Law Students: Dial Down the Noise in Your Cover Letters


In my recent post, “Law Students: Is it too Late to Apply for the Vancouver 2L Summer Student Recruit?“, I noted that “An effectively-written cover letter and a well-crafted resume will often sway a law firm recruiter to offer an interview.”

There are several elements to an effective cover letter. In my view, brevity is one of the most important elements as most recruiters review a significant volume of applications. 

Obviously, an effective cover letter has to say more than:

Hey. Here’s my resume. Let’s chat.  

But, to me, an effective cover letter is one that doesn’t get in the way of the resume; the essence of the cover letter should be, “Here’s who I am, here’s what I am applying for, here’s why I am interested in your firm, and here’s my resume.”

I’ve heard many recruiting experts recommend that, generally, cover letters should be less than a page long. I couldn’t agree more. 

So how can you keep your cover letter brief and ensure that it doesn’t get in the way of your resume? It’s a good start to eliminate what I call “noise” from the cover letter. This would be an example of a sentence that I’d consider “noise”:

I am a highly-motivated self-starter with superb interpersonal skills who works well in a team setting.

This, to me, is “noise” because it’s predictable and relatively unhelpful. I never received a cover letter from an applicant who said:

I am pretty unmotivated, TBH. I’d park on the couch like an abandoned car if it were up to me, but I guess I need a job — ideally, something where I don’t have to interact with people, who generally irritate me like fingernails running down a chalkboard.    

Don’t misunderstand me, as a recruiter, one of my ultimate goals was to hire highly-motivated self-starters with superb interpersonal skills who would work well in a team setting, but the simple assertion of an applicant’s qualities in the cover letter did not “make it so.” I would review the resume — not the cover letter — for substantive information suggesting that the applicant might actually have some of those qualities.

An effective description in your resume of your employment or volunteer experience — such as your roles and duties — can go a long way to convincing a recruiter that you may, in fact, have some of the qualities, characteristics, and personal attributes sought by the recruiter. 

Which, in turn, may lead to an interview.

So, when it comes to your cover letters, I recommend dialling down the noise. It’s “Good sometimes just to be quiet,” as my family frequently reminds me.

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