Cover Letter Application Letter Difference

Some job positions request a cover letter while others request an application letter. Others might not request any type of letter, while others might specifically request that you not submit a letter at all. If you are tempted to pull your hair out, don't sweat it. Job applications that ask for a cover letter or application letter are essentially requesting the same item. The differences in meaning are very subtle.

Cover Letter

A cover letter is essentially like the book cover for the rest of your job application. Like a book cover, it should capture the reader's attention and convince him that it's worth taking the time to turn the page. When it comes to applying for jobs, cover letters can fall into two categories: Letters of application -- for open positions -- and letters of inquiry, which express interest in an organization when you're not sure if there are any openings.

Uses for Cover Letters

Cover letters aren't just for job applications, although this is the context many people think of when they hear the term. Cover letters can be used on any collection of documents or media for the purpose of describing reasons for sending them. You may put a cover letter on a fax, on a proposal or anything that needs an explanation. Cover letters don't always need to be very long. For example, if you're sending a fax to a familiar recipient who knows the documents are coming, you really only need a sentence or two explanation along with the sender and recipient information.

Application Letter

An application letter is a specific type of cover letter that is -- you guessed it -- used on an application. Application letters can accompany job applications, but they can also go with applications for admissions to schools, applications for grants or any other types of application materials you can think of. They are usually more detailed than general cover letters. For example, an application letter for a job should contain at least two to three paragraphs explaining why you're interested in the job, highlighting your qualifications, requesting an interview and thanking the reviewer for his time.

Making Sense of the Terms

When someone asks for a cover letter or application letter, don't worry about the differences. Their purposes are the same; they can just apply to different circumstances. An application letter is really only a specific type of cover letter. In the context of applying for a job, the differences in the terms are essentially meaningless.


About the Author

Gina Poirier has a professional background in nonprofit administration and management, primarily with youth development organizations. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from the University of Washington and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

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What is the difference between a cover letter vs motivation letter? In most cases they both fall under the name of cover letter despite there being an extremely subtle variation. There are many other names used for a cover letter such as a covering letter, a motivational letter, a letter of interest and many more. However, they are all used in job or academic applications to persuade the recipient that they are the right choice.

What is the Difference Between a Cover Letter vs Motivation Letter?

A cover letter technically refers to the accompanying letter you use when applying for a job, while a motivation letter is for applying to university or a non-paid position. However, the word that most organisations will use for both criteria is the cover letter. It is more commonly used and more commonly understood, whether that be by professionals or students. To see the request of a motivation letter on any type of application will be rare but will encompass the same cover letter format whether you are required to write a cover letter for a job or a motivation letter for university. Generally speaking, the content of both letters is quite similar and the purposes are the same which is why using the title of cover letter to represent all types of letter of persuasion is much easier.

Subcategories of a Cover Letter

Despite the title cover letter being a general term used for all types of letters in this category, you might come across other names and be wondering what the differences are. These slight differentiations in title do not alter the cover letter format as they will all follow the same guidelines, instead adding some extra information to alter them for slightly different purpose:

  • Letter of Interest = asking about a possible job opening rather than a specific application
  • Networking Cover Letter = requesting help and assistance to look for a job
  • Referral Cover Letter = specific mention of someone who has referred you to this job position

Take a look at some cover letter examples that might be helpful in seeing the difference between a cover letter vs motivation letter.

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