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Careers Counsel: How NOT to write a cover letter

Careers Counsel advice colum
Careers Counsel advice colum
One partner calls them "covering letters that make life easier: one look and you don't look again!" Since sometimes the best instruction is (bad) example, Careers Counsel has compiled some of the worst real life cover letters. If your current cover letter looks anything like these, change it. Now!

The dear-esteemed-organisation-please-do-the-needful letter
These are vague single paragraph cover letters that don't say  more than "please look at my CV even though I am sending this same email to 50 other esteemed organisations".

I [NAME] is forwarding my cv for your ready reference. After going through my cv if you think myself competent enough to be a part of your esteem organisation then kindly let me have the opportunity to serve my best to you.

Phrases like "esteemed", "valued" or "respected" organisation reek of chain email. Even if you are not just using a template, it sure looks like one as soon as you use such words. Just use the name of the firm or company. This tiny detail alone will make the recipient feel that at least you made the effort to fill in a blank.

respected sir, i am a law student graduating in 2011. i am interning in [city] currently and so can come down for an interview anytime. i am intrested in joining your law firm. please find my c.v in attachment.—

Even if a cover letter is 'just' an email, do have a friend check your spelling. And do use the shift key occasionally.

I [NAME] would like to be a part of your esteem organisation having knowledge in professsional communication , contract review , drafting and memo writing  and is ready to give my best from the very first day in the industry .
kindly see the attachment.

Rest assured that the attachment in 99 per cent of such cover letters will remain unopened.

With the return of the "esteemed organisation", an unnecessary typo, strange spaces between punctuation and a breathless run-on sentence, this cover letter is not enticing to prospective employers. Keep sentences short and easy to follow and explain why exactly you are suited to whichever industry.

Remember, you want to make the person reading your cover letter to be interested in and curious about opening your CV. And you do not want to put them off by the slightest thing that is out of place.

I have completed [University] LL.B and undergone lpo training in [somewhere] .Now Iam seeking for a job in [city].Please consider my mail and do the needful.

What exactly is the needful in such cases? No recruiter wants to puzzle over trying to figure out what needs to be done in each case and where someone would be best suited. Be direct. If you want to work at the firm as an associate, say so in one short sentence.

The epic memoir
This candidate's CV is in all likelihood very good but it is let down by a generic cover letter. Not once, in the entire long letter, is the name of the firm mentioned but placeholders are used.

Dear Sir,

I am writing you to express my keen interest in employment with your calibrated law firm. I am currently perusing my final year, [at University].

Most recruiters will stop reading at "calibrated". And if not there, then at "perusing". Don't rely on word processor's autocorrect features to correct your typos - often they create new ones - but go through your letter several times with a fine toothcomb. And give it to a friend to proofread.

My areas of interests are [long, long list and explanation]
I hold good experience in my past internship with reputed law firm like [law firms names].
I have authored [a large number of academic papers, such as...]
I have developed [certain skills through certain activities]
I have good experience in [certain practice areas]
[And so on for many many paragraps and words]

A cover letter should not be a CV that has been converted into verbose sentences. Recruiting partners have limited patience and time. Pick out a small number of achievements from your CV to make the person reading your cover letter curious to open your CV.

Hereby please find enclosed detailed CV that showcases my education and experience along with my four publications for your kind attention. In  previous experience, I have successfully filled challenging leadership positions; I have developed a strong sense of responsibility, effective interpersonal skills and the ability to contribute to teamwork, even in high-pressure environments.  I believe, among my strong skills, I can assure you, about my strong commitments and hard work which will be real asset to your celebrated firm and I would welcome the opportunity both to develop them and put them to use on behalf of you and your clients. Once again, I keenly anticipate having the opportunity to discuss my candidacy for Associate Position.

Do not swamp a recruiting partner with generic information about how great you are.

The above section might sound impressive but it is too long and generic. Highlight only a few pithy, specific facts from your CV and you can briefly mention how they have improved certain of your skills that are relevant to the firm.

I heartily anticipate for future your pleasant response seeking my endeavor regarding position in your esteemed firm.

I hope that you will allow me the opportunity to speak with you in person and discuss my qualification for a position at your valued place. I can be reached at [details].I am keenly being hopeful of hearing from you. Thanking you for considering my application and your time.

Accept my sincere respects.


By all means, be polite but there is no point in going overboard with too many niceties, hopeful expectations and thank yous. They take up space and do not make you sound like a confident and professional application.

The literary letter
Dear Sir/Madam,

Describing oneself is often a difficult task as it requires one to exhibit the best attributes without succumbing to the temptation of self-indulgence. With that in mind, I submit this brief description of myself.

My curiosity in law developed [etc]

Creative and colourful introductions can sometimes work but is risky and it is usually safer to stick to tried and tested professional formulas. Unless you are applying for a job at an advertising agency, a cover letter is not an exercise in creative writing but should mirror how you would communicate with a law firm's professional client. Remember, most law firm lawyers and clients are pretty conservative.

Examples given
If it was not clear, the most common failing of the worst cover letters is that they look like generic mass emails. It is not necessary for you to start from scratch for each firm and you can recycle parts of each cover letter for various applications. But make sure that at the very least a few sentences or details are unique for each firm.

The best cover letters refer directly to the organisation and tie together your and the firm's strengths.

If you know that a firm is great at capital markets work, for example, use the cover letter to highlight that you have written an article on capital markets or have participated and won a capital markets moot problem. Only if you have of course.

And address an individual - call the firm's switchboard to get the name for a recruitment contact. It will take five minutes but will win you half the cover letter battle already.

The second-most common failing is a lack of attention to detail.

An open secret of most employers, partners or HR heads is that in all honesty they welcome any excuse to reject an application with hundreds of CVs sitting on their desks. Do not give them that excuse by having any typos, grammar, stylistic or spelling mistakes in your cover letter.

Do not be afraid to spend a good amount time on your cover letter. You could have the most impressive CV in the world but no one will look at it if your cover letter is not up to scratch.

Finally, if you have sent similar cover letters to the above in recent weeks or months, the bright side is that you can probably apply to the same firm again with a completely rewritten and improved letter. The firm more than likely will not remember your first application or CV and you could very well have a second bite at the cherry.

Share your thoughts on the most common mistakes and pitfalls below.

Read previous Careers Counsel columns for more advice on getting and staying in a career in the law.

Last week three partners on the Careers Counsel panel advised on how to write a good cover letter.

A previous column dealt with how to write a good law firm CV with an included template resume.

If you have a specific question you would like answered, please send us an anonymous query.

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