Although they are commonly thought of as the same thing, application letters and cover letters have significantly different purposes. While both documents accompany a résumé, understanding their differences will help you organize your documents during the job application process.
As explained by the University of North Carolina Writing Center, the function of an application letter is to “market your skills, abilities and knowledge.” The application letter serves to supplement your résumé and/or formal application. On the other hand, the cover letter simply acknowledges the transmission of the documents.
When writing an application letter, the University of North Carolina recommends three main areas of focus. You want to catch the reader’s attention, provide a convincing argument that you are qualified for the job and request an interview for the position. The focus of the cover letter is to simply identify yourself as the sender, along with the person to whom you are sending the information and the reason for it being sent.
For the application letter, provide as many details about your qualifications as possible. Include your overall objective, previous work and leadership experience, educational background, special skills and contact information. On the cover letter, include contact information for yourself and the person to whom you are sending the documents. You should also add a brief explanation of why you are sending the information.
An application letter should be one typed page including three paragraphs. Introduce yourself and your objective in the first paragraph, sell yourself in the second paragraph and ask for an interview in the third paragraph. The cover letter should feature the complete contact information for the person receiving the documents, along with a few sentences explaining the material and the sender’s name and contact information.
The application letter should accompany a résumé in most situations. A cover letter is not necessary if you are handing out a résumé during a networking event (with no specific job intended) or hand-delivering the résumé during a scheduled interview. A cover letter is typically only necessary when electronically delivering the documents, such as over fax or email.