Here’s a little known secret: A resume only talks about 20 percent of the information you need to impart in order to get a job. It reveals none of the remaining 80 percent of the information upon which hiring decisions are based. It does not speak to your personality, creativity, work style, work habits, or critical thinking. Rarely will a resume tell a hiring authority you are precisely the right candidate. Only a letter can reveal these things about you and more.
For all of these reasons, the letter you send along with your resume may be one of the most important letters you’ll ever write. To assist you in creating a winning cover letter, let’s start with the basics.
TYPICAL NEWSPAPER AD:
Burks, Barks & Sharks seeks an experienced litigation paralegal for our South County offices. The ideal candidate will possess a B.A. degree and a certificate with at least 3-4 years’ experience. Must have excellent organizational skills. A team player is a must. Fax resume to Stacey Hunt, Paralegal Coordinator.
A limited number of candidates will submit a resume with no cover letter. These candidates automatically limit their chances of consideration. A larger segment of responding candidates are likely to submit a letter along these lines:
Dear Ms. Hunt:
In response to your ad listed in The Daily Journal, please find my resume for the litigation paralegal position with your firm.
I have over 5 years’ experience in litigation. I am seeking a challenging position which offers me opportunity for growth and I would be interested in working for your firm.
Thank you for your consideration. I can be reached at (214) 555-1212 during the evenings. I will call you next week in order to schedule an interview. I look forward to meeting with you soon.
We can tell you as employers of paralegals that we receive literally hundreds of letters very close to the one on previous page. In addition to being weak and unappealing, this kind of letter is just plain boring! It tells us nothing about you or why you should be the candidate chosen for the job. As you read the following stronger version of the same letter, you’ll see the differences and how much more effective it is.
Dear Ms. Hunt:
Your advertisement in The Daily Journal caught my eye immediately as it describes a position that matches my qualifications. Burks, Barks & Sharks is an excellent firm, one of which I would very much enjoy being aboard.
My solid litigation paralegal background has prepared me to apply for a position such as yours. To preview the information enumerated on my resume, let me summarize my background and strengths for you:
- Over 5 years’ experience
- B.A. and certificate
- Team player
- Excellent organizational skills
My resume provides further details on my background and accomplishments. Realizing that this data cannot adequately convey my personality, strengths, or work habits, I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you at your earliest convenience. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Work Telephone: (214) 555-1212
Home Telephone: (214) 555-1212
Which letter makes a better impression? Which candidate would you be most likely to interview? Employers are just like you. They will choose the candidate who is more convincing and who reflects a more sophisticated, savvy personality.
Cover letters usually follow a standard format. There are three areas you’ll want to cover:
Paragraph One: The position and how you found out about it
Paragraph Two: How your skills and qualifications fit with the organization
Paragraph Three: Availability and contact information when you are available for the interview and how you can be contacted.
The Basic Ayes And Nays For Writing A Killer Cover Letter
- Write a professional letter addressed to an individual. Do not write a form letter. A handwritten salutation is insulting to the reader. Your reader should not have the impression you are sending the same letter to hundreds and hundreds of employers even if you are! Create the impression that you are sending an individualized letter created specifically for the reader. Direct your letter to the reader. Using “To whom it may concern” is only appropriate for blind ads. Find out who the proper hiring authority is, get the correct spelling of that person’s name and proper title. One quick phone call is all it takes.
- Don’t use standard openings. “In response to your ad in The Daily Journal” gets a big ho hum. You want to stand out from the competition, so your letter should be anything but routine and repetitious. Weave information into the opening to suggest that the letter was written specifically for the opening at hand.
- Don’t use legal terminology or try to sound “lawyerly” in an attempt to impress the reader. Using terms such as “The undersigned hereby submits,” “this position is not de facto . . . ,” “Responsibilities include but are not limited to . . . ,” “attached herein or hereto,” or “enclosed herewith” is likely to unimpressed the reader. Frankly, the word “tacky” comes to mind.
- Keep the letter brief. It’s not necessary to write your entire life history or anything close. You should have three to four paragraphs and no more! Explanations as to what has occurred in your career are not necessary. Save that for the interview.
- Link your strengths and qualifications to the job. Cover letters that do not address the needs of the firm or knowledge of the organization are likely to come across as slightly narcissistic. Me, Me, and more Me. Let the employer know you understand what it takes to fit the bill.
- Do not use cover letter formats that are designed for industries outside the legal arena. There are some very excellent resume- and cover- letter-writing books on the market. The majority of these books attempt to tackle a multitude of industries and take lots of liberties. But don’t be misled that the legal field accepts the same kind of “jazzy” formats acceptable for other industries. It’s better to lean toward a more conservative format for higher acceptance in the legal field. Screaming CAPS and bolded, underlined words are not suitable in the legal field.
- Make your letter visually appealing. The visual appearance of a letter is as essential as its content. Make it easy to skim. (Remember, resume readers may spend as little as three to five seconds. Cover letters often fare no better.) Use stationery that matches your resume. Stay away from italics; they are very hard to read. Keep the letter to one page and always, always check for grammatical and typographical errors. Don’t forget to sign the letter!
- Don’t exaggerate your skills or experience and never, never lie. End of story. Even if you get hired, dishonesty is grounds for immediate termination. Don’t risk your career.
- Be careful what you fax! Getting your fax numbers mixed up when sending several letters and resumes is a major faux pas. Don’t make the mistake of sending a letter addressed to Mrs. Jones at American Express at a fax number for Mr. Smith at Diners Club.
- If it’s broken . . .fix it! Don’t keep using a letter that’s not working. If you’ve sent out ten or fifteen resumes and haven’t heard a thing, haven’t scheduled one interview or received one call, it’s time to revise your letter or resume. It could be you’re perfectly qualified, but your letter or resume is not making the impact you need. It’s OK to use the same test marketing techniques direct mail experts have used for years. These companies continually alter their strategies until their goals are achieved. Why shouldn’t you?
Any sales training you may take will teach you about features and benefits of the service or product you are trying to sell. There is absolutely no difference in selling a service or product or selling yourself. You will want to alert your reader to your features and benefits.
A feature can be described as a quality, skill, or experience you have to offer. A benefit is what is received by the employer by hiring you. You want to use features and benefits in the second paragraph of your cover letter.
FEATURES AND BENEFITS WORKSHEET
For Use in Your Cover Letter Sample Feature:
I am completing my paralegal certificate because I am interested in applying my environmental background to a prestigious firm such as vours.
Here are a few examples of the kinds of features and benefits statements you can compose from your worksheets:
- I am an experienced, skilled paralegal because I have worked in a similar firm, Goodman, Moyer & Valery.
- Because I have completed my paralegal certificate with honors at the University of Paralegal Studies, 1 am knowledgeable in the requirements for this position.
- Because I am experienced in real estate development issues, I achieved excellent results at Raleigh Development Corporation. As a result, you will get a paralegal who can hit the ground running with a minimum of start-up time.
- Because I am well versed in several software programs, I received excellent reviews at Exxon. As a result, you will acquire a paralegal who can minimize unproductive downtime for your clients.
How To RespondWhether you are sending a letter in response to an ad, a networking opportunity, or a blind ad, or the letter is totally unsolicited, the primary purpose of the cover letter is to capture the reader’s attention enough to invite you to an interview.
Openings For Letter
There are two ways to open your letter. The first is to promise a benefit to the reader. Describe briefly the advantage you’ll bring to the firm. The second is to identify a need that your reader has. Your reader may be searching for someone with a unique specialty. If you are writing to a managing partner, for example, you might open your letter with, “As a managing partner, you know the importance of keeping up to date with current techniques to streamline operations. In my position with the Attorney General’s office, I was responsible for creating systems and techniques that accomplished this very task.”
How Your Expertise Fits With The Organization
The body of the letter explains why the reader should interview you. If you have completed the Features and Benefits Worksheet, you are already aware of the concepts to present.
First, detail your specific skills or knowledge. If you are just entering the field, explain how your recent education or prior work history relates to your prospective employer. If you are an experienced paralegal, tie in your background to the job skills listed in the ad or to what you’ve learned about the firm in your research.
- After receiving my certificate from The University of Paralegal Studies, I would like to apply my expertise to the needs of a small firm. I have performed in a frenetically busy environment. As a result, I am expertly capable of managing the demands of a litigation paralegal. I can instantly develop a comforting rapport with attorneys, colleagues, and clients.
- As you’ll see on the enclosed resume, I have managed all aspects of pretrial discovery, including complex litigation and database design. Of special value to you, given your need for a litigation case manager, is my expertise in managing all types of business litigation matters, meeting the combined needs of both the trial team and the client.
- After a successful career as a police officer, I was injured on the job. Since my desire was to remain in law, I enthusiastically sought out the paralegal career as a natural alternative to law enforcement. Now, after receiving my degree from Prentice University, I am ready to tackle the challenges this exciting new career will bring. My keen investigative skills combined with my close attention to detail will be of great value to a law firm such as Hasten and Quicken that specializes in white-collar crime.
The next step is to tell the reader how you’ll follow up (and make sure you do!). There are examples of this vital step in virtually every sample letter in this book. Here are just a few closers:
- These qualifications, combined with my solid work history, would make me a productive member of your team from my first day on the job. I hope you’ll contact me at my home number below as I look forward to meeting with you.
- I would welcome the chance to discuss any openings that may arise. I will contact you next week to explore the possibility of an interview. Or you may reach me at (215) 555-1212.
- I’d like to discuss this opportunity and other ways in which I can bring cost effectiveness to your paralegal program. I will contact you shortly to see when we might meet. I look forward to discovering whether I can assist you and your clients in their legal matters.
- My experience in mergers and acquisitions, securities, and loan agreements equips me to make a significant contribution to your paralegal program. I would be happy to meet with you at your convenience.
- I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with you the numerous benefits my education and background could bring to Acme & Acme. Let’s get together to explore these possibilities. You may reach me at (612) 555-1212 any evening after 6:00 p.m.
SAMPLE COVER LETTERS
Cover Letter #1 General
Mr. Bud Rogers, Esq.
Rogers, Johnson & Somers 2345
Natalie Court, Suite 204 San Jose,
Re: Litigation Paralegal Position
Dear Mr. Rogers:
As a litigation paralegal for one of the top U.S. law firms, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most qualified and respected attorneys in the country I would like to bring this experience to a growing firm such as yours.
In return for the opportunity to expand my specialty, I offer expertise in environmental complex litigation and computerized litigation support. I have developed several proven techniques for utilizing paralegals cost- effectively and bring a positive, pleasant manner in my dealings with both high-profile clients and colleagues. I also hold a B.S. degree and certificate from an ABA-approved paralegal institution.
If you would like to set up a meeting, I can be reached at (408) 555- 1212 or you can page me at (408) 555-1313 at any time. I will return your call at once to set up a mutually convenient appointment to discuss this opportunity.
Sondra Ballantyne Enclosure (resume)
Cover Letter #2:
To Staffing Organizations
Ms. Mimi Belous
The Estrin Organization
1901 Avenue of the Stars Suite 350
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Re: Full-Time or Temporary Paralegal Positions
Dear Ms. Belous:
The enclosed resume outlines my achievements as an experienced corporate paralegal. Because your organization is one of the premiere staffing agencies in the city, you are certain to be interested in these achievements.
I am seeking a position in an in-house legal department or boutique law firm. I bring a combination of highly developed interpersonal skills along with an expertise in finance. I also possess a sure grasp of current DRE requirements, essential for corporate paralegals involved in mergers and acquisitions. With market conditions driving a strong need for paralegals with this kind of background, I am sure some of your clients will be interested in my resume.
I have enclosed an updated resume that details my work history and education. If you would call me at (213) 555-1212 or e-mail at andy@sim??e.com, I would be happy to meet with you to further dis¬cuss job opportunities your firm presents. I am available to interview any time and look forward to your call.
Andrew J. Johns Enclosure
Cover Letter #3:
Mr. Phillip Signey Sr. Paralegal
Munger, Tolies and Olson 333
South Hope Street Los Angeles,
Re: Paralegal Positions
Dear Mr. Signey:
This June, I will receive my paralegal certificate from UWLA School of Paralegal Studies. I have already reinforced my paralegal training with an internship at Bet Tzedek Legal Services. My grades as well as my internship evaluation have been excellent, and I am ready to join a firm such as yours on a permanent basis.
My former career as a teacher has enhanced my ability to pay attention to detail, to work under a sometimes stressful environment, and to juggle multitask assignments. Of greatest value to you, however, is my commitment to the paralegal profession and willingness to do what it takes to get the job done.
If these are the qualities you may be seeking in paralegals at Munger, Tolies and Olson, I hope you will contact me. I will be happy to interview with you at any time and look forward to discussing my ability to work hard under any circumstances.
Claire de Lune Enclosure
Cover Letter #4:
In Response to Article
Ms. Buni Valentine American Legal Programs 1228 Capitol
Blvd. Suite 100 Washington,
Re: Paralegal positions within the corporation
Dear Ms. Valentine:
I read with great interest the article about your company in last week’s Legal Times. I was delighted to see that firms such as yours are as interested in changing consumer laws as I am.
As you’ll see on the enclosed resume, the depth of my experience as a financial advisor dovetails nicely with your needs for experienced professionals in consumer banking. As a recent graduate of the Georgetown University Paralegal Program, I have the background to research and analyze the multitude of documents ever present in banking. I am quite certain that my former career combined with my new paralegal career can be of value to your firm.
A personal interview would allow me to demonstrate my talents and show you how my combined background would fit nicely into your firm’s practice specialty. Please feel free to give me a call at (202) 555-1212 so that we can schedule a meeting at your convenience to further discuss this opportunity.
Joyce Brown Enclosure (resume)
Cover Letter #5:
Mr. Dallas Raines Senior Vice President Peoples
National Bank 5454
South Expressway Memphis,
Dear Mr. Raines:
At the suggestion of a mutual friend, Jerri Hall, I am writing you to explore the possibility of working with your organization in the capacity of litigation paralegal.
As a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee Legal Assistant Program, I possess a solid understanding of the requirements an important corporation such as Peoples National Bank would have in order to hire a paralegal. My background as an account representative for a comparable banking institution combined with my paralegal training would be an asset to your company. I also possess a B.A. degree and more than 10 years’ experience in the business world.
I would welcome the chance to talk with you to pursue any openings in the paralegal department for which you feel I may be qualified. Please feel free to call me at either number listed above. I look forward to your call.
Joy Aquino Enclosure (resume)
Cover Letter #6:
Response to Blind Ad
Paralegal Position c/o The Daily Journal P.O. Box 12346 Atlanta, GA 00234
To whom it may concern:
I am writing in response to the ad for an experienced litigation paralegal placed in The Daily Journal yesterday. I am a graduate of St. George’s University and a student in the Paralegal Institute Training Program in Dalton, Georgia.
With more than five years’ experience in human resources and nearing completion of all requirements for a certificate from a very fine ABA- approved institution, I would welcome the opportunity to work for a firm such as the one described in The Daily Journal’s advertisement. What my resume does not detail is my unique ability as a conceptual thinker and my strict attention to detail. I am also a self-starter and work well in a team.
I have enclosed my resume along with a description of the Paralegal Institute Training Program. I would welcome an interview at which time we can further discuss my capabilities and expertise. Please call me at (315) 555-1212 or e-mail at Linda@coldmail.com at any time. I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda del Lavin Enclosure
Cover Letter #7:
Response to Ad Requesting Salary History
Ms. Carol Ann Chudler Human Resources Manager Brown,
Goldman, White & Green P.O. Box 1000
Falls Church, VA 78910
Dear Ms. Chudler:
Your ad in Sunday’s Washington Post requests an individual who has a demonstrated track record as a transactional Real Estate Paralegal. I believe that my qualifications are precisely what Brown, Goldman, White & Green seeks from this individual.
As my attached resume indicates, I have a solid work history demonstrating increased responsibilities with each position I have tackled. My most recent position, that of Escrow Officer, has allowed me the opportunity to learn about real estate loans, documentation, and, of course, closings. While I would ordinarily be most willing to submit a salary history, please bear in mind that I am seeking an entry-level paralegal position. Therefore, I am eager to enter this field and be paid the market rate for a professional just entering the paralegal field.
Please review my enclosed resume. I would be happy to discuss my work history and how it relates to this significant job opportunity. I am available to interview at a time most convenient for your schedule. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Sue Ellen GreenbergPlease see the following articles for more information about cover letters:
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