- Cover Letter Tips
Should You Combine Your Cover Letter and Resume into One Document?
The internet has impacted virtually every area of life, including the job search process. Gone are the days when a job seeker would simply hand an employer a cover letter and resume in paper form. Today, more companies than ever accept digital copies of those job search documents.
In fact, many companies and employers now only accept emailed digital cover letters and resumes so they can make use of applicant tracking systems (ATS). Unfortunately, there’s been little effort to standardize submission processes, and that can make it a little confusing for the average job seeker.
For example, how should you submit your emailed resume and cover letter? Should you send them separately or combine them into one document? In this post, we’ll examine both options and offer the advice you need to make the best decision.
What’s the difference between a cover letter and resume?
Before you decide whether to combine your cover letter and resume into one document, it is helpful to make sure that you fully understand each of these important tools. The fact is that each of these documents has its own role to play in the job search process, and they have some major differences:
Each of these documents serves a distinct purpose in the job search process. Resumes are designed to provide an employer with an easy way to quickly assess your qualifications. The main purpose of a cover letter is to help the employer understand your motivations, goals, and personality. Both are important documents, but they are not interchangeable.
Your cover letter should be a targeted document that focuses on your qualifications for a specific job role. It should contain information about why you are the best candidate for the position and what you hope to achieve for the employer if you are hired. Your resume is more of a marketing tool that highlights your skills, relevant work experience , and educational qualifications in an easily digested summarized format.
Structure and format
These two documents also have dramatically different structures and formats . Your resume will be divided into specific sections for easier consumption and will include bullet point lists of relevant skills and achievements. Cover letters look more like any other written communication, conveying your message in full sentences and paragraphs.
Cover letter and resume: to combine or not to combine?
Let’s get right to the main question here: should you combine your cover letter and resume into one document? As a general rule, you should try to avoid it wherever possible. Since resumes and cover letters serve two very different roles in the job search process, they should be treated as separate documents. The only time you should even consider combining these two documents is when the company has instructed you to do so.
Review the instructions
Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to get the submission guidelines for the position straight from the source. That means asking the company’s hiring manager how your resume and cover letter should be sent. If there are clear instructions, it’s important to follow them to the letter to maximize your chances of receiving the right type of attention. On those rare occasions when a company wants a combined document, the job posting will usually include that instruction.
Why you should not combine these two documents
In most instances, however, you will discover that the instructions are vague. Perhaps the only instruction is that your resume must be emailed. If that’s the case, then you should always choose to leave these two documents as separate files. There are several very good reasons to do so:
If you include these two tools in one document, applicant tracking systems may reject it. That can happen if the ATS mistakes your cover letter for a resume and assesses it based on its rules for resume approval.
Hiring managers often want to go directly to your resume to review your qualifications. If your cover letter is part of that document, it could be a distraction that frustrates your reader.
Your cover letter and resume serve different purposes. Keeping them separate helps to ensure that each document receives the attention it deserves.
What if employers request that your cover letter and resume be combined?
As we noted above, there may be times when a specific employer requests that a resume and cover letter be sent as one document. Obviously, that request should be honored if you want to be considered for an interview. The important thing then is to ensure that you combine them properly. The following tips can help:
Decide which document you want the employer to see first
Since the cover letter serves as your introduction, there is a case to be made for putting it in the front of the resume. If you want to make sure that the ATS scores your resume properly, however, you may want to put the resume at the beginning of the document. That can also help hiring managers quickly access your qualifications.
Create a new document
Make sure that you create an entirely new document for your combined file. That will enable you to keep them separate for other companies and submissions. Then copy and paste your resume and cover letter into this new document. Be sure to save the file with an appropriate file name. For example: JohnSmithResumeCoverLetter.docx or JohnSmithResumeCoverLetter.pdf.
Use proper formatting
When you paste each document into your combined file, make sure that you retain the original formatting. Also, be sure to include a page break at the end of the first document so that the next document begins on a fresh page.
Submit the combined file
Once you have your new combined file, submit it to the company. If the online job posting includes submission instructions, follow them to the letter. Otherwise, simply send it to the appropriate email address.
How to email your cover letter and resume
When emailing your cover letter and resume, either include the cover letter as an attachment or copy and paste its text into the email message. Don’t do both.
It is generally recommended that you submit both the resume and cover letter as file attachments rather than having any part of them in the body of your email message. What you can include in the email text is confirmation that you have attached the resume and cover letter files.
Of course, you also need to decide whether you want to submit a Word document or a PDF file. Once again, review the job board instructions to see what the company is requesting. If there is no specific option listed, then the best thing to do is to submit each document in a Word file.
Sample cover letter and resume template
Below, you will find a resume and cover letter template that you can use to ensure that your job search documents contain the information that employers want to see. You can use these templates to guide you as you create your own cover letter and resume:
[Your first and last name]
[Your Phone number]
[Your Email address]
[No more than three sentences highlighting your qualifications, experience, and achievements.]
[Bullet point list of your relevant skills. Use multiple columns to list 12-15 top skills ]
[Company name], [city], [state] | [Employment dates]
Job responsibility and achievement
[Repeat employment history for additional jobs, in reverse chronological order]
[Name of school], [city], [state]
[Date you graduated] It should be noted that you don’t have to include education dates if you graduated more than one year ago.
[Name of certification or license, organization providing it, and relevant dates]
Awards and Achievements
[Award, honor, achievement]
Cover letter template
[Your city and state]
[Recipient's first and last name]
Dear [Recipient's name],
My name is [your name] and I am interested in discussing the open [position name] position at your company. I have [length of experience] experience as a [your profession] and am confident that I can provide a great deal of value for your company if hired.
I have recently been employed at [relevant employer name], where I was responsible for [cite job duties using keywords that match the skills needed in the open position]. Prior to that, I [provide examples of job duties that show your qualifications to fill the company’s open job]. I would love to have the opportunity to use these skills as part of your team.
I have included my resume with this letter so that you can evaluate my qualifications and experience at your leisure. I appreciate your consideration and look forward to having the opportunity to discuss the position with you in greater detail.
You should choose to send your cover letter and resume as separate documents, unless the company has instructed you to combine them into a single file. More importantly, make sure that you get those critical job search tools into the right hands so that you can increase your chances of landing an interview!
Want to know whether your resume has what it takes to capture a hiring manager’s interest? Get a free resume review from our team of experts today!
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Ken Chase, Freelance Writer
During Ken's two decades as a freelance writer, he has covered everything from banking and fintech to business management and the entertainment industry. His true passion, however, has always been focused on helping others achieve their career goals with timely job search and interview advice or the occasional resume consultation. When he's not working, Ken can usually be found adventuring with family and friends or playing fetch with his demanding German Shepherd. Read more resume advice from Ken on ZipJob’s blog .
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Use a template to create a resume
If you need help creating a resume or cover letter, start with one of the dozens of professionally-designed resume and cover letter templates that are available in Word.
Go to File > New .
In the search box, type Resume or Cover Letter.
Double-click the template you want to use.
Replace the placeholder text with your own information.
On the File menu, select New from Template .
Create and use your own template in Office for Mac
Making a resume like this while you're online is quick and easy.
Note: This template comes with a cover letter, so you'll have everything in one document.
Choose one of our resume templates , and open it in Word for the web to make it yours.
As you work on the resume, you'll probably want to rename it.
The template uses a table to line everything up. If you need to add more lines for job experience or education, add rows to the table by going up to Layout under Table Tools and clicking Insert Below (or Insert Above) .
For tips on writing your resume, check out Six steps to developing a great resume .
When you're finished, print it out or share it online. You can do this with the resume still open in Word for the web. No need to save it first (that's already done for you).
To print it, press Ctrl+P, and wait for the Print dialog box.
Note: If you don't see a Print dialog box, click the link for opening a PDF version of your resume. From there, use the PDF program's Print command.
To share it online, send a link:
Near the top of the screen, click Share .
Under Share , click Get a Link .
Under Choose an option , click View only .
Click Create Link .
Click on the web address to select it, and then copy and paste it into an email, message, or post.
Tip: If you have a blog or website, you can embed a view of your resume there.
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