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A different approach

One law student decided he needed to up the game and make his cover letter stand out.
|Written By Heather Gardiner
A different approach
Jared Teitel decided he needed to stand out from the pack so he took a chance with a video cover letter.

It’s that time of year when law firm recruiters are out hunting for summer students and the pressure is on to stand out from the pack.

Some law firms, such as Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, receive about 1,000 applications from second-year law students eager to be selected for one of the approximately 15 summer positions at that firm.

For students, this means they have to do everything they can to rise above the others.

Jared Teitel, a 2L at the University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law, has stepped it up to a new level with his video cover letter. “I just remember sitting with one of our career advisers just hearing about how firms receive upwards of 800 applications or so,” he says, which got him thinking of ways to stand out. “And then it kind of clicked that rather than stand out on paper, I’d physically stand out beyond that.”

Teitel polled recruiters to get their thoughts on a video cover letter. He got a mixed response: some were enthusiastic about the idea and others not so much. But he got enough positive responses that he decided to take the plunge.

Ari Blicker, director of student and associate programs at Aird & Berlis LLP, was one of the recruiters Teitel polled. He told Teitel: “If you do it in the right way it could set you apart. And the key is to be the first person who does this. So if you’re going to do it, make sure you do a really good job. Be creative, be funny . . . but it can’t be gimmicky or cute, it’s got to be professional.”

Stephanie Vaccari, an associate at Baker & McKenzie LLP who conducted Teitel’s on-campus interview, says Teitel’s video set him apart from the other applicants.

“I think in [Teitel’s] case it was an effective way . . . it was definitely something that assisted him in getting the interview because it was so unique in this situation,” she says.

“If, however, everybody starts doing it, then it loses its effect,” Vaccari adds.

Blicker is of the same mind. “I commend him for doing it, for trying something different,” he says. “Would I be interested in seeing other students do this? Not really. I don’t think it’s going to be that constructive.”

Teitel was still required to submit the standard written application through the electronic system, which posed the challenge of getting recruiters to take the initiative to watch the video. He included the video link in the first paragraph of his cover letter.

Sally Woods, director of professional development at Faskens, has been a pioneer of student recruitment since 1982. She says she always makes the extra effort to learn more about students applying to the firm.

For example, she says, “I’ve done interviews this week where people have referred to being a member of a band or something and I’ll Google their name just so that during the interview I can talk a bit more knowledgeably about what their experience has been.”

However, this can be detrimental in some cases. For instance, in the past students have referred Woods to their blogs. “You’ll go look and it’s holiday pictures where they’re standing half-naked on the beach and you’re thinking, ‘Seriously?’”

Woods says recruiters are looking for a certain level of professionalism. “Making a video, it can be a hit and miss,” she says. “In my mind it’s not always necessarily worth the risk.”

But Teitel was willing to take that chance. “I think it certainly gave me an edge. I would say whether the recruiter liked it or disliked it, they remembered it. And it served the purpose of standing out from other applicants,” he says.

Teitel wonders if his innovation will spur other students’ creativity. “There’s certainly more than one way to push the envelope,” he says. “I’m excited and curious to see what other techniques some students will come up with.”

And who knows where he’ll end up next summer.

  • RE: A different approach

    Yosse
    Only in the legal profession could something as pointless and mundane as a cover letter determine your future in the profession. As for video cover letters, it might be a creative idea but if we were truly interested in a level playing field for all candidates, this sort of thing wouldn't be allowed.
  • RE: A different approach

    John G
    I would HATE to receive a video application - it takes two minutes to watch (plus loading or going to a site, if one gets a written referral to it), during which time I could review several written resumes Fine for innovation, but where the innovation wastes my time, I'm not impressed (favourably).
  • Great Idea!

    Yasmine
    I'm surprised to hear you say this. I encourage creativity in all aspects of the recruitment process. I would find it very refreshing to find a video amongst a pile of written cover letters. Clearly if one is able to read several written applications in only two minutes, one is not devoting a proper amount of time in order to fairly assess a candidate's merits.

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