Before you seal the envelope, ask yourself
Sample cover letters
A cover letter should entice an employer to want to interview you. Once you complete your resume, your cover letters will take up the bulk of your time. Each letter must be unique -- do not mass mail a cover letter. Employers respond better to letters that are obviously addressed specifically to them. Use your cover letter to make a good first impression.
A cover letter should always accompany a resume. It will introduce you, be the first writing sample the potential employer sees and fill in any gaps in your resume. Therefore, it must be perfect. Cover letters are short, and should never exceed one page. It is important to emphasize what you can bring to a job, not what you want to get out of it. While it is acceptable to indicate why a position appeals to you, it is more important to communicate what you can contribute to the employer.
Never address your cover letter to an anonymous person like the “hiring partner.” Be sure to address it to the correct person and spell their name right. Even if you are responding to an ad and it tells you to address it to the hiring partner, call and ask the receptionist who that is and how to spell that person's name. After meeting men named “Kay” and “Leslie” and women named “Ron” and “Toni,” it doesn’t hurt to confirm gender as well.
If you have a "grabber," such as a truly impressive contact or accomplishment, use it in the first five words. (“President Bush suggested that I apply to your firm.” “While interning at the U.S. Attorney General’s Office…” “Having earned the number one ranking in my law school class…”) If you know someone important in the firm or office, mention it here.
Print your cover letter on high-quality paper that matches your resume and envelope. The envelope must be typed or printed from a computer, not handwritten. The cover letter should contain your contact information, meaning that your name, address, phone and e-mail are at the top of the page. Consider using the same exact format as you used on your resume so that the documents look cohesive.
The date goes to the left, with a space before the name, title, and address of the person you are sending it to. Again, do not send letters to “Hiring Partner” or other anonymous people unless you are responding to an ad that does not list the name of the firm. Otherwise, you should call to find out to whom the letter should be addressed.
The first paragraph should introduce who you are and why you are writing the letter. If you have a contact at the firm or if someone generally well known and respected suggested you apply to the firm, this is where to include that information. Also, if you have strong geographical ties to the area, especially if your law school is located somewhere else, be sure to mention it here. If you have no ties to an area but have reasons for wanting to be there, add them here.
This is where you should discuss your background, skills and qualifications -- explain why you are the best candidate for the position.
This optional paragraph should be used if you need to further explain something in your resume that is not obvious or provide examples of your accomplishments. (“I have a proven work ethic, having worked two full time jobs through college.”) If you are responding to a particular advertisement, be sure to address all points in the ad. For example, if it is for a family law position, be sure to mention your “A” in Family Law last semester.
Close the letter and thank the person. You should also indicate your availability for an interview if you are visiting the city where the employer is located. Some would advise you to indicate here when you will be calling the employer to follow up; however, many employers find this too aggressive. The best approach is to indicate that you look forward to meeting with them and then call them after a reasonable amount of time.
The advertisement asks for a salary range. Will you pigeon hole yourself into a low salary by mentioning a figure, or price yourself out of an interview? Many books suggest that you ignore the request, but there are firms that will toss letters that don’t mention it if it is specifically asked for in an ad. They are looking to see if they can afford you. Be true to yourself -- answer with either a range that you honestly feel you can live with or indicate that it would depend on the benefits package. If insurance for your family is more important than the actual cash, say so. (“I would be willing to discuss a salary range of $35,000-$50,000, assuming a family health benefit package.") Also, research what similar firms are paying in the area. Look at the size of the firm and what type of work they do. (For example, defense firms are always going to pay more than plaintiff firms.)
Before you seal the envelope, ask yourself:
- Does my cover letter say enough to get me past the initial screening process?
- Does it focus on my skills as they relate to the employer’s needs?
- Does it clearly state the reason for my interest in the firm/position?
- Did I thank the employer for considering my application?
- Did I triple-check for spelling and grammatical errors, including having someone else proofread the letter?
If you can check off all the boxes, send it out.
Sometimes it is hard to get started. Here are a few helpful ideas to get you going:
Introduction (first paragraph):
- “I am applying for the associate real estate attorney position with Muldoon & Sullivan advertised in this week’s National Law Journal.”
- “Hillary Clinton suggested I contact you for information regarding a position with Muldoon & Sullivan.”
- “I have a background in chemical engineering and am seeking a position in intellectual property with Muldoon & Sullivan.”
- “I would like to be considered for a judicial clerkship.” (or other titles: summer internship, law clerk position…)
Relating skills to employers’ needs (second paragraph):
- “My experience as a registered nurse may interest you.”
- “I can contribute my extensive experience in ________ to your organization.” (indicate background)
- “Prior to attending law school, I was a ________ (paralegal, teacher, accountant, etc.) and developed a specialization in _______ " (indicate area of expertise).
- “I am seeking a position that would enable me to utilize my background in ________ (indicate background) and strong _______ skills” (advocacy, analytical, writing, etc.).
Conclusion (third paragraph):
- “I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss my qualifications for a position.”
- “I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
- “Thank you for considering my application.”
- “I am available to meet with you at your convenience.”
- “I will be in _______ (town) during the week of ______ (dates). I can be reached at the contact information above to make arrangements to meet with you.”
Click here to view some sample cover letters.