Is a CV a cover letter? While a CV and a cover letter share a purpose, they are different

So you're wondering, is a CV a cover letter? It's not surprising if you believe them to be similar - both documents share the purpose of showing that you're 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 both format and content.

For many employers, a CV is an absolutely essential piece of kit when applying for a job, but cover letters can be optional. That said, including a cover letter with your application can dramatically strengthen your chances of success in securing an interview. According to a recent LinkedIn survey, “49% of hiring managers admitted that a strong cover letter convinced them to interview a candidate who had submitted a relatively weak CV.” And with “only 6% of hiring managers thinking that a cover letter is unnecessary for a job application,” in the same survey, it might be time to rethink your approach to job applications.

This CV versus cover letter article, which covers the question, “Is a CV a cover letter?” will go over all the points you should look out for when developing each. Empower yourself by using the following information, so that you can write your CV and create an impactful cover letter for use during your job search. 

Is a CV a cover letter?

The short answer to this is “no.” While they may seem similar, knowing the difference between a curriculum vitae (CV) and a cover letter is crucial in order to get the best results while you're navigating your journey of finding a new position.

To put it succinctly, your CV is a summary of your qualifications, skills, and experience from the last 10 to 15 years. It offers a short-yet-targeted overview of your career highlights that prove you're a great candidate for the job you're applying for. To do this, each piece of information on your CV should be tailored to that particular role.

CVs are commonly split into distinct sections: a professional profile, your skills, a summary of your career, and a section on your 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.

CVs can be directly compared to the American resume. They contain the same information and serve the same function of introducing you to the HR Manager.

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

It also serves as an introduction. If a hiring manager reads, and likes, your cover letter, they will be more inclined to follow up by reading your CV. If your cover letter is sloppily written, doesn't offer much context, or isn't bringing anything to the table in order to encourage someone to read further, then the likelihood is that those who matter in recruitment are probably not going to seek out your CV for further investigation. This could end up being disastrous, leaving you languishing in the “no” pile before you've even got started or been given a fighting chance.

What does a CV include?

Your CV should cover four main sections, including:

Name, professional title, and contact information 

It's essential that these details are accurate and properly formatted, to ensure that the HR Manager can identify you easily and get in touch. Learn more here about how to add contact information to your CV in this article.

Personal profile

Your personal profile, located just under the contact details and at the top of the first page of your CV, should detail who you are, what you can offer the company, and your career goals, all in one tidy paragraph of about four or five sentences. CVs are written in the third person, without pronouns. This might sound a bit odd at first, writing about yourself in the third person, but it avoids the constant, “I did this,” and “I performed this” way of writing.

For example, you could write, “A versatile, tenacious, and confident Store Manager who flourishes with increased responsibility while engaging with customers at all levels.”

Experience and employment history

Your work experience should explain what you've done in your current role and your previous roles, going back to cover the last 10 to 12 years. Most importantly, it should then be expanded to feature any key accomplishments, demonstrating the value you could bring to your new role.

Education and qualifications

Your education and qualifications section simply adds finer details to prove that you're a qualified expert in certain areas, all adding up to an impressive professional skill set.

We have seen that 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 one page document, running to three or four paragraphs, that complements your CV. It normally focuses on four key elements:

  • What position are you applying for and why?

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

  • How will these skills benefit your prospective employer or a hiring manager?

  • A request for an interview

It's formatted similarly to a traditional letter, with a salutation, paragraphs, maybe some bullet points to break up the paragraphs, and a closing sentence.

However, in this digital age that we live in, where many CVs are sent directly to employers via email, the rules for cover letters are changing. If you're 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 between 100 to 400 words long. They still tap into the four main talking points mentioned above though.

The similarities between a CV and a cover letter

We've taken a look at the differences in whether a CV is a cover letter, so let's look at the similarities.

Just like strawberries and cream or fish and chips, a CV and cover letter go well together. They detail out your achievements and experience, with the CV listing them in an easy-to-read way and the cover letter embellishing on key points, drawing attention to your brilliance. Overall, it creates a holistic view of the type of worker you are and how you might fit into the business that you're keen to get into.

Top tip: When applying for a role, make sure your CV and cover letter are two separate documents. It's not a good idea to have them running into each other within one document.

Hints on how to write a covering letter

If it's time for you to apply yourself to compiling an informative cover letter for an application, take a look at some TopCV tips on how to go about it.

Identify who to send the letter to

Writing “Dear Sir / Madam,” is so old school. Leave that where it should be… in the classroom. It shows you're proactive and willing to go that little bit further if you've found out the name of the person you need to address the letter to. OK, so it might be easy and staring out at you in black and white if the name appears on the job advert. But if it doesn't, seek out the name by either ringing the company and explaining what you're after, or tracking them down on the company website or LinkedIn.

Draft a compelling introduction paragraph

We all know that first impressions count.

Don't let a great CV be let down by a poorly written cover letter. This means you've got to wow the reader from the start. Detail how the job you're applying for fits in with your ethos, or how eager you are to work for the organisation.

Highlight specifics within your CV

Drawing attention to great results and achievements within your CV will encourage the recruitment manager to reach for that document. The beauty of a cover letter is that you can go into more detail about something, without being restricted by the writing style of a CV. You can use your own voice to convey how well you fit the role.

Match up your skills with those in the job advert

Make it clear how well your strengths and experience marry perfectly with the position in hand. Honing in on a particular detail, and relating it to your own experience, will definitely get you brownie points - and hopefully a call for an interview!

Stuff the letter full of facts and figures

Nothing pops off the page quite like a large number or a piece of tangible data, as it shows concrete evidence that you've got what it takes to fly high.

Use cover letters to demonstrate subjective, personable details

A CV is used to state the facts, giving a succinct overview of your relevant experience and achievements. A cover letter, on the other hand, provides the opportunity to elaborate on your selling points and explain your qualities and potential in more detail. It gives you that little bit of freedom, where CVs can be more narrow.

For example, if you have information you want to impart that doesn't fit into any of the sections of a CV, then you can use the cover letter to perform that duty. This could include information on your work status, when you're available to start, or if you want to disclose personal information that you feel needs to be talked about, such as if you have a disability.

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, your tone of voice, interest in the position, and your own values and motivations add colour to your application and help recruiters warm up 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, plus a cover letter that supports and sells your story, you will greatly increase your chances of impressing a prospective employer. 

The writers at TopCV certainly know their way around both CVs and cover letters. Learn more about working with an expert writer to find more success with your job-search documents, or undertake a free CV review to see how your CV stacks up.This article was originally written by Laura Slingo and has been updated by Elizabeth Openshaw.

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