The aim of a covering letter is to give the reader of your CV a very quick indication of all the salient points they need to know. For most people this will basically be your job title, how many years experience you have, how much money you want if you are being specific, the date you can start and any other points that are particularly relevant to that employer, such as whether you have personal clients who will come with you to your new firm.
If you use the covering letter to fill two pages with subjective information about what you feel are your personal skills, such as your dynamic drive, passion, enthusiasm, etc, you will probably find that potential employers do not pay much attention to the covering letter.
So much has been written over time about covering letters and CVs needing to be personalised and contain information explaining exactly who you are personally rather than your skills and experience, but if you try to imagine the position from an employer’s perspective they have key words they are looking for and if those are not present they simply cannot spend the time reading the rest of the information there.
A quick example of the way covering e-mails and letters work relate to a job that I have been dealing with today. A firm have sent us a specification through for a legal cashier in the South East with experience and I estimate that we have had been ten and twenty five applications from various sources including a number of legal job boards.
I have been through these and identified three who look extremely good. I have instantly rejected at least eight of the CVs because in their covering e-mail they have not referred at all to any legal experience and therefore I have automatically assumed that they are coming from another profession or industry and hence unsuitable for the specific vacancy. This may be completely untrue but this is how recruiters tend to work if rushed for time with large numbers of applicants and a need to get a short list sorted out very quickly indeed. This means therefore that your covering e-mail needs to contain in it the exact information that a recruiter needs to see as this is the whole purpose of the covering e-mail, i.e. to entice the reader in to read the CV and from there to determine that you are suitable for interview and progress.
Of course if you do not have any experience that is relevant to the post you are going for, this advice changes slightly but I would still recommend making sure that you get key words in the covering e-mail or letter that link you to that specific vacancy. It remains the same theory, namely that if a recruiter looks at the information and immediately deduces that you have no experience in that area then your CV will not go any further, whereas if you can get them in to look at the CV there may be something there that catches their eye and they think they do want to proceed further.
Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment offers a standalone CV writing service for lawyers that includes reviewing covering letters. Please visit www.ten-percent.co.uk/careersshop for details.