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How to write a cover letter that gets you the job

15th June 2015

how to write a great cover letter

All too often the cover letter element of job hunting is overlooked with all the focus resting on the CV. This is wrong.

Learning how to write a cover letter successfully could make your career and help open doors that you may have been turned away from previously. The cover letter has a very crucial role in the legal recruitment process – it helps explain your CV and, while your CV should be tailored to each role you apply for, the covering letter can further illustrate your knowledge of a particular company and your enthusiasm for the specific role.

Here we show you how to write a cover letter that will get you the job and why certain techniques work.

Dear Sir/Madame

First off, always research the company you are applying for a position with and make sure you know who you are writing to. ‘Dear Sir/Madame’ or ‘To whoever it may concern’ are two of the worst things you can see in a cover letter and could have your efforts put straight in the bin. Even if you have crafted a beautiful body of copy for your letter, the recruiter won’t get that far if they see that you haven’t even bothered to find out their name.

So do some research. Most companies will list the name of their human resources manager on their website, alternatively, writing the name of the person who is in charge of the department of the position you are applying for will at least show that you have done your homework, even if they are not the person who will write offering you an interview.

I saw your advertisement in…

The opening lines are where you explain who you are and why you are writing. This may seem obvious but people still get this element wrong.

Start with something along the lines of ‘I am writing to apply for the (job title) position at (company name), as advertised in (where you saw the job advert) on the (date of the advert). Please see enclosed resume for an overview of my skills and experience.’

The recruiter will want to know where you found their advertisement, not least for their own records but also to see what other sort of roles you may be looking for as they will know other companies recruiting in the same places they are. It is also worth mentioning here if you found out about the role from a contact. If you came across the role through looking for temporary legal jobs with a recruitment agency, then tell them so. Chances are they will know of the company and this will catch their eye and show that you are proactive.

job advert on a tree

I’ve always wanted to work in…

Avoid clichés in your cover letter. While cover letter examples are plagued with them, remember that you are only using the examples for structure, the main body of the letter should come from you and help show who you are as a person and why you in particular would make a great employee.

Explain who you are and why you want the job. It is vital to put in some relevant information about the company. Show that you are passionate about the work, both the role and the company recruiting. If you show that you have taken the time to research the company then you are far more likely to come across as the kind of employee they might want to hire.

Something similar to ‘I recently saw in (publication) that you acquired two smaller businesses who specialise in commercial law. With five years of experience in this field I feel my skillset could help in this transition.’

This shows that you are interested in the company’s operations and its future. Try applying such information to your own experience and skills and show them rather than tell them why they need you. This is far better than the clichéd ‘I’ve always wanted to work in a law firm of your calibre.’

As you can see from my CV…

What to remember here is not to repeat your CV. The cover letter is to explain areas of your CV, not rewrite them. Use this opportunity to explain what might be perceived by a recruiter as both positives and negatives of your CV.

If there are any gaps, then don’t ignore them; the employer might think you are not serious about your work. Explain what they were and why they’re there, for example you may have taken a gap year to improve your life skills, so explain what you learnt and how this has helped your career skills. Or perhaps you took time out to have children and you can then explain how you have since been proactive in furthering your career.

Also, show that you really understand what is being asked of the candidate. Each role will outline certain skills and experience needed, and while your CV might show these skills, it doesn’t hurt to explain them here and show how they relate to the role. Be sure to add anything that didn’t make it on to your CV that you feel would make you a great candidate.

Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.

While you want to sound confident and assertive in your cover letter it is important to also sound polite. Thanking the reader for taking the time to read your letter is common etiquette and you can also illustrate here how much you want the job.

Recruiters aren’t going to hire someone who doesn’t seem passionate about the role and the company. Passionate workers are happy and hard workers, so illustrate that while you are perfect for the position on paper, you are also perfect in reality.

Also be sure to state that you look forward to hearing from them. Be assertive in your approach and show that you believe you should get the job and hear from them again.

jobs key on a keyboard

Yours sincerely,

Always, always sign off with ‘Yours sincerely’. Any other sign off may come across unprofessional or colloquial.

Final tips:

  • Keep it concise.

You want your cover letter to be no more than a page in length. Recruiters are busy and they want to be able to see immediately if you are the right person for them.

  • Relate you skills and experience to how you will work in the position.

You want to create a situation where they can visualise you working for them. For many this takes place during the interview, if you can achieve this during the cover letter stage you are a step ahead.

  • ‘I’ is ok.

Too many people focus on the repetition of ‘I’. While you don’t want to overdo it, too many people worry that it makes them sound as though they are self-obsessed. This is a cover letter, you are supposed to talk about yourself!

  • Don’t use ‘I’ too much.

It’s a catch-22. Yes, don’t worry about the use of ‘I’, but at the same time you should be letting your skills, experience and personality speak for themselves. Don’t focus too much on it and let the writing read naturally.

Image Credit: Mark Crossfield, James Cridland, GotCredit (flickr.com)