Cover Letters

A cover letter contains the reasons why you believe you are the best candidate for the position. It serves two purposes; first, to make the reader want to read more about you in your resume and second, to land you an interview. Each cover letter should be specific to the position and the organisation. 

Read your cover letter aloud. It should be succinct and fluid. Think about the reader – for them, this will be one of hundreds of applications. Who wants to read the same stuff again and again? Get someone who’s not part of the process to read your application before you submit it. If it makes sense and appeals to them, you’re hopefully half way there. Check and double check for spelling and grammar mistakes. Simple things like making sure the apostrophe is in the right place makes a difference. 

The Cover Letter can help answer three questions that are often on the mind of the employer:

Can you do the the job? Show you have the right abilities, skills, knowledge and experience.

Will you do the job? Show you are interested in the work itself and that you have the other attitudes necessary for success in the role and the organisation.

Will you fit in? Show how your values and goals match the organisations values and goals. Your language and stories can also demonstrate how you might fit in with clients and co-workers.

Sample Structure

As stated above, each cover letter should be tailored for each position you apply for. However, there is a framework you can follow which will address the fundamentals of most cover letters. First, cover letters should begin with your name in the upper right-hand corner, followed by your address, contact phone number and email address. Next, insert the date on the left-hand side, followed by the name of the contact person, their position within the organisation, the name of the organisation, and the address of the organisation.

Always begin the letter with Dear [name of contact person], as it is best to avoid “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To whom it may concern” - such a salutation suggests that the candidate has not been bothered to ascertain the name of the relevant person. State the name of the position for which you are applying.

Briefly introduce yourself and preface why you have chosen this particular firm and why you are the ideal candidate for the position.

Outline the skills (technical and social), experience, training and achievements that are relevant to the selection criteria or the job description. These skills may have been gained through your education/course, your work experience and your extra-curricular activities.

Tell the firm why you are the best fit and how your skills will meet its needs. In particular, you should demonstrate (researched) knowledge of the firm, such as its practice area strengths, its industry connections, its reputation/awards, and any mentions made of it in recent newspaper articles.

Thank the firm for considering your application, tell them that you have attached a copy of your résumé, and when you would be available for an interview. Provide your contact details (phone / email). State that you look forward to hearing from them!

Tips

It’s critical that you draw some connections between your past experiences and what you can bring to the organisation. Research the firm’s values and reflect on times you have demonstrated those values in your personal, professional or university career. Working in a café might seem unrelated to working at a firm but you’ll have great customer skills, you’ll be a clear communicator, and you’ll work well under pressure. Working on a student newspaper demonstrates teamwork, conflict resolution and writing skills, as well as the ability to work to deadlines.

In particular, try your best to not use ‘Ctrl+F and replace’ too freely. There’s nothing worse than demonstrating to any firm that your cover letter was not written specifically for them – even if it’s true.

As an employer, the standout things (aside from spelling/grammar/language) which I wished that grad knew was to clearly state their date of admission (or expected date) and jurisdiction in the first paragraph of their cover letter, or the first section of their CV. In addition, if they are pre-admission then they should clearly outline whether they need to complete your PLT placement and their expected date of completion of PLT coursework/placement requirements.

From an employer’s perspective, this is one of the most crucial things for a grad / PLT position and it was quite bizarre how difficult this information was to ascertain from their applications.

Melinda Jackson (Partner) from Hanna Jackson Lawyers