As the landscape for the legal recruitment market changes, we try to do our best to keep up with it. Law firms and legal businesses are rushing to condense 10 years’ worth of digital transformation into a much shorter timeframe, to allow them to keep up with the demands of the pandemic. This has left some jobseekers wondering if the old rules of recruitment still apply. Are cover letters still necessary? Should they be shelved in favour of personal statements on CV’s, or even video job applications? We asked legal recruitment experts what they thought.
Cover letters are still necessary, especially for junior lawyers, say Clayton Legal
“At Clayton Legal, we've long been advocates of the humble cover letter to create standout for our candidates and provide that golden opportunity to add personality and interest in the role, over and above a CV, although there is often some debate about the usefulness and relevance of this format. In fact, according to some recent research that we conducted within our legal network, 45% think they are no longer necessary. However, a further 33% of legal professionals did concede that it does very much depend on the role itself.
The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the use of technology as part of the hiring and recruitment process, and candidate profiles are being further enhanced through video and other digital platforms that allow all parties to explore role profiles and best fit, particularly when face-to-face interviews have been largely paused. It remains to be seen whether such techniques will continue to be employed once restrictions lift, but any format that provides junior lawyers the chance to demonstrate suitability for specific roles and illustrate relevant skills and experience can only be an advantage.”
CV’s are just as important and should complement your cover letter
Holly Dickinson, Senior Legal Recruitment Associate at Ambitious Group stresses the importance of tailoring your CV to every role. “When it comes to cover letters, I think these are still very important. If you’re applying to a firm directly, they will help you stand out. A cover letter needs to be as specific to the firm as possible, not a generic one you attach to every application, so look at the firms website and find out about them, their culture, values etc and discuss these, along with how that ties in to you and your experience.
You should also use the job advert – what are the key components of the role and what experience do you have that is relevant? However, the most important thing is having a well written CV, you would be surprised by some of the CVs we receive. Make it as easy as possible for the person reading it to see why you are right for the role.
Personalisation is key and always gets noticed. For each legal job application, scour the job ad to look at the skills or competencies they’re seeking. Write your cover letter to tell them how your skills and experiences fit what they are looking for. Include why you want to work for their company too.”
What should you include in your cover letter?
Write your cover letter in the first person. When you’ve written your first draft, check over it and you’ll probably find that you’ve started every single sentence with ‘I’. Go back and reword some of the sentences so that they have variation in how they begin - it makes the cover letter read better and will increase the impact.
Remember not to ramble: If it’s a big block of text crammed onto one page, then you put the person off ever reading it at all. Four to six very short paragraphs are the perfect length.
Ensure you create white space between each major piece of information, so that it is easy to read and pick out the critical parts. In today’s digital world many cover letters could be read on mobile - so factor this in too.
Use straightforward, clean language; you are a legal professional after all. Complex language can be a headache for the reader and confuses the message - why you’re the ideal person for the role.
Break overly long sentences into shorter ones, then read it aloud and see how it sounds.
Put all your contact details on the cover letter. If you are unavailable to take calls during working hours, advise when is suitable.
Make sure you mention the name of the company in the body of the cover letter and demonstrate that you have done your research on the company in some way. This marks the application out as targeted and that you care enough to make your application stand out.
Strike a balance. Every company enjoys being flattered. While you want to demonstrate you are the right person for the role, be aware you don’t come across as sounding desperate.
Don’t send your letter without having someone read over it for spelling and grammar mistakes. Of course, run it through spellcheck first, but that won’t always pick up homophones such as ‘their and there’ or ‘your and you’re’.
Clayton Legal summaries their top tips: “In short, keep it short. Keep it readable. Keep it relevant to the job offer. Get someone to check it. Above all, put some serious effort into making sure it’s as good as it possibly can be, as a lack of effort will rarely open the door to an interview.”
What should you avoid in your cover letter?
It’s easy to get carried away while writing a cover letter that supposed to present your best self. Skillcrush list some things you should never do in a cover letter – including listing too much information in the cover letter (you’re easily discoverable on Google!), attaching the cover letter instead of just listing the information in the body copy of an email, and using useless adjectives that describe who you are. Show, don’t tell – explaining how a project you’ve completed or a goal you’ve accomplished makes you the perfect candidate.
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