, though sometimes the same content can appear in both documents. Each one has its specific purpose and both are essential to a job application process. A cover letter introduces you to an employer and encourages them to review your resume, which highlights your experience and background. There are three fundamental differences between the two documents, namely:
- Format: You structure a cover letter in full paragraphs, whereas your resume has sections with bullet points to give specific details like job duties.
- Content: A resume is a comprehensive overview of your previous career and educational history, outlining relevant professional experiences and skills. A cover letter focuses mainly on the job you're applying for, sharing information about present and future goals.
- Purpose: A resume delivers information about your education and career history, often on one page or two pages maximum. A cover letter lets you introduce yourself, share material not on your resume and present an image of yourself, both as an applicant and an individual.
What is a resume?
A resume is a brief document that summarises your job history and background. It lists your notable achievements, skills, education, and work experience in one or two pages. Employers use resumes to gauge an applicant's qualifications and experience for a job.
What gets included in a resume?
Consider including these elements in your professional resume:
List your most significant educational achievements in your resume and put them in reverse chronological order starting with your highest diploma or degree, like a polytechnic diploma or bachelor's degree. Include any postgraduate qualifications you may have, like a Postgraduate Certificate in Nursing. Ideally, your academic successes should relate to the vacancy you intend to apply for, and listing your education first on your resume is helpful to those with new credentials or less professional experience.
Include your applicable skills and talents in the skills portion of your resume. If you're applying for information technology (IT) roles, include IT skills and technical abilities, for example. Consider sharing both hard and soft skills to show you're a well-rounded candidate.
Qualifications and background
This part of your resume lists your work experience and professional achievements, again with the most recent first. Showcase your responsibilities and results for each role with a few bullet points, and include details and specific examples. For example, you might share how you improved a former company's customer support levels by 30% in one year, especially if you're a customer support professional.
You can also include certifications and licenses you hold in this section of your resume. For example, if you're a certified medical practitioner, share the certification name, number, and date you received it.
Being part of a professional association or club related to your industry can often add value to your job candidacy. Consider listing them on your resume, with the most important first. For example, a dental applicant might share that they're a member of the Singapore Dental Council .
How to write a great resume
Here are tips to help you write an impressive resume for job applications:
1. Read the job advert carefully
Carefully read the adverts that interest you and check for keywords in each job description. Ensure your resume includes those keywords because they show what the employer is searching for in a suitable candidate. Having matching keywords can also help you bypass the automated applicant tracking systems many employers use.
2. Review industry resume examples
Consider reviewing examples of resumes in your industry to get inspiration for writing your own, especially what details to focus on. Many websites also have templates you can use to craft a resume. While it's okay to use them as inspiration, refrain from copying them directly.
3. Follow a professional format
Use a professional format and layout when writing your resume to make it easy for hiring managers to browse. Consider picking a readable font like Times New Roman or Arial and keep the font size at or below 12 points. Choose layouts that are simple and have less white space to help the recruiter focus strictly on your resume content.
4. Highlight important achievements
For each role on your resume, select around three of the most interesting professional accomplishments and list them instead of the typical duties and responsibilities of a position. This shows employers how you add value to a position beyond the basic job requirements. Vary the information if some of your roles have the same job duties.
What exactly is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a letter you write to express your interest in a job. It allows you to highlight your personality and explain more about the material in your resume. Your cover letter should address a company or hiring manager specifically and mention keywords or phrases used in the job description. It should also describe how your experience and skills match the specific job requirements and make you a qualified candidate.
Related: How to Write a Cover Letter
What gets included in your cover letter?
Here are some essential items to include in your cover letter:
Heading: Cover letters are professional letters, so include a heading with your address, name, the date of the job application, and the recruiter's name and contact information.
Greeting: Use professional greetings to introduce your cover letter to the reader. If you know the recruiter's name, add titles like Dr., Mrs. or Mr. or use greetings like “Dear hiring manager” or “Dear hiring committee” if there is no specific recipient in the job posting.
Description of how you learned about the job: Share with the recruiter how you learned about the job, which can help recruiters in their future hiring efforts or highlight commonalities, like mutual connections in the industry. For example, mention you found the job posting on a website, through a professional association or if a colleague recommended the job posting to you.
Explanation of how you bring value to the role: Discussing your career goals and achievements in your cover letter shows the recruiter you can add value to their company. Mention qualifications that align with the company's goals and mission to show you can add value to the team.
How to write an impressive cover letter
Here are some tips to help you craft an impressive cover letter:
1. Read the job advert keenly
Reading a job description keenly is the first step in writing an effective cover letter to better understand precisely what the recruiter wants in a suitable candidate. Note any keywords or achievements they require and consider sharing yours in a cover letter.
2. Pay close attention to instructions
Employers might request applicants to give specific details or answer particular instructions in their cover letter, so it's important to pay attention to that information while writing yours.
3. Include the correct information
Correct information on your cover letter can show your level of professionalism and attention to detail, helping ensure your application gets reviewed. Make sure the spelling of a recruiter's name is correct, along with the company's address, the date of your application, and answers or content that was asked for in an application.
4. Choose how to address your contact
When writing the greeting portion of your cover letter, choose a generic greeting unless you know the recipient's exact name. For example, “Dear Sir or Madam” or “Dear Hiring Manager**" are good ways to address recruiters.
Do you need a cover letter with a resume?
Cover letters are often optional, though some applications specifically ask for them. Cover letters can show a recruiter you're highly interested in a role, so consider submitting one every time you apply for a position. Because cover letters allow you to show your personality and talk about your skills, qualifications, and achievements differently than a resume, adding one can help you stand apart from other candidates.
Which is more important: a cover letter or resume?
Both are essential in unique ways and their importance can vary depending on the role. For instance, a cover letter is vital because it introduces you to a potential employer and tells them why they should review your application. If you have new credentials, less experience or a unique background, a cover letter is an important tool to explain these aspects of your career in ways a resume might not allow.
A resume is essential because it outlines academic and professional details that recruiters need to assess your capabilities. Often, the two documents are equally important and strengthen a candidate's value when you submit both.
Please note none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.