What’s the Difference Between a Cover Letter and a CV?

3 minute read

Want to land your next exciting charity role? First you need to impress the recruiter—and you have two initial opportunities to do this—your CV and your cover letter.

Needless to say, these both have to be impressive if you want to grab (and keep) the recruiter’s attention.

But to give yourself the best chance of securing an interview, it’s important that you understand the differences between a CV and cover letter and their purposes.

The key differences between a cover letter and a CV

Before we go into detail about CVs and cover letters individually, let’s take a quick look at some of the most obvious and important differences between the two.

Put simply, your CV is a detailed summary of your career, qualifications, achievements and interests, usually spanning one to two pages. In contrast, a cover letter is an extension of your CV. It’s a short letter to introduce yourself, express your interest in the role and the charity, and highlight any skills and experience which are particularly relevant.

how to write a cover letter that wins recruiters over

Your cover letter

We’ll now look at the key components of your cover letter, including its purpose, structure and what to include.

Purpose

Your cover letter accompanies your CV when you’re applying for jobs. It acts as your personal introduction and a chance to expand on your CV and talk in more detail about your skills and experience. It’s a chance to start building a personal relationship, as well as show why you’re the best candidate for the job.

Format and structure

Your cover letter, as the name suggests, should be structured as a letter, or nowadays more like an email. You should address your letter to the recruiter or hiring manager wherever possible.

The main body of the letter is made up of three to four short paragraphs that explain why you’re writing the letter, what you have to offer, your knowledge of the company and why you want to work there.

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What to include?

Your cover letter needs to grab the recruiter’s attention and tell a story, but it also needs to include several important aspects, and these are:

  • the name of the recruiter/hiring manager
  • an introduction and the exact role you’re applying for
  • where you heard about the position and why you want to work at that charity (here it helps to show you’ve done your research on the impact the charity has had)
  • your experience, achievements and skills that are most relevant to the requirements of the role
  • a final summary that reiterates your interest in the role
  • a call to action (such as ‘please find my CV attached’)
  • your signature (digital or physical) and contact details.

When to use this?

A cover letter can be an excellent addition to any application, but does this mean you should always include one? As a general rule, it’s always best to include a cover letter, even when one is not required.

The only time you shouldn’t include a cover letter is if the job post explicitly states not to.

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Your CV

 Now let’s take a look at the purpose, structure and content of your CV in comparison to your cover letter.

Purpose

Your CV is like your marketing material when job hunting—it’s your chance to sell yourself to potential employers. Essentially, it’s a summary of your career and education and should be used when applying for any job.

Format and structure

The structure of your CV will differ depending on your level of experience within the charity sector. However, every CV is broken down into different sections (which we’ll outline next), using headings, subheadings and bullet points to make the information easier to digest.

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What to include?

In the aforementioned sections, you need to include details about your career, education and skills. Where you place these sections on the page might vary, but you always need to include:

  • a personal profile to introduce yourself
  • a core skills section
  • your employment history (including any volunteer work or internships)
  • details of your key achievements and responsibilities
  • your education background and qualifications
  • you can also add an optional hobbies/interests section if you have space.

As you can see, this document is a lot more detailed and requires a lot more information than a cover letter.

When to use this?

Your CV is essential and should be used when applying for any job, even more so than a cover letter.

The only very rare exception might be if you’re applying to an organisation that allows you to create an online profile, or asks you to complete an application form rather than uploading a CV. However, this profile or application form will essentially contain all the same information as a CV anyway.

In conclusion, your CV is a detailed summary of your skills, experience and knowledge, whereas a cover letter is more of a brief introduction, used to personally address recruiters, build rapport and encourage them to read your CV. Using them both in combination, and tailoring them to match the roles you’re applying for, is the best way to get noticed and land interviews.

Andrew Fennell

Andrew Fennell is an experienced recruiter and founder of CV and careers advice websites StandOut CV and Job description library, as well as being a regular contributor to sites such as CV Library, The Guardian and Business Insider.

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