Stop debating whether or not you should include a cover letter with your resume because in today’s hard knock job market, you should ALWAYS include one (unless a job listing specifically asks you not to). The cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself to an employer, tell them a little about yourself, and explain why you think you’d be the best fit for the legal job or internship.
With all the questions I’ve been fielding lately on the cover letter front, I thought it was a good time to address the subject with a do and don’t list to make your job search a little easier.
- Do personalize your letter if possible. If you put in the effort of trying to find out whose desk this letter will land on and aren’t having any luck, then direct it to the head of recruiting at a firm. However, if you can get a name, it will initially separate you from the rest of the pack. If you do not have the name, the salutation should be “Dear Sir or Madam.”
- Don’t use a generic template you found online. You absolutely must tailor your cover letter (and resume) to fit the company and position..
- Do be brief and specific. Your cover letter should be three to four short paragraphs that state where you saw the job listing or who referred you to the legal job, what you can offer the firm and position, and a call to action stating how you plan to follow up. And when talking specifics, use short bullet points showing your biggest accomplishments that apply to the position. A few bullet points on a page full of text will make your key accomplishments stand out.
- Don’t restate your resume. If the firm takes the time to address what skills and qualifications they are looking for, be sure to address what skills and qualifications (out of the ones listed) you can fulfill. Pick one previous example of a past project and explain what you achieved and how it can relate to the position you’re applying for. If you’re applying for an internship with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, give the reader detailed information on your involvement at an organization. Save the rest of your job history for your resume.
- Do include your contact information. When you end your letter with your name, also include your preferred phone number, your email address, your current place of residence, and in some cases, your social footprint. I’ve seen more job postings asking applicants to include links to their social media accounts. To make this simple for both you and the employer, include a link to your page (if you don’t have one, consider creating one), which hosts links to all of your social media profiles in one spot.
- Don’t end on a passive note. Show an employer you care about landing this legal position with a call to action. Instead of ending with, “I hope to hear from you soon,” write that you will follow up within a week to make sure your materials were received and to hopefully set up a time to talk about the position. Just don’t forget to follow up! If you’re unsure of how to follow up after sending a job application.
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