A CV and cover letter share a purpose, but they are different.

So you're wondering, what is the difference between a CV and a cover letter? It's unsurprising if you believe they are similar ‒ the two documents share the purpose of showing you are a good match for a vacancy by highlighting your experience and achievements.

However, whilst they share the same aim and strongly complement each other, they are different in format and content.

For many employers, a CV is essential when applying for a job, but cover letters may be optional. That said, including a cover letter with your application can dramatically strengthen your chances of success, according to 51 per cent of recruiters.

What is the difference between a CV and a cover letter?

Your CV is a summary of your work experience and qualifications from the last 10 to 15 years. It offers a short-yet-targeted overview of your career highlights that proves you are a great candidate for the job at hand. To do this, each piece of information laid out should be tailored to the role you are applying for.

CVs are commonly split into distinct sections: a personal statement, a summary of your career, and a section on education and qualifications. Details are usually presented in snappy bullet points led by powerful verbs and bolstered with concrete statistics to show off your skill set and talent.

Cover letters are different. They are primarily used to expand on your CV to add more context and further explain your value. Ultimately, your cover letter is sweet-talking the HR manager as you supply them with further evidence that proves you are an applicant worthy of an interview.

What does a CV include?

Your CV should cover four main sections, including:

Name, professional title and contact details: It is essential that these details are accurate and properly formatted to ensure that an HR manager can both identify and get in touch with you. Learn more here about how to add contact information to your CV.

Personal profile: Your personal profile should detail who you are, what you can offer the company and your career goals in a tidy paragraph.

Experience and employment history: Your experience should explain what you've done in your previous roles. Most importantly, it should then be expanded on to feature your key accomplishments to demonstrate the value you could bring to your new role, too.

Education and qualifications: Your qualifications simply add finer details to prove that you are a qualified expert in certain areas, adding to your impressive professional skill set.

CVs are formatted with clear headings and bullet points to keep them concise and easy to read for time-poor recruiters who are typically swamped with hundreds of applications at a time.

What does a cover letter include?

A cover letter is different. Usually, it's a three-to-four paragraph document that complements your CV. It typically discusses four key things:

  • What position are you applying for and why?

  • What are your most relevant, impressive skills and experiences?

  • Why do these skills benefit your prospective employer?

  • Requesting an interview

It's formatted similarly to a traditional letter with a salutation, paragraphs and a close.

However, in the digital age where many CVs are sent directly to employers via email, the rules of cover letters are changing. If you are emailing your CV, treat the message in your email as your cover letter, rather than attaching it separately.

Email cover letters are typically more concise and can be anywhere from 100 to 400 words. They still tap into the four main talking points mentioned above though.

Use cover letters to demonstrate subjective, personable details

While your CV states the facts and gives a succinct overview of your relevant experience and achievements, a cover letter provides the opportunity to elaborate on your selling points and explain your qualities and potential in more detail.

But it doesn't stop there. Your cover letter offers the chance for recruiters to get to know you. Subjective details such as your writing style, tone of voice, your interest in the position, and your own values and motivations add colour to your application and help recruiters warm to the real you.

Cover letters aren't always listed as an essential requirement on a job application. However, with a CV that proves your talent and ability and a cover letter that supports and sells your story, you increase your chances of impressing your prospective employer.

TopCV knows its way around both CVs and cover letters. Learn more about working with an expert writer to find more success with your job-search documents.

Recommended Reading:

Related Articles: