What is the difference between a supporting statement and a cover letter?

The Job Studio - Birmingham Careers Advice and Coaching
By Sarah Blunt
woman typing on laptop

In this competitive job market, crafting a strong application is crucial for securing an interview. Employers often request written documents as part of your application, and you may find yourself asked to submit either a supporting statement or a cover letter. While these two documents share the common goal of showcasing your suitability for a position, they differ in a few important ways. In this post, we will delve into the key differences between supporting statements and cover letters, helping you understand the differences between them and how to maximise their impact.

Supporting statement vs. cover letter: the key differences

1. Purpose

A supporting statement, also known as a personal statement, is a document that requires you to outline your suitability for the job by addressing how you meet the essential and desirable criteria listed in the person specification/job description. Its primary purpose is to highlight how your skills, experience and accomplishments make you a good fit for the role. While some employers may ask you to explain your motivations for applying, this is not the primary focus of the document. A supporting statement is often a standalone submission, and employers may not allow you to submit your CV with it, so it needs to speak for itself.

In contrast, a cover letter almost always accompanies your CV. For this reason, it provides an opportunity to express your motivations for applying for the role and to highlight a select number of aspects about your skills and experience (as evidenced in your CV), that you feel make you particularly well-suited to the position.

2. Format

A supporting statement is a written statement, not a letter, and it is structured around the specific criteria or competencies that the employer is looking for. You should address each criterion individually and provide detailed evidence.

Cover letters, as the name suggests, are more like a formal letter. They begin with a formal greeting and introduction, followed by a brief paragraph explaining how you learned about the job and your interest in it. The body of the cover letter discusses your qualifications, experiences, and why you think you are a good fit for the job. It often includes a narrative about your career journey and what drives your passion for the industry or role. The letter concludes with a closing statement and a call to action. It will tend to be quite a bit shorter than a supporting statement.

3. Length

When employers request a supporting statement, most will specify a maximum word or character limit that equates to about two sides of A4. If no word limit is provided, aiming for somewhere around this length is advisable, as it allows you enough space to fully address the competencies listed in the person specification.

Cover letters are typically shorter and, in most cases, should be limited to one page. This length is typically sufficient to introduce yourself, explain your interest in the job, and highlight your suitability for the role.

4. Depth

Writing a supporting statement will require you to take a methodical approach in order to address all of the competencies the employer is looking for. For each competency, you will need to provide specific examples and evidence to demonstrate that you have it. For advice on what to include read my other post How to write a supporting statement for a job application.

A cover letter has a broader focus and should aim to make a strong, persuasive case for your candidacy, without getting too deep into the specifics. This usually means focusing on 3 or 4 of the main requirements of the position. Read my How to write a great cover letter blog post for more in-depth advice on what to include.

5. Tailoring

Supporting statements are often tailored to a very specific job application. Since they are structured around the criteria for a particular role, you need to customise each supporting statement for the job you're applying to. This level of specificity is crucial in demonstrating your alignment with the job requirements. For this reason, it will usually take longer to write a compelling supporting statement than it will a cover letter.

While it's important to tailor your cover letters, they tend to be more versatile. You can create a template that outlines your general career story and qualifications, and then make specific modifications for each job application. However, it's essential to ensure that the modified sections still align with the company's values and the specific job description.

In summary, a cover letter and a supporting statement serve distinct roles in a job application. A cover letter is a more general introduction that highlights your motivation and fit for the job, while a supporting statement is a much more specific document that provides evidence of your suitability for the role, by directly addressing each of the competencies listed in the person specification. Tailoring each document to the job you're applying for is crucial for a successful application.

If you would like to take your applications to the next level, check out my application review services, including both cover letters and supporting statements.