Cover Letters That Get Lawyers Interviews
An excellent cover letter is an essential tool in your job search. It will show your interest in a specific job, draw attention to your unique qualifications for that job, and allow you to request an interview.
A well-written cover letter should be personalized and capture the attention of the reader, inspire him/her to read your résumé, and drive the reader’s desire to interview you.
Don’t forget that your résumé and cover letter are a package deal. Employers use these documents in tandem to decide about your application for a job.
Besides being personalized and persuasive, your cover letters should be organized, concise, and grammatically correct. An employer looks upon a cover letter as a writing sample. A poorly formatted or constructed cover letter, or one containing grammatical or spelling errors, can be the kiss of death for your chances with that employer.
Excellent Cover Letters Are Personalized
The key to writing an excellent cover letter is to personalize your pitch for an interview.
Use employer websites and LinkedIn to determine the hiring contact. There are almost no situations in which you could not, with a little digging, locate the name of a person to whom you should send your cover letter. If all else fails, call the employer to get the name, including correct spelling and gender, of the person.
Personalizing your cover letter goes far beyond addressing it to a person. Employers want to know why you have written to them and how you can contribute to their organization.
Effective Cover Letters Are Well-Organized
Your cover letter should provide clear evidence your decision to write resulted from a sincere interest and is an informed decision.
Therefore, you must research the employer, and lay out clearly and concisely your “case” for why you are the perfect candidate for the opportunity and organization.
Cover letters with generic statements will set off a red flag in the reader’s mind. A properly tailored cover letter will emphasize certain elements of your background appropriate for the employer.
If you have a personal contact within an office, mention your connection in the first sentence. Then, copy your contact on the correspondence or email to the employer so he/she is in the loop.
A cover letter should be three or four paragraphs; longer letters will go unread. A concise cover letter is in everyone’s best interests.
In brief, your cover letter should tell who you are, explain your specific qualifications for a position, and express your interest in the position and employer.
The optimal content to include in each paragraph is discussed further below in many of the online resources.
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Cover Letter Best Practices
● Your cover letter is a sales document, and you are the product
● Always include a cover letter as part of your application package
● Customize each cover letter for specific positions and organizations
● No typos, punctuation mistakes, or grammatical errors - review, edit, and review again
● Have someone else review your cover letter for typos, punctuation, and grammatical errors
● Read your cover letter out loud as part of your proofing process
● Keep your format simple and limit your cover letter to one page
● Use a 12-point sans serif font such as Calibri, Ariel, Cambria, or Garamond (same font as resume) and make sure your margins, font size, and use of abbreviations are all consistent
● Use the same heading as on your resume - name, city and state, phone number, email, and LinkedIn URL
● Include inside address with hiring contact’s name, title/position, organization, street address, and city/state/zip
● Always write to a person, not “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam,”
● Use Mr. or Ms. in the salutation with a colon after their last name
● Don’t copy and paste your resume into the cover letter; paraphrase to tell you value story
● Use the three-paragraph cover letter format - introduction / why interested, why qualified / value added, reminder of value / next step
○ Introduce yourself by telling why you are interested in the job, any connections at the organization, and how you can help the organization
○ Showcase your skills, knowledge, and accomplishments as they relate to the job requirements and employer’s pain points - may be broken into two paragraphs
○ State how you are ready to contribute immediately and request an interview to show how you will add value
● Nail your first sentence as the opening to a storyline running throughout the cover letter
● Include keywords in the job description and qualifications/requirements in your cover letter; use a free online word cloud program if uncertain about the essential keywords for a specific position
● Quantify your skills and accomplishments that relate to the position
● Appeal to the employer’s self-interest by demonstrating you researched the employer and stating how you will fulfill their needs
● Use the word “I” sparingly and avoid beginning sentences with “I,” when possible
● Show enthusiasm and energy using language, style, and tone
● Don’t include any mention of references unless the references work at the organization or referred you to it (if so, mention in the first paragraph)
● Close with “Respectfully” or “Sincerely” or something equally formal
● Use a digital cursive signature above your typed name, or sign and scan before submitting
● Use PDF format for cover letter and all application documents
The Best Online Resources For
Cover Letters That Get You Interviews
I summarize some of the better online resources for cover letters below.
This Forbes post is one of the best brief discussions of how to write an effective cover letter. It explains why you should always use a cover letter as part of your application package and details the three-paragraph format favored by most experts. It also includes a list of items you should not include in your cover letter.
“The cover letter is your opportunity to convert your résumé into a story about how you are uniquely positioned to address the organization’s needs.”
Your cover letter is “an opportunity to show the prospective employer your writing skills, your ability to persuasively communicate a concise message and your professionalism and willingness to put forth a little extra effort.”
“You need to include the narrative that best advances your message and eliminate redundancies or duplicate content that can be found verbatim on your résumé.”
This post from Business Insider describes what we sometimes call the “pain letter.” This cover letter format differs slightly from the three-paragraph format used most often, although it is also usually three or four paragraphs. The pain letter is structured as follows.
First, look at the job description’s “list of responsibilities and ask yourself, Why? Why is this task important to this company? Keep digging until you can’t go any further. The true need is usually the one at the end of a chain of whys.” What are the organization’s pain points it is trying to address? If you can’t uncover the pain point, schedule information interviews to help you focus on the organization’s pain points.
Then, agitate the pain point by reminding “him or her how painful the problem is, and by default, how valuable a solution could be.”
Finally, by “this point, you’ve got the hiring manager squirming at the table. Now, deliver the solution. Hint: It’s you.” Close the deal and get an interview by showing how you can help solve the organization’s pain.
The author uses an annotated template to guide the discussion through a traditional cover letter in this post from The Muse.
“There’s no arguing that it takes longer to compose a custom cover letter for each application than just changing out the company names in a canned one. But if you care about getting the job (and I hope you do, since you’re taking the time to apply for it), personalizing each one is the way to go.”
Another post in The Muse suggests an ideal cover letter format for people looking to transition their career into a different type position, environment, or industry.
Highlighting your transferable skills “shifts the conversation away from relevant experience and more toward whether or not you can do that job—and that is exactly what you want to do when you haven’t had a linear career path.”
Figure “out which skills you want to emphasize by carefully reviewing the job description. Underline or highlight the most important technical and behavioral skills the position requires.”
“Choose three skills that you feel are your strong suits to focus on. For each one, brainstorm some projects, assignments, or responsibilities that truly illustrate your expertise in that area, then select either one in-depth or a couple of shorter experiences to talk about.”
This Muse post has 31 tips for what to include in cover letters and what to leave out. Gems include:
“The cover letter should serve as an enhancer to your résumé and a supplemental marketing or promotional tool. It shouldn’t just restate everything on your résumé.”
“Use your cover letter to tell the hiring manager about the value you can bring to alleviate the organization’s pain points, advance its strategic priorities, increase performance outcomes and support a high-performance culture.”
“Don’t leave typos or grammatical errors in your cover letter. Check this again and again, and after you have proofread it three or four times, have someone else proof it for you if you can.”
Are you having trouble finding inspiration on how to start your cover letter? If you can’t get motivated to create a powerful opening after scanning this post from The Muse, we should talk.
This post in The Muse explains when “you’re writing a resume you’re oftentimes confined by space, by resume speak, by keywords—you’re up against a lot of technical requirements, whereas in a cover letter you have an opportunity to craft a narrative that aligns you not only with the position you’re applying to but also the company you’re applying to.”
The author of the post (and I) suggest you use your cover letter wisely to help “you explain your value proposition, stand out from the stack, and create continuity between your application and the person you’re going to be when you walk into the room.”
The post contains samples of four types of cover letters, a traditional cover letter, an impact cover letter, a writing sample cover letter, and a career change cover letter. The job description the cover letter is written in response to is also included along with a downloadable Google Docs version of the cover letter.
The post includes a discussion of the elements of a perfect cover letter and tips on how to get started writing your cover letter.
In this post in The Muse, not only are cover letter mistakes detailed but also “what to do instead” is explained.
The seven mistakes are starting the cover letter with your name, rehashing your resume, not being flexible with the format, going over a page, over-explaining, focusing too much on education and training, and sharing irrelevant information.
This page from the Stanford Law School website includes sample resumes, cover letters, and deal/representative matters lists targeted at alumni.
The sample cover letters include junior level lateral cover letters (litigation and post judicial clerkship) and mid to senior level lateral cover letters (two corporate and two litigation samples).
While not agreeing with all elements of the sample cover letters, such as referencing the inclusion of a law school transcript (unless it was explicitly required for the application), the samples show you what a top law school is suggesting to its alumni as a cover letter format.
This post on Indeed offers the following tips and a sample mid-level attorney resume.
“In a few sentences, explain why you’re a great fit for this specific role. State why you’re excited about the job and the company, and how the job matches your career goals.”
“In one or two paragraphs, connect your past accomplishments with the requirements listed in the job description. Focus on your most relevant experience, qualifications, and skills. When possible, quantify your accomplishments with facts and data. Avoid repeating the bullet points from your resume.”
“Close by thanking the employer for their time and consideration. You may also want to sum up your qualifications for the role and express an interest in continuing to the next stage in the hiring process.”
What are you going to do differently in your cover letters after reading this post?
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