The cover letter is a crucial part of the application package. It is a student’s first opportunity to make an impression and is basically considered a writing sample. And as a writing sample, it must be flawless! Cover letters should be limited to one page and while it may seem unnecessary to say, ensure it is addressed correctly and to the proper individual. This is a common yet easily avoidable mistake. Appearance is also important. For legibility, the font should be no smaller than 10 point. There should also be clean lines and “white space”.
Most cover letters follow the same general format:
- Introductory sentence indicating your school, year of study and the position for which you are applying;
- Paragraph(s) outlining why you are interested in this particular firm;
- Paragraph(s) outlining the qualities and accomplishments which make you suited for the position; and
- Concluding sentence thanking the reader for his or her time.
It is certainly acceptable to deviate from this format, but students should generally avoid jokes or gimmicks in their cover letter. What may be funny to you, may not come across that way to the reader. However, it is important for students to always be themselves. And so if you would only want to work somewhere that understands your sense of humour, then you should by all means write your cover letter in that manner.
Students should tailor each cover letter to the particular firm. When describing why you are interested in the firm, include references that are unique to the particular firm and which demonstrate the letter has been drafted with this firm specifically in mind.
When describing your qualifications, state them with confidence but not arrogance. Use the cover letter to highlight the strengths of your résumé and explain how your experiences have prepared you for the practice of law. Discuss the transferable skills you have acquired through these experiences.
You may also want to address any gaps in your academic or employment history, or explain any grade anomalies. These areas may also simply be included as an addendum to your transcript in order to save space in your cover letter. It is not generally necessary to discuss a single grade anomaly as most firms can appreciate a student having one bad grade. However, if you had a bad term due to extenuating circumstances, then you may want to provide a brief explanation of those circumstances. See the Transcripts section for more on this topic.
Your résumé tells us about who you are and the experience you will bring to the position.
Student résumés should normally be a maximum of two pages. If space is an issue, avoid the tendency to include everything you have ever done or list every duty a job entailed. Determine which experiences are the most relevant to the position and include only those. Be careful not to exaggerate your experiences or accomplishments, as anything within your résumé may be raised during an interview.
As with your cover letter, take the time to ensure your résumé is error-free, the font is no smaller than 10 point, and there are clean lines and plenty of “white space”.
And similar to the cover letter, résumés for summer and articling positions follow a standard format; however, there are times when the standard format may be altered. For instance, mature students may wish to highlight their work experience first.
The standard format for summer and articling position résumés is:
- list beginning with most recent
- list all post-secondary education, including years attended and any major or area of concentration
- Note: secondary information is not generally necessary
- Employment Experience:
- list beginning with most recent
- include basic description of most relevant/important duties only
- Legal Experience:
- if applicable, include any positions which provided exposure to the legal field
- Note: legal experience can be listed as a separate category or may simply be included under Employment Experience or Extracurricular Activities
- Academic Awards:
- include if applicable
- Extracurricular Activities:
- list any groups or organizations to which you belong or any volunteer work experience
- list what you enjoy doing outside of school-we want to know who you are outside of work and school
More on Interests
Highlight who you are and what you like to do. Make sure you don’t include any information that you are not open to discussing in an interview.
Be creative with how you structure your “interests” section. This is what interviewers will use to establish a connection with you. Avoid generic interests such as ‘travel, reading and exercise’ as this is what most students use. This is a great opportunity to make your résumé and yourself stand out.
While references are mandatory at some firms, at Willis Business Law reference letters are optional.
Students who wish to include a list of references should list them at the end of their résumé, after their Interests. Be sure to include the full name, title, organization and contact information of the reference. Two or three references are generally sufficient. It is standard to include both a personal reference as well as a professional reference.
If a student has written references, they should be included at the end of the application package. Reference letters should be from individuals who can highlight your abilities and the personal characteristics they have observed which make you an excellent candidate. A generic reference letter from a professor that simply says you attended class regularly, were an active participant in class and received a certain grade—while not harmful—does not add much value.
There is no need to say “References Available on Request” at the bottom of your résumé. Students should either include references or not refer to them at all.
Be sure to include all post-secondary transcripts. Generally students place their transcripts in chronological order. If there is a gap in your educational experience that is not obviously explained by your work experience or extracurricular activities, you may wish to explain this gap in your cover letter or in an addendum to the transcript. Students may wish to address any major grade anomalies in either their cover letter or, given the space constraints of the cover letter, in a note attached to the transcript.