motivation letter vs cover letter

Motivation Letter vs Cover Letter: Is There Even a Difference?

Last edit May 30, 2018

There's been a lot of confusion about the role of a motivation letter vs cover letter. The terms sometimes appear to be interchangeable but there are subtle differences that you need to be aware of. Let’s sum up what sets apart each of the documents:

How do you know it's a cover letter?

  • Type of document: compulsory
  • Situation: applying for a job
  • Function: convince the hiring manager to read the resume
  • Content: skills, work experience, education and accomplishments
  • Relevance of content: only job-relevant
  • Length: half a page

How do you know it's a motivation letter?

  • Type of document: optional
  • Situation: applying for a university, internship, volunteering
  • Function: describe the applicant’s motivation, inspiration and reasons
  • Content: skills, qualifications, achievements, struggles and challenges
  • Relevance of content: both relevant and non-relevant to the position
  • Length: approximately one page

Generally speaking, both of them give you a chance to deliver your "elevator pitch"

Also notice how both documents follow similar guidelines but serve a slightly different purpose. Read on and make sure you get them right the next time you need to attach one of them to your resume!

The cover letter is the introduction to your resume

The cover letter is an introductory letter addressed to a hiring manager. It normally comes with a resume when replying to an advertised job.

There are many differences between the cover letter vs resume, yet they complement each other.

As the name suggests, cover letter is traditionally sent as the front cover. In fact, the cover letter is often instrumental in convincing the hiring manager to read the resume in the first place!

motivation letter vs cover letter

It’s a common mistake to have duplicate content in your resume and cover letter. However, the cover letter is your chance to say things that are impossible to express through the resume.

Its main goal is to explain the reasons for applying for the vacancy. Whereas the resume contains details, the cover letter serves to elaborate applicant’s skills, work experience, education and accomplishments. And all of that needs to be relevant to the desired position.

The ideal length of a cover letter is 3-4 paragraphs, or around half a page of A4. Normally, you should conclude with a request for an interview and your contact information (e.g. phone or email).

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The motivation letter is your powerful personal story

Motivation letter is usually an optional document. But it’s a good thing to include it in the application as it’s an excellent tool that can convince the HR manager you’re the perfect fit for the position.

This document is especially relevant for fresh graduates when applying to a university, non-profit organization or voluntary work.

The task of the motivation letter is to elucidate why the person’s interested in the specific position, activity or programme. It's a document that sells the application. It markets the job candidate's ideas, attributes, qualifications and skills.

The motivation letter is a place to write the story behind one’s finest achievements. It can also include examples of accomplishments that are not directly related to the position but speak about your drive to be successful.

On the other hand, it's good to share weaknesses or struggles that you faced on your path to success. These stories are helpful in highlighting characteristics such as determination and perseverance.

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Motivation letter vs cover letter? Here's our final piece of advice

When it comes to your cover letter or motivation letter, always remember to tailor it toward a particular vacancy to make your application stand out. Throwing around so-called generic cover letters will sell you off as lazy and careless and that's definitely not the first impression you want to convey.

To create an outstanding and powerful application, check out our complete cover letter guide and 7 best ways to start a cover letter. And if you’re looking for some inspiration, check out our database of cover letter examples. You can simply preview them or use our cover letter builder to create your own in minutes!

  • Jakub Kapral, Career and Resume Writer at Kickresume
  • Jakub Kaprál
    Career & Resume Writer
    Jakub Kapral is a former professional linguist and a career writer at Kickresume. He has written almost 100 diligently researched resume advice articles and his texts are visited by thousands of people every month. Jakub is a natural teacher who looks to help those who want to enhance their career prospects. He's also an avid drummer and a proud father of two.

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