Cover Letter Advice
The cover letter is a sample of your written work and should be brief (preferably one page), persuasive, well-reasoned, and grammatically perfect.
A good cover letter:
- Tells the employer who you are (e.g., a first-year student at YLS) and what you are seeking (e.g., a summer intern position);
- Shows that you know about the particular employer and the kind of work the employer does (i.e., civil or criminal work, direct client service, "impact" cases, antitrust litigation);
- Demonstrates your writing skills;
- Demonstrates your commitment to the work of that particular employer and converys that you have something to contribute;
- Shows that you and that employer are a good "fit;" and
- Tells the employer how to get in touch with you by email, telephone, and mail.
Determine to whom you should address the cover letter. If you are applying to law firms, address your letter to the recruiting director. For NALP member firms, use the NALP Directory to obtain contact information. (NALP also provides a useful mail merge feature for generating multiple letters). For other employers, you can refer to their websites, or contact the office to determine to whom your materials should be directed.
Although there are many ways to write a cover letter, the following format has worked well for students in the past.
- In the first paragraph of your cover letter, explain why you are sending your resume to the employer: “I am a first-year student at Yale Law School and am seeking a position with your organization for the summer 20xx.” If you are applying to public interest employers and are eligible for SPIF funding, you can mention that here.
- Use the second paragraph to explain your interest in the employer, including your interest in the employer’s geographic location, reputation, specialty area, or public service.
- In the third paragraph, stress why this employer should hire you. Elaborate on the qualifications that you possess that will make you an exceptional summer intern or attorney.
- The final paragraph should thank the employer for taking the time to review your application and tell them how to reach you. You may wish to state that you will contact the employer in a couple of weeks to follow-up and then actually do so. This is especially true with public interest employers who are often understaffed and will appreciate your extra effort.
Additional CDO Resources
Don’t stick to a template
You could easily Google “cover letter template” to get some ideas on how to write it. Don’t.
“You need to think about your audience,” said Kristen Fitzpatrick, the managing director of career and professional development at Harvard Business School. “Who’s reading it? How do you capture their attention enough so they move you from one pile to another?”
This is your time to show your communication skills and your personality. You must make the case that the other 99 percent of applicants don’t have what you have. Following a template, or otherwise putting little effort into making your letter stand out, suggests you’re just another applicant.
Don’t rehash your résumé
Focus on the organization you’re writing to and the job description of the open position. If you nail your cover letter, the hiring manager will end up reading your résumé anyway, so don’t waste precious space duplicating it by going down the list of where you’ve worked.
“It’s to complement your résumé, not repeat it,” Mr. O’Neill said. “Cover letters where you’re just rewriting the content of your résumé aren’t effective.”
Instead, you could list some specific examples of projects you’ve worked on, and explain what you learned from them and how that knowledge would apply to the open position. Or you could offer some new ideas, showing from the start that you understand the company’s goals and would bring creativity.
(Related: Getting past the first cut with a résumé that grabs digital eyes)
Don’t state the obvious
Read your letter again, and zap any clichés or platitudes that don’t say something meaningful about you, the position or the company.
As an example: Don’t say you’re a “hard worker.” Everyone says that, and it would be easy to lie about if you weren’t, making it a meaningless sentiment to include. It merely takes up space that could be better spent on something that actually sets you apart from the other candidates.
“It’s not even worth saying,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said. “You’ll show you’re a hard worker by going above and beyond in writing a letter.”
Do your research
This requires going past the first page of Google results.
You could go to a library to sift through professional databases that might have more information, or get coffee with someone who works at the company you’re applying to. Show a familiarity with recent projects, acquisitions and public statements. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but a few sentences to show you’ve put time into it could go a long way.
If you’re not preparing for something as crucial as a cover letter, why would they trust you would prepare for an important meeting?
Focus on what you can offer them
A lot of applicants spend too much time talking about why they love the company, Ms. Fitzpatrick said.
“How many letters does Apple read that say, ‘I couldn’t live without my iPhone’? Probably a lot,” she said. “So you want to show you are unique and you’ve done your research.”
You do want to make it clear that you respect the company and explain why you’re interested, but the focus should be on what you can do for them.
“You want to avoid too many ‘I’ statements — ‘I know this,’ ‘I did this,’ ‘I can do X, Y or Z’ — because that’s too much about what you’re going to get out of this opportunity,” Mr. O’Neill said.
The company isn’t posting a job for charity, or to improve your life; they’re trying to fill a position they consider essential. Convince them that you’re the one who would most help them, not that you’d benefit most from it.
Want more? You might also like:
• Why it’s fine to job-hop for a few years after college
• The incalculable value of finding a job you love
• Looking for a new job? These free apps can helpContinue reading the main story