A lot of job applications are now done online in fancy, new-fangled, digital application forms. However, many companies still favour the traditional CV and cover letter application combo.
Whether it’s a speculative application, or one targeted at a specific job advertisement, the covering letter is a key ingredient in this process!
So, how do you stand out from the overstuffed pile?
This article takes a look at how to write a covering letter for all those companies that are keeping it real and asking you to tell them all about your employability on just one page of A4.
> If you're keen to find out more about those companies, you can head over to our Law Jobs section.
What's the point of a cover letter?
The covering letter is the paper equivalent of those initial few seconds when we meet someone new. Much is judged upon little!
The ultimate aim of the covering letter is to politely scream “choose me”, in a way that convinces an employer that you are worthy of them offering you an interview. No pressure then!
What does an employer want?
Let’s take a second to consider the employer’s perspective:
“I want someone that is perfect for the job as soon as possible with the minimum amount of fuss or hassle. That means don’t waste my time, don’t waffle and get straight to the point.”
If you fail to fit within any of the above criteria, then you’ll be given short shrift from the employer.
That means shift F7 is definitely out of the question for this one! When creating you covering letter masterpiece, it is important that you follow a clear structure.
Outlined below is a template that most recruitment consultancies and employers recommend:
1) Who are you & why are you writing to me?
You must let them know this within the first few lines of your covering letter; otherwise it is unlikely they will go any further.
E.g. “My name is Joe Gissajob and I’m writing to apply for the position of Editorial Assistant that I saw advertised on the XYZ website.”
2) Why do you want the job?
Be honest. Discuss what excites you about the specific job responsibilities. Demonstrate your enthusiasm in an original but appropriate way.
3) What attracts you to the company & the position you are applying for?
Mentioning money is probably not the best thing to do here. Employers will be far more receptive to your application if you have taken the time to understand their business and how the role you are applying for will fit into it.
4) Why should you be offered the job?
The elders of a settlement in rural India may have honoured you for your efforts in preparing their village for the monsoon season, but can you use Outlook and Excel?
Don’t simply see this section as an opportunity to put down every achievement since primary school on the page.
It must be relevant to the work you will be doing for them, and it must encourage them to read on.
Consider selecting three or four qualities that you possess which match the needs of the job.
Be wary of exaggerating anything though. You’ll soon be found out if you didn’t actually invent the chip and pin device!
Briefly detail any practical issues that might need to be addressed. If they specify you must have a clean driving license, this is your opportunity to let them know.
To summarise, when writing your covering letter: be concise, tailor it to the job specification and talk up the relevant qualities you possess that make you ideal for the position. Most importantly though, good luck!
Training Contract Applications
Whether you’re applying for a training contracts or law apprenticeships, your apprenticeship or training contract applications will need to be well-written and professional. This page will guide you through all aspects of training contract applications and law apprenticeship applications. Given the distinct similarities between the two application processes, they are dealt with simultaneously on this page.Training Contract Deadlines
Training contract applications / law apprenticeship applications are a reflection of you, your professionalism and your commitment to law. Unless you have completed work experience,attended an open day or taken part in a vacation schemeat your preferred law firm, your training contract application /law apprenticeship application is likely to be your first exposure to individual firms.
Subsequently, it is vital to complete applications to the best of your ability. Your application creates that all-important first impression – a crucial stage of the apprenticeship / training contract application process. It gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your written communication skills and showcase your ability to articulate yourself in a clear, concise and engaging manner.
Depending on the law firm you are applying to, your training contract application / law apprenticeship application will involve either:
- Completing an online application form; and / or
- Submitting a CV and cover letter.
Training Contract Applications: Case Study
Visit our Case Study: Training Contract Application Timeline page for more detail on training contract applications at Baker & McKenzie, a top London law firm.
Top Tips for Completing Law Apprenticeship / Training Contract Application Forms
You will usually be required to submit law apprenticeship / training contract application forms online. Occasionally, you may be required to complete applications by hand.
To maximise your chances of success during the law apprenticeship / training contract application process, take note of the following top tips:
- No typos or grammatical errors! When the competition is so stiff, applications may be rejected solely on the basis of basic, avoidable mistakes.
- Ask a trusted person to proofread your application for errors/sense/interest once it is complete.
- Ensure your application makes for interesting and engaging reading. If you are bored by the contents of your form, the chances are the relevant graduate recruitment team will be too! The aim is to stand out from the crowd, not blend in.
- Ensure your application is bespoke to your target law firm/organisation by weaving in any firm/organisation specific detail where appropriate. Avoid copying and pasting in another firm’s name at all costs – to do so will almost certainly lead to rejection!
- Make sure you answer every element of each question. If you’re asked ‘why, what, how,’ ensure you address each of these components. This is the level of detail expected.
- With skills-based questions, make sure you back up any statements with relevant and interesting examples, e.g. ‘I like to be organised and lead from the front. For example, I run an annual charity cake sale which involves liaising with the charity, organising the venue, marketing the event and coordinating a team of voluntary people to bake and sell cakes on the day. Last year we raised over £1,000.’
- Draw on any non-legal or legal work experience where appropriate. It will assist you in providing real life examples of experiences you have had and any transferable skills you have subsequently acquired.
- Compile a timeline of preferred law firm application deadlines and work backwards.
- Take your time! Application forms cannot be rushed, so make a start on them early and do not wait until the day before the deadline to submit your forms. Organisation is key.
- Be sure to take a copy of your completed application form for reference – it will be useful if you are invited for interview.
More Top Application Tips From Top Law Firms
We caught up with the graduate recruitment teams at Freshfields, Taylor Vinters and and Herbert Smith Freehills and future trainee and trainees at Freshfields and Simmons & Simmons, who shared their top tips for securing a training contract. Note that these tips can also be employed if you are applying for law apprenticeships. Click on the links to find out more!
Freshfields Graduate Recruitment – Top Tips
Eloise Rennie (Freshfields Trainee) – Top Application Tips and More!
Herbert Smith Freehills Training Contract Advice
Simmons & Simmons – Top Tips
Taylor Vinters: Top Training Contract TipsWhat type of firm should you apply to? Take the quiz!
How to Draft a CV for a Training Contract /Law Apprenticeship
Some law firms prefer to receive training contract applications / applications for apprenticeships in law by way of a CV and covering letter.
As part of a law firm’s law apprenticeship / training contract applications guidance, it may specifically state how you should format your CV and the information you should include. If, however, there is no such guidance, we would suggest using one of the more traditional CV formats, for example:
Include your name, correspondence address, email address and telephone number.
This should be roughly a paragraph long and written in the third person. It is essentially your opportunity to sell yourself and positively articulate (based on your skill set, work and non-work experiences and personal qualities) why you are the best candidate for the job.
Education and associated grades
List your most recent academic grades first (along with details of the relevant academic institutions) and work backwards.
Again, start with your most recent work experience and work backwards. For each placement, ensure you include the following detail:
- Employer’s name/address
- Placement dates
- Skills acquired and how these translate to a career in law
Include, as a minimum, detail of any IT skills and foreign languages spoken.
Include details of relevant prizes, awards, scholarships and any other notable achievements, whether they be academic, sporting or otherwise.
You may wish to include detail of any hobbies and interests that you have.
Include details of two referees. Health warning – ensure you have consent from your referees before you add them to your CV! It is a good idea, if possible, to provide one academic and one non-academic reference.
Top Tips for Completing CVs for Training Contracts / Law Apprenticeships
- Ensure you use a clear and simple format which is easy to follow.
- Restrict your CV to two pages of A4.
- Avoid sending out blanket, generic, standard form CVs. Instead take the time to customise your CV for each application. This will immediately make your CV stand out from the crowd, giving you that all-important edge.
- Be truthful and ensure that any statements you make are accurate. Inconsistencies may be picked up during the candidate screening process and at your interview, which may jeopardise your chances of success, so don’t risk it!
- If your preferred law firm specifically states how they want you to format your CV, make sure you follow that particular format.
- Where appropriate, use subheadings and bullet points.
- Ensure your CV is free from typos and grammatical errors.
- Don’t waffle! Keep your CV focused and to the point.
- Use a standard font, for example Arial 11.
- Ask a trusted person to proofread your CV for errors/sense/interest once it is complete.
- Be sure to take a copy of your completed CV for reference – it will be useful if you are invited for interview.
How to Draft a Covering Letter for a Training Contract / Law Apprenticeship
In addition to completing:
- A CV; and/or
- Application form
A law firm may require you to attach or enclose a covering letter to supplement and reinforce your law apprenticeship / training contract application. Initial impact is key with this letter as it will almost certainly be the first part of your application that any graduate recruitment team will turn to.
Covering letters can take many forms, but we would suggest using one of the more traditional formats when targeting law firms, including:
- Your motivation to practice law
- What attracted you to your chosen law firm
- How your skill set fits with the firm
Top Tips for Completing Covering Letters for Law
- Try to establish a contact name so that you can personalise your letter.
- Tailor each letter to the job and individual law firm in question.
- Use a standard font, for example Arial 11.
- Ask a trusted person to proofread your covering letter for errors/sense/interest once it is complete.
- Ensure your covering letter is free from typos and grammatical errors.
Training Contract and Vacation Scheme Conference
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