We all want to put our best face forward when we are applying for a job. This includes supplying a top-notch resume and an engaging cover letter. But what if the job ad states “cover letter optional”? Do I still need to provide one or not? Will I lose some potential brownie points in the eyes of the employer?
Career experts have done some research around optional cover letters and how you should treat such requests. Let’s take a closer look at this hot topic.
Should You Write a Cover Letter if It is Optional?
Yes, it’s best to provide a cover letter even if it’s stated as optional. Why? Because it’s another “touchpoint” between you and the potential employer. Use it to draw more attention to your resume (and skill set respectively) and give a preview of your personality. Candidates who provide a professionally written cover letter are usually viewed as more professional and interested in the position than those who don’t.
Also, actually taking the time to write a cover letter can set you apart from the competition. One small-scale study, done by a recruiter, suggests that 73% of applicants don’t bother filing a cover letter or even write a short introduction in an email. So doing the courtesy of writing a formal or more informal email cover letter can be pretty refreshing for some employers.
OK, But Why State ‘Optional Cover Letter’ At All?
If data suggests that employers prefer cover letters, why some companies state that the “cover letter is optional”? That’s totally confusing. Yeah, we get that.
But there are two possible reasons for that:
- By “cover letter optional”, some companies mean that you should write a less formal letter of introduction (email), rather than attach a “traditional” cover letter. They still expect more than a resume, sent without any further notice.
- Others treat the “optional” thing as a quick applicant test. Many large companies, receiving hundreds of submissions, may want to easily weed out those candidates that don’t put in any extra effort. A company may begin its candidate analysis process by eliminating those who are not interested in the job enough to submit a cover letter. In some cases that could be potentially hundreds of letters or emails that they don’t need to waste time on.
The bottom line: If a cover letter is optional, it’s not an excuse to skip it altogether.
Are cover letters necessary when you are applying via an on-site hiring form? It depends. Some job application forms, however, provide extra questions that allow you to talk about your personality, skills, and reasons for applying. But even in such cases, it’s best to add a quick introductory letter if you feel like you’ve got a few more things to say.
Does The Cover Letter Content Matter?
So, if we have already established that most employers want you to provide a cover letter, along with your resume. But do you need to bother making the cover letter content relevant to the position?
Oh yes, you do! The purpose of a cover letter is not simply to “check a box” with the employer – it’s a sales tool to persuade them to meet with you for an interview. For that to happen, your letter has to be personalized to the job.
- Research the hiring person’s name and add it to the letter
- Specify if you have a “shared connection” (even on LinkedIn)
- Reference a recent company event or accomplishment
- Explain how the company values align with yours
To personalize your cover letter, do some company research in advance.
Also, treat your cover letter as an opportunity to explain why you are interested in taking on the position – something that you cannot really do with your resume. When your cover letter is done well it may be the deciding factor for you landing an interview with the company.
What Else Should Be Included In An Optional Cover Letter?
Optional or not, a cover letter should do two things well:
- Communicate your interest in the role
- Highlight your “fit” for the opportunity
To convey the above, the lengths of the resume may not be enough.
In essence, a cover letter is an opportunity to showcase how you use your core competencies (listed as skills on your resume) in your day-to-day work. For example, if the job on offer is to support a certain area, such as product development, then you can use your cover letter to mention how you would be able to fit in with their plans. Mention how you previously led product development within your current company, what results you’ve achieved and how you plan to replicate this success if given a chance. You can check cover letter examples on your website to get a better sense of how to convey your skills via extra context.
Apart from the above, a good cover letter should include:
- A strong opening
- Two-three paragraph, centered around your skills
- Closing statement with a call-to-action
What If You Don’t Send In An Optional Cover Letter?
You might not have enough time to write a decent cover letter to go with your job application. Or you are facing the worst writer’s block of all time. What happens if you don’t end that optional cover letter after all?
If you are short on time, focus on your resume instead. Put your available time into making sure it is perfect and send it in. Also, prioritize answering other questions on the job application platform.
Finally, instead of a full-length letter, provide a quick personalized note that briefly introduces you and expresses your interest. You can re-use a variation of your personal statement. For example, as a recent graduate applying for a business analyst job you may write something like this:
“Good day, [Name], I’m looking forward to becoming part of the XYZ BA Office and applying my skills in process analysis, requirements gathering, quantitative and qualitative research, to help XYZ maintain its position as a leader in industry X”.
Also, for the next time around, prepare a generic cover letter — a pre-written cover letter template you can quickly personalize to different job offers. Having one will say you heaps of time (and stress)!
When a cover letter is optional, a lot of job applicants may be tempted to skip it. Don’t be one of them! A cover letter is a great means to convey your interest in the job and provide a quick “preview” of your personality and work abilities. Given that a lot of employers now seek out “cultural fits”, rather than applicants who tick all the job requirement boxes, a well-written cover letter can majorly increase your chances of landing a job with a prestigious employer!