Finding a training contract is hard enough without a bad covering letter letting you down. You might think your CV is the star of the show, but without a good supporting act, your application will flop.
Even in these days of fancy online applications, many firms will still ask for a covering letter to accompany your application. You’ll also definitely need a covering letter if you’re planning on applying to high street and medium-sized firms.
Covering letters do much more than just ‘cover’ your CV…
A good covering letter will give a voice to the person behind your CV. It’s your chance to highlight the impressive parts of your CV, smoothly convince the employer that you’d be a fantastic trainee, and tell them what it is that makes you jig with excitement at the thought of working for their firm.
Seeing as drafting letters will be part of your responsibility as a trainee, a poorly constructed, ineffectual covering letter, riddled with mistakes, won’t exactly set a good example.
Before you put pen to paper…
Think of yourself as a Savile Row tailor, every training contract covering letter should be custom-made for the law firm. Put your excellent research skills into practice and find out as much as you can about the firm.
What areas of law do they specialise in? What is their company culture? What kind of skills are they looking for in trainee solicitors? Visit them at law fairs and scrutinise their website. You should know exactly who they are and what they do.
Next, think about the kind of skills you will need as a trainee solicitor and make a list of your own personal strengths.
Take a look at your CV and pick out the skills and experience you want to highlight in your training contract covering letter.
Constructing your training contract covering letter…
Research over; let’s have a crack at writing that covering letter. In its very basic form, it should answer these five questions:
1. Who are you?
2. Why are you writing to me?
3. Why do you want this role?
4. Why do you want to work for this firm in particular?
5. Why should we offer you a training contract?
As well as these questions, there are two words you need to keep in mind: relevance and brevity.
Keep the covering letter short, concise, and to the point. Here’s a suggestion for the general structure of your training contract covering letter, but it’s by no means gospel:
Structuring your covering letter…
Use a formal business letter template: your address and the name and address of recipient should be at the top of the letter. If you are emailing them, put the covering letter in the body of the email and omit the addresses.
Try to find out the name of the person who will be reading your covering letter. That way you can address it to them. It might be a small thing, but it does make a difference.
Here you can answer the first two questions: “Who are you?” and “Why are you writing to me?” You might want to tell them the position you are applying for (e.g. trainee solicitor), how you found out about it and, if the firm advertises more than one training contract, the year you’ll be able to start.
For example, you could say something like: “Further to your advertisement on AllAboutCareers.com, I would like to apply to your trainee solicitor position starting in 2014.”
Next, you might want to show them why you are interested in the type of work they do at the law firm. Give examples to back up your claims, such as relevant work experience, extracurricular activities or modules you’ve chosen to take at university.
Most important of all, tell the firm why you’re interested in them specifically. What is it about the firm that made you want to apply to them? And no, “the sizeable salary” and “sheer desperation” aren’t the right answers.
Here you might want to summarise the strengths and skills you have which you feel would make you an ideal trainee solicitor. Back each assertion with an example, whether that’s from previous work experience, extra-curricular activities or something else.
For instance, you might want to use your vacation work as an example to demonstrate your interpersonal skills or your commercial awareness.
Say when you’re available for interview and cover any practical issues they ask about (e.g. what your salary expectations are). Be positive: “I’m looking forward to your reply.”
You should end the letter “Yours sincerely” if it’s being sent to a named person; if you haven’t managed to find out a name then use “Yours faithfully”, followed by your name (obviously!).
– Think about the tone of your letter. It needs to be professional and formal, but, at the same time, you need to convey your own personal voice. You might want to use different ways to structure and formulate your sentences to really show off your writing style.
– If you’re emailing your covering letter or they’re likely to read it onscreen, then use a font designed to be read on a screen, such as Verdana or Helvetica. You should also use shorter paragraphs in emails as well.
– Go back over it with a harsh editing eye. Strike out anything superfluous. Can you make your sentences shorter? Can you get that point across in fewer words?
– Scrutinise your cover letter for mistakes. Double check it. Triple check it. Get your parents, your granny, the postman and your friends to proofread it. Spelling and grammar mistakes aren’t cool. End of.