|Published in the September 6, 2011, Advisor
You have a standard cover letter that you’ve used in the past to land an interview or an externship. Can you continue to use a version of that same letter as you apply for future opportunities? Perhaps that’d be fine.
But why settle for fine when you could revamp your letter and make it fabulous? The job market is extremely competitive. A great letter can help you stand out in a positive way.
- Do not use a sample as a template. Your letter will be just like many others. You want to stand out, not blend in. Further, you want to demonstrate that you have the skills and creativity to craft a unique letter. Mimicking a sample just shows that you know how to copy a form — and that you did not invest the time required to draft your own text. You can prove your interest in the opportunity by dedicating the time required to complete a persuasive application..
- To stand out, write a thoughtful, tailored letter. Spend time brainstorming before you write. Why are you interested in this particular position? Why are you likely to excel if you get the job? How do your passions fit with the employer’s needs? Your letter should specifically explain your interest and qualifications for the position you seek.
- Demonstrate your organizational skills. Make one main point in each paragraph. Use a topic sentence at the outset of the paragraph to tell the reader what the paragraph will be about. Use the rest of the paragraph to support the assertion in your topic sentence.
- Be concise. Limit your cover letter to a single page, and do not cover the entire page with text. White space helps the reader easily see and understand the importance of what you have written. Less is more.
- Recognize that your resume and cover letter serve different purposes. Do not merely parrot the chronology of your professional experiences and your collection of extracurricular activities that appear on your resume. Instead, use your cover letter to tell a compelling story about why you’ve pursued those opportunities, or what they’ve helped you learn. Use them, for example, as proof of your leadership, your time-management skills, or your commitment to a particular field or issue.
- Match your resume, reference list, and other application materials. Use the same font size and style and the same header to allow the employer to quickly see that your documents go together.
- Show that you are attentive to detail. No one will believe your assertion that you are a strong writer with excellent attention to detail if you submit a letter with errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Hiring lawyers ask their support staff to give them the strongest applications; the other applications — the ones with errors — generally don’t make it into the decision makers’ hands.
- Sign your letter. When you mail paper applications, signing your letters is critical. Some students are signing their letters before uploading them onto Symplicity. That’s not necessary, but those letters do stand out in a positive way.
- Use a standard business format and a formal tone. A cover letter is a form of business correspondence. Use your letter to show that you are ready to work in a professional setting. Demonstrate that the employer can trust you to correspond with clients, opposing counsel, and others from the minute you walk in the door.
- Be yourself — the most polished, professional version of yourself. While you need to be professional, you should not pretend to be something you aren’t. A drop of creativity, humor, and passion can be effective and appropriate in a cover letter — if they are used sparingly and if they help you capture your genuine self. If you do use something a little out of the ordinary in a cover letter, like humor, make sure you integrate it into a well-written letter that is substantive and focused.