Great Differences: Motivation Letter, Cover Letter, and Reference Letter

Both a student and a job seeker have one thing in common, the need to be well versed with letter writing skills. Writing a letter serves different purposes depending on who you are writing the letter to and for what reason you are writing it? It should convey your intended message.

The student may need to write a motivation letter for scholarship, while the job seeker has to write a cover letter to their potential employer. Once they get the position, or in a particular stage of the recruitment process, you may need to have a reference letter from the references included in your CV.

Motivation Letter

It is a letter that one writes to introduce themselves to a third party, and usually not for job applications. It usually accompanies another document, say your CV. A Motivation letter could be a scholarships motivation letter, application for college, for an internship or volunteer position, etc.

The letter should be able to communicate to the reader, a little more about yourself than just your qualifications.

Cover Letter

A cover letter is an accompanying letter that one writes when applying for a job. It also introduces the Candidate to the hiring personnel while outlining why they think they are a suitable candidate for that particular position.

It usually goes hand in hand with your resume or CV, as a motivation letter for scholarship, would. A cover letter capitalizes on the skills and experiences of the writer that makes them a suitable candidate for the position that they are applying for.

In this letter, you need to address a particular person. The days of using Dear Sir or Madam or To whom it may concern are over. Do your research on the company and address the letter to a particular individual.

Reference Letter

Just as the name suggests, it is a letter written by your references. Some employers ask their employees for reference letters. The referee outlines one’s character, attitude, assesses your qualities, etc. You should always inform the people you would wish to use as referees of your intentions beforehand.

A referee should be a person who knows you well and can give concrete examples of your strengths and qualities.

Their Differences

Most people cannot tell the difference between a Cover letter and a Motivation letter and sometimes also a reference letter. Below are some of their apparent differences:

1. A cover letter is a letter you draft when applying for a particular job position. Here, the writer introduces themselves to the hiring personnel and shows them why you are the suitable candidate for the post. You sell your qualifications to the reader

2. On the other hand, in a motivation letter, you want to give the reader a little more information about you other than your qualifications. You need to show them that you that they should consider you for that opportunity and why

3. Both the motivation and cover letter are written by the person applying for the particular position or opportunity while a third party drafts a reference letter

4. In a reference letter, the employer uses it to assess your character and also to confirm the information that you provide them with about yourself. When needing a reference letter, be sure to provide your referee with a copy of your CV. You don’t want them to provide conflicting information about you

5. It is acceptable to address the letter generally in a reference letter but not in a cover letter


There is a clear distinction between a motivation letter, cover letter and a reference letter. However, they also have things in common which may make it confusing to differentiate to many. All the letters are used to qualify an individual for a position or opportunity.

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