With the advent of online advertising it is now unheard of (and generally unwelcome) for a CV to arrive by post. The ability to keep up to date with new vacancies and apply at the touch of a button is of course welcome, but it does encourage a proliferation of unlikely applications, and we’re not just talking about the eternal optimists here. Ask any legal recruiter or law firm HR person and they will be able to reel off a list of weird and wonderful messages received from people who have no legal qualification and no discernible connection to law whatsoever!
We’re not complaining – at worst it’s a minor hindrance and at best it can be quite amusing, but it does raise a serious point about how you make your application stand out in the few seconds that someone might look at it before making a snap decision or moving on to the next one.
Your email message is your first contact. Consider that the person receiving it may have a high volume of responses and yours might be one of dozens of emails, all with the same automatically created subject heading. So how do you make yours stand out?
Ideally, we would recommend a personalised email, but even if you are applying via an automated system (often compulsory now when approaching firms directly) it is worth making sure that your covering note sets out some key points:
- The role(s) you have seen advertised which are of interest. This can go in the subject bar and will most likely be automated if applying through an online button.
- A brief and clear summary of your skills and experience (for example “I am a three years’ qualified English solicitor specialising in Corporate and M&A work, and currently with Clifford Chance in London”). If you are with a good law firm, mention it – the right firm name is probably the single best way to catch the eye.
- A general comment on what you are looking for or the reason for your approach – no need to be specific at this stage but if a particular location or type of role is your goal then it is worth mentioning.
- Your telephone contact details and any instructions on when it is easiest to reach you (or indeed if it is easier to liaise by email in the first instance).
- If you are contacting a firm directly, then certainly attach your Curriculum Vitae (CV). Likewise, since recruitment consultants will generally be unable to reveal specific details about a role without first having your CV, it makes sense to attach it although we would recommend that you stress it is not for distribution without your advance approval. If you are unsure, you can summarise your experience on the email and make clear that you are happy to send your CV if appropriate following an initial discussion.
And a couple of things we would advise against if you are using an automatic application button:
- Try to avoid multiple applications to the same advertiser. Applying to a couple of similar roles is ok but alarm bells ring when someone receives five or six in a row from the same person, particularly if the practice areas or locations are quite different.
- Applying at once to lots of similar roles with lots of different advertisers. It may or may not make sense to work with two or three recruiters but you could find that lots of the roles sound similar because they are indeed with the same firm. Far better to approach a couple initially and then follow up with other applications if appropriate later.
The truth is that any decent recruiter will spot a good application and respond accordingly anyway, but following these few simple steps is likely to speed up your response time and minimise the risk that your application gets lost in the midst of a busy inbox.