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Optional Cover Letters: Are They Worth it?

By Joe O'Brien, on 15 July 2020

Read time: 4 minutes

Written by Emily Oliphant, Recruitment & Selection Advisor at UCL Careers.

A question that I’ve heard time and time again in Application Advice appointments is ‘So, the company have stated the cover letter is optional – do you really think it’s worth writing one?’.

I understand it can sometimes be a difficult dilemma.  Cover letters take time, that’s a given.  Especially when you’re applying to multiple roles, it can be a seriously time-consuming endeavour to write a tailored cover letter for each of them.  However, in my opinion and from experience, the purpose of a cover letter is often misunderstood and the value of them disregarded.  With that in mind I believe that, if possible, an optional cover letter should always be an option you decide to make most use of.  Here’s why.

1.The purpose of a cover letter is to highlight your relevance

When you think about it, it doesn’t matter how much you tailor a CV to a job description, your CV will always be an entirely separate document to the job description.  Your CV is entirely focused on you – your education, your experience, your skills – from top to bottom everything on that CV is about you.  Turning the tables, you’ll recognise that the job description is really all about the employer.  Their company, their job, the skills they deem essential.  Therefore, without a cover letter there will always be a gap in how exactly your skills are relevant to the position you’re applying for.

A cover letter acts like a bridge.  It is a connecting document that provides you with a platform to connect your CV to the job description because it offers the opportunity for you to explicitly explain how your skills will allow you to perform the responsibilities of the job.

Explaining the skills you have, how you developed them and how you can apply them to the responsibilities of the role is a three-step process that can’t really be achieved through a CV.  By embracing this structure, you are painting a vision for the recruiter of you hitting the ground running and being able to perform the duties they want you to.  This positive psychology is always worth taking the time to get across.

2. Further Detail

CVs can be crammed with skills and experiences but sometimes you’ll find that there just isn’t enough space for you to unpack some of your examples enough to highlight exactly how they put you in good stead to undertake the responsibilities.

Cover letters allow you to incorporate the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action and Result) to your examples – for more information on this topic you can watch our CareersLab episode on the STAR method or have a read of our recent blog post on it.  Being able to go into more detail on relevant points will enhance your argument of your suitability and encourage the recruiter to believe that you are a good match to their person specification.

3. Commitment

Finally, taking the time to write a cover letter (where potentially others haven’t) will only ever display a positive quality – commitment.  Having worked in recruitment for two and half years before joining UCL Careers, I can say with certainty that if you have taken the time to show you have researched the company, explained why you are attracted to the role and why your skills are suitable for the position, you will positively demonstrate that you are indeed driven to succeed in the application.  This level of interest and dedication will rarely go unrecognised.

Therefore, in short, if you have the capacity – I undoubtedly believe that choosing to write a cover letter when given the option will only improve your application as a whole and should definitely be covered!

If you would like further information on cover letter writing please watch our CareersLab episode on Cover Letters.  Furthermore, please feel to free to book a Applications Advice appointment to discuss a particular cover letter you have written in depth with an advisor.

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