A well-drafted cover letter is an essential tool for making direct job applications because in most cases it is your first chance to impress a prospective employer. However, describing it as a ‘letter’ is a misnomer because if you’re planning to make your approach via an email, I recommend copying the content into the main body of your message. Doing this will make life easier for the recipient as they won’t have to bother opening an attachment, meaning they’re more likely to read your correspondence.
Unless prescribed by the employer, the length of your cover letter will depend on the strength of your CV and how well your experience and skills match the job specification. For a would-be solicitor or associate with an uncomplicated knock out CV that requires very little explanation brevity should be the order of the day.
If possible, aim to send your CV and cover letter to a named individual, be that the recruitment manager or a partner. This is especially important if you’re planning to make an unsolicited speculative approach. If you’re unsure who this individual is a simple search on a law firm’s website or a phone call to reception should help.
Addressing your email to the correct person will increase your chances of getting noticed and will also show that you’ve done some proper research into an employer. Saying that, note some hiring organisations will operate online application portals for paralegal and indeed training contract vacancies.
A worked example
THE OPENING – Start by politely introducing yourself and say what your current position is. Then explain the purpose of your letter/email. For example, you could start by using the following language:
Dear [INSERT NAME]
I trust my email finds you well.
My name is Husnara Begum and I am currently in the first year of my Law Degree at the University of XXX .
I would eventually like to train as a solicitor and am actively looking for work experience opportunities to help me develop the essential skills needed to excel in the legal profession. I would therefore welcome an opportunity to meet either in person or virtually to discuss potential openings at your firm / in your team.
I am writing to express an interest in applying for the [paralegal] role in your [INSERT PRACTICE AREA] department as advertised on [LinkedIn].
WHY THEM? – Make it clear why you are applying to a particular firm or in-house legal department. Draw on their reputation/rankings, strengths, quality of work etc. and match it to your interests, longer-term career goals and any experience you have already gained in previous roles. For example, you could say something on the following lines:
I am particularly interested in joining [INSERT FIRM NAME] as a paralegal because of your excellent reputation in handling big-ticket private equity work for high-profile clients such as Blackstone and KKR. I would also prefer to work within a smaller environment as this will offer more client exposure as well as enable me to take on greater levels of responsibility.
WHY YOU? – Sell yourself by highlighting previous relevant experience but avoid regurgitating the entire content of your CV. Additionally, refer the reader to your key competencies, remembering to match these closely to those the employer is looking for in the job advertisement. And do not forget to include solid examples of how these have been deployed during previous work experience, or via your studies and extra-curricular activities. For example, you could use the following language:
As you will see from my attached CV, I already have significant exposure to the private equity sector having previously gained work experience in the compliance team at [INSERT COMPANY NAME]. In that role my day-to-day responsibilities included: [INSERT DETAILS].
THE ENDING – Close the letter by thanking the reader for their time and say you look forward to hearing their response. For example, you could use the following:
Thank you in advance for considering my application and please let me know if you would like any further information. Otherwise, I look forward to receiving your feedback as soon as possible.
Other top tips
- Tailor each letter for the role you are applying for
- Use a simple typeface such as Arial or Times New Roman
- Keep it short and punchy or you’ll risk losing the reader’s interest – remember you’re not writing an essay
- Remain professional but avoid being overly formal (emails are by their very nature more informal) – and never start an email or indeed letter with Hey or Dear Sirs!
- Use white space – break messages into simple points and make each one into a new paragraph
- Sell yourself but avoid repeating the full contents of your CV / application form
- Mention your unique selling points but avoid clichés
- Thoroughly research the employer so you can make a convincing case of why you want to work for that particular firm or company
- Always remember to proof-read your cover letter / email, paying particular attention to names – step away from the letter and then re-read as you are more likely to spot typos after taking a break from the document
- Mention any dates you won’t be available for interview
- End positively by thanking the reader for their time and sign off using ‘Best wishes’ or ‘Kind regards’
- DON’T FORGET TO ATTACH YOUR CV BEFORE PRESSING SEND!!!
Husnara Begum, careers consultant and owner of CheekyLittleCareers