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Career Planning: Choose Your Path

The Difference Between Job Applications, Cover Letters and Résumés

The Difference Between the Job Application, Cover Letter and Résumé 

Each document has a unique purpose in the job seeking process.

  • Job Application - A job application is a form employers use to collect information about you to see if you are a good fit for the position. It may be required as an in person document or completed online. It is used as a first level screening device to reduce the number of applicants to interview.  They typically include personal information, employment information (work history), education/training and reference information. 
  • Cover Letter -  A cover letter may not be required. A cover letter should highlight the qualifications you have for the job for which you are applying. It is used to provide the employer with information (as a continuation of to the application) as to why you are a good candidate for the job. The main function of your cover letter is to show off how your qualification makes you a match for the job. Unlike a resume, you should use the first-person to write your cover letter. (That said, avoid using "I" too much.) A cover letter should be written with the assumption that employers will use a combination of your application and your résumé to match it to the statement you are making in the letter about your qualifications.A cover letter will help employers to interpret your background as represented on the resume and will help prove how your previous experiences qualify you for a job. The cover letter should reflect how your skills and background are a math to the job requirements that are detailed in the job posting. A cover letter should not be just bullet points of content from the resume.
  • Résumé - You can think of your résumé as a general summary of your work experience and your cover letter as a summary of your work experience as it relates to the job at hand. A résumé is a document that itemizes your employment history. It summarizes the jobs you have held, the education you have attained, certifications, skills, and other quantifiable information about your background and work experience. Typically, a resume is written in the third person and uses as few words as possible to summarize the experience. Rather than writing "I supervised the large buying team at XYZ company" a résumé would have a bullet point that says, "Supervised 19-person buying team." A résuméstates the facts – who, what, when, and how. In contrast, a cover letter provides an opportunity to explain why you are qualified for the job. This document adds a bit of color and personality and is intended to persuade employers that you're a good fit for the position at hand. 

Completing a Job Application Resources

Job Application Overview - Purdue OWL

Everything You Need To Know About Job Applications - Indeed

5 Different Types of Job Applications (and Why Employers Use Them) - Indeed

What Is a Job Application? The Balance

Parts of the Cover Letter

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Cover Letters

A cover letter is a one-page business letter that you submit when applying to a job, along with your resume. It provides an introduction to a prospective employer, briefly provide a summary of your professional experience and to express interest in a specific company.  It is an addition to your résumé ; it is not meant to replace your résumé . It is concise and normally consist of 3-4 paragraphs.  As a piece of persuasive writing, your cover letter will aim to convey to the employer why you’re a great candidate for the role.


Cover Letter Resources

What to Include in a Cover Letter - Resume Genius

Writing Cover Letters - University of Wisconsin

How To Write a Cover Letter (With Steps, Examples and Tips)

GFC LearnFree Playlist - This playlist from GFC LearnFree focuses on some strategies you can use to create an effective and successful cover letter.

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Cover Letter Example

Your Contact Information
City, State Zip Code
Phone Number
Email Address


Employer Contact Information (if you have it)
City, State Zip Code

Cover Letter Contact Section Examples
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name,

[NOTE:Cover Letter Greeting Examples]: There are a variety of situations where your salutation/greeting may need to be tailored, for example not knowing the person's name. Ideally, you will be able to address your cover letter to a specific person. Doing research can help you figure out who is the most appropriate person to receive the letter. Visit

How to Choose the Right Greeting for Your Cover Letter for ideas when you do not have a name and other considerations to take related to your salutation/greeting. 

Body of Cover Letter
The body of your cover letter lets the employer know what position you are applying for, why the employer should select you for an interview, and how you will follow-up. Organize the body of your cover letter into the following paragraphs:

First Paragraph
The first paragraph of your letter should include information on why you are writing. Mention the position you are applying for and where you found the job listing. Include the name of a mutual contact, if you have one.

Middle Paragraph(s)
The next section of your cover letter should describe what you have to offer the employer. Mention specifically how your qualifications match the job you are applying for. Think of this section of the cover letter as where you're making a pitch for your fit as an employee and show what makes you a great candidate. Make the connection between your qualifications and the job requirements clear. Use this section to interpret your resume—don't repeat from it verbatim.

Final Paragraph 
Conclude your cover letter by thanking the employer for considering you for the position. Include information on how you will follow-up. Optionally, you can briefly restate why you would be a good fit for the position.

Complimentary Close
Respectfully yours,


Handwritten Signature (for a hard copy letter)

Typed Signature


Example Cover Letters

The Balance - Cover Letter Examples and Writing Tips - This website provides samples and templates for cover letters for a variety of positions. It includes how to word the content for different situations such as (but not limited to):

  • Basic Cover Letter Example for a Resume
  • Sample Cover Letter for a Job Application
  • Cold Contact Letter
  • Letter For Unadvertised Openings
  • Career Change
  • College Graduate
  • Entry-Level
  • Internship
  • Part-Time Jobs
  • Summer Jobs
  • Volunteer

As you can see, your cover letter should be tailored to the job you are applying for. Taking that extra step might be what gets you to the interview stage. 

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Your Contact Information

  • Header: The first section includes your contact information: name, address, phone or cell phone number, and your email address. It has also become common to include your LinkedIn address so that employers can immediately access your professional profile, resume, and networking contacts. Beware of listing social media identities. They are less formal and your digital footprint matters (see Transferable Skills and Digital Identity).
  • Style/Format: Go with a simple block, centered header. Be careful not to get too creative - remember, this document should make a good impression but the content is the focus. . 
  • Maintain professionalism: Your email address should sound simple and professional. Ideally, it would look like “” Save email addresses that are humorous, refer to hobbies, opinions or.'not safe for work' for personal use (e.g., or The email address you share with employers should reflect a professional identity. Considering creating an email account dedicated solely to your career search for professionalism and to make it easier to track  and use for correspondence specific to the job search. 
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You may or may not have a specific person to address when sending a cover letter. getting a name to address your letter to is important. Do your research to avoid having to use the generic "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam," which can make things look like you didn't make an effort to learn more about the job or the employer. The best ways to learn contact names are to call an organization’s front office or to review their website.

To get in gear, review samples of cover letter salutations. If you can't find a contact person, there are options you can use instead.

Keep it professional

Starting a cover letter with “Dear” is polite without being too formal, which is what makes it a good choice. Greetings that are overly casual are inappropriate for a cover letter salutation and should be avoided.

Here are some examples of inappropriate greetings for a cover letter:

Unprofessional greetings

  • “Hey,”
  • “Hi,”
  • “Hello,”
  • “Greetings,”
  • “Hey there,”

When you know the hiring manager’s name

The purpose of a cover letter is to reach and impress the hiring manager. Using their name in your cover letter salutation increases your chances of being invited for an interview, because it shows them you took the time to find their name.

By contrast, a generic greeting sounds impersonal and implies that you haven’t researched the company.

Knowing how to address a cover letter is a vital job search skill that can give you a competitive edge.

Here’s how to choose a salutation when you do and do not know the hiring manager’s gender:

When their gender is known

If you’re certain of the hiring manager’s gender, use titles (such as Mr. for men) followed by their last name in your cover letter salutation. For women, use Ms. unless the job posting or company website shows another preference. For example:

  • “Dear Mr. Franklin,”
  • “Dear Ms. Tsai:”
  • “Dear Miss Rodriquez,” (only if “Miss” is specified in the job posting)

Some hiring managers may use Mx. as a gender-neutral title, so note such preferences:

  • “Dear Mx. Sanders,”

An alternative for addressing hiring managers who prefer gender-neutral titles is “Dear” followed by their first and last name. For example:

  • “Dear Eli Watson,”

Finally, if the hiring manager has a professional title, use this in your cover letter greeting to show you’ve done your research:

  • “Dear Dr. Al-Bassam,”
  • “Dear Lieutenant Pritchard,”

When their gender is unknown

While it’s best to use titles in your cover letter salutation, gender-ambiguous names (such as Kerry) make this difficult. In these cases, your salutation should include their full name:

  • “Dear Cameron Hill,”
  • “Dear Jay MacBride:”
  • “Dear Taylor O’Malley,”

Alternatively, use the gender-neutral pronoun “Mx.”:

  • “Dear Mx. Lopez,”

When you don’t know the hiring manager’s name

If you can’t find the hiring manager’s name, you can still write an effective salutation for your cover letter. Use information that is specific to the job opening to address your cover letter without a name, such as job title and department:

  • “Dear Client Services Manager,”
  • “Dear Vice President of Business Development,”
  • “Dear Sales & Marketing Director:”

If these details are not available, the following generic cover letter greetings are also acceptable:

  • “Dear Hiring Manager,”
  • “Dear Human Resources Team,”

However, before you resort to general salutations, first do your best to find the hiring manager’s name. Try looking on the company website, LinkedIn, or even Twitter.

Using the hiring manager’s name will show them that you care enough to be proactive about applying for the job, and are willing to put in the effort to stand out.

Cover letter salutations to avoid

There are certain cover letter greetings you should avoid because they’re too impersonal or vague.

Here are two examples:

Using “Dear Sir or Madam” is outdated and too formal for a modern cover letter greeting, and the term is non-inclusive which is no longer well-received in today’s job market. Using “To Whom it May Concern” is impersonal and shows hiring managers that you didn’t take the time to research their company.

Knowing how to write a cover letter is a valuable tool for connecting with hiring managers. Opening with a professional cover letter salutation is a good way to begin that connection, and might just help you land your dream job.

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The body of your cover letter lets the employer know what position you are applying for, why the employer should select you for an interview, and how you will follow up. This section of your cover letter includes:

Opening Sentence and First Paragraph. Why you are writing? This is "the grab," your chance to grasp your reader by the collar and get their attention. Offer some specific, focused information regarding the job you're seeking and a few core strengths that demonstrate your suitability for the position. Review the link for more ideas.


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The body of your cover letter lets the employer know what position you are applying for, why the employer should select you for an interview, and how you will follow up. This section of your cover letter includes:

  • Second paragraph: What you have to offer the employer. This is your hook where you highlight examples of the work performed and achieved results. Draw on your key competencies from your resume, although don't copy it word for word. Bullet points in this paragraph are extremely effective in drawing your reader's eye to your successes.
  • Third paragraph: Your knowledge of the company. Show that you did your research and know something about the business and how you can contribute to its mission.
  • Fourth paragraph: Your closing. Summarize what you would bring to the position and suggest next steps by requesting a meeting or suggesting a call.
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Finish your letter with a formal closing like "Sincerely" or "Yours truly." A cover letter is professional correspondence, so don't use informal closings like "Cheers" in the letters you write to apply for jobs.

Your Signature 

How you sign your cover letter will depend if you're sending a paper or email letter. If you're sending a paper letter, type your name after the salutation, leaving a space for your handwritten signature. If you're sending an email cover letter, type your name and contact information after your salutation.

Signature for a Hard Copy Letter Example


Mary Barnes (Your Signature)

Mary Barnes


Email Letter Signature Example


Mary Barnes
City, State Zip

Create a Cover Letter Activity

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