You’ve sent your CV and covering letter off to what feels like hundreds of firms, but still you haven’t secured an interview. You are close to giving up. There is only so much rejection you can take. Your CV is great, you have a hard fought for 2:1, commitment to law and excellent interests demonstrating a number of transferable skills: so why is your inbox full of rejections? Well, in short, it could be your covering letter. 

In partnership with Lawyer Monthly, Angela Burns, Law Programme Leader at Arden University discusses with Simply Law Jobs why the covering letter is so important.

The training contract covering letter is often underestimated by applicants, quickly dashed-off. This is a grave mistake. The importance of the covering letter in the application process cannot be underestimated. It is a decisive sales document – setting you apart from the rest. Get it right and you have a foot in the door. 

A good training contract covering letter should be bespoke to each employer and must:

  1. Identify the employer’s needs
  2. Show how the applicant fills the employer’s needs

The biggest covering letter mistake a student can make is to send the same letter to each employer which tells the employer that the student has skills. A sales document is tailored to each recipient and shows the employer you can do the job. 

Not everyone is familiar with sales, but this does not mean you cannot write a good covering letter. The first hurdle is to show genuine interest in the firm. How do you do this? Simple: research. Now this is something as a law student you are good at and understand! Find out everything you can about the prospective employer. Go beyond the type of law practised, the training offered, look at the cases, the work of the partner or the training contract decision maker and corporate social responsibility ethos. Pick on individual items that show in-depth research. Suddenly the bespoke element is half-way there. 

Including elements of focused research in your covering letter both demonstrates commitment to the firm and illustrates that you are a well-prepared, hard-working individual who is able to think creatively!

That leads us onto the second hurdle, someone who is able to do the job competently. Most students approach this element in their covering letters by listing skills and attributes. Unfortunately, this approach is unlikely to get you an interview. It does not show an employer that you can do the job. It does not show an employer that you meet their needs. 

The biggest mistake students make is to look at job competence from their perspective and focus on their skills. Employers won’t focus on what skills you have. They want to know you have the skills to do the job. So, flip this. Read the role description carefully: what does the employer need? The key here is to show not tell. Listing your skills is telling. It does not show that you can do the job. Instead of listing skills, map them to the employer’s essential requirements and give examples of how you have used the skills. This shows them you can do the job.

Writing a covering letter need not be daunting. It is a straight forward sales document. Time consuming, yes, but relatively easy with practise. A covering letter requires you to put on employers’ shoes for a day and think about their needs. You know you can do the job (heck everyone you know is clear on this too). So, go ahead show the prospective employer you meet their needs. Remember though, if you want an interview the secret is; show: don’t tell.

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