Everybody knows that one of the first things you need to do when you are looking for work is to write a professional, accurate and impressive CV. However, a CV is only half of the application. It does not matter how good your CV is if you do not include an equally impressive covering letter. The role of the covering letter is to entice the recruiter to go on and read your CV. In situations where recruiters are inundated with applications, a bad covering letter – or worse yet, no covering letter at all – could very well be the reason why your CV ends up in the rejected pile.
The cardinal rule of covering letters is that you should write a new letter for each application that you make. You will notice that on ILSPA’s Legal Secretary Jobs Board there is no option to upload an existing covering letter file. Instead, there is a free text box where the letter for the application can be written. This is an intentional feature to dissuade applicants from using a generic covering letter. Writing a new letter for each application allows you to tailor the letter specifically to that individual role and company. This shows the recruiter that you are genuinely interested.
Here are ILSPA’s five steps to the perfect covering letter:
1. Specify which role you are applying for
Similar to the personal profile in your CV, the covering letter is an opportunity to really sell yourself to the recruiter. A good way to lead into this is to specify which role you are applying for and where you found it. This gives you a starting point to talk about the skills, attributes and experiences you can bring to that role. It also makes it clear right from the start that you have written this letter with that specific role in mind.
2. Be detailed about your qualifications and experience
It is important to never assume that a recruiter is going to read your CV at the same time as your covering letter. So, if there is something important that makes you a good candidate for the role, you need to initially highlight it in the covering letter. Your Legal Secretaries Diploma qualification, previous legal or office experience, and transferable skills should always be mentioned.
Equally, don’t assume recruiters will automatically know what your qualification or experience is going to bring to the role. It is your job to explain it to them. They need to be confident that you know what makes a good Legal Secretary and why your skills are applicable. The covering letter allows you to expand on important things in ways you cannot do in your CV.
For example, if you are applying for a Conveyancing Legal Secretary role, rather than simply mentioning that you have a Legal Secretaries Diploma, you could write:
“I have recently achieved a Legal Secretaries Diploma with ILSPA. The course included a comprehensive unit on Land Law and Conveyancing. My in-depth knowledge of this area means that I have the confidence to assist fee earners at any stage of the conveyancing process, including producing and completing the relevant forms and searches.”
Or perhaps, if you are applying for a Wills and Probate Legal Secretary role, you could write:
“I am passionate about all areas of law, but within the Legal Secretaries Diploma course I passed, I found that I excelled in the Wills and Probate unit. My understanding of this area of law, together with my meticulous attention to detail, meant that I achieved a distinction.”
The same is true for when you speak about transferable skills. Let’s use customer service as an example. Legal Secretaries are often the face of a company and so will be dealing with clients and other professionals on a daily basis. Therefore, customer service is a very useful skill for them to have. You could simply mention that you come from a customer service background in your covering letter. But, if you really want to impress the recruiter, you need to explain why that is beneficial for a Legal Secretary. So, you could write:
“Coming from a hospitality background, I pride myself on my people skills and my ability to think quickly and calmly in any situation. Customer service has been central to my role for the past three years and I am keen to apply my expertise to a new role. Legal Secretaries are the face of a law firm and are responsible for communicating with clients and legal professionals on the law firm’s behalf. I believe that, with my experience, I would be an ideal representative for your firm.”
3. Refer back to the job advertisement
To get an idea of which specific skills the recruiter is looking for, you can refer back to the job advert. You can then make sure that your covering letter includes the skills that will make you an ideal candidate for this role or company in particular. This also shows that you have really understood the recruiter’s requirements.
If a recruiter has specified that something is mandatory or highly desirable, it is a good idea to make the effort to explain how you meet that requirement. Use examples if you can. If you don’t exactly meet the requirement but you are confident that you are capable of fulfilling the role, then think about how you can show this. Perhaps the recruiter has requested that the candidate is familiar with a certain piece of software or case management system. You may not have used this before but you are a good learner, so you are confident it wouldn’t phase you. You could satisfy this requirement by writing:
“In my previous positions, I have worked with various different systems. On one occasion, I was asked to familiarise myself with a new system over one afternoon and then teach the rest of the team the next day. I am a quick and confident learner, so I was able to complete the task without hesitation.”
4. Research the company
We have mentioned before how important it is to tailor your covering letter to the role you are applying for. Firms and recruiters like to know that you have a genuine interest in working for them. Nothing will make you stand out more as a candidate than if you show them that you are a good fit for their company by researching the company before you apply.
Make the effort to visit the company’s website and see what its ethos and goals are. Try to include a paragraph in your covering letter about how you may be able to contribute to them. You could write:
“I would very much like to work for Sidley Austin due to its positive working environment and ethical standards. I have read some very inspiring stories about your team.”
5. Be confident in your language
The point of the covering letter is to show the recruiter why you are a strong candidate and encourage them to read your CV. You should make sure nothing in that letter gives them cause to doubt that you are a good candidate. A mistake people commonly make is phrasing things in a way that actually highlights a negative. They might write:
“I have not worked in the legal field before but I am keen to learn and I am looking for a new role where I can gain experience.”
Without meaning to, the candidate has told the recruiter that they do not have experience and also that they don’t think they have learnt the skills they need yet. Having legal experience is not always necessary as everybody starts as a beginner. You just need to highlight the legal knowledge and skills you have gained. There is no need to mention your lack of experience in your covering letter. Make sure your language is always confident and positive.
We hope you have found our five steps helpful. If you are a Member of ILSPA and would like further assistance with your CV and covering letter, please email the CV Help team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are currently looking for work as a Legal Secretary, visit ILSPA’s Legal Secretary Jobs Board, where you can find 100s of vacancies from all over the UK.