Cover Letter Advice
The cover letter is a sample of your written work and should be brief (preferably one page), persuasive, well-reasoned, and grammatically perfect.
A good cover letter:
- Tells the employer who you are (e.g., a first-year student at YLS) and what you are seeking (e.g., a summer intern position);
- Shows that you know about the particular employer and the kind of work the employer does (i.e., civil or criminal work, direct client service, "impact" cases, antitrust litigation);
- Demonstrates your writing skills;
- Demonstrates your commitment to the work of that particular employer and converys that you have something to contribute;
- Shows that you and that employer are a good "fit;" and
- Tells the employer how to get in touch with you by email, telephone, and mail.
Determine to whom you should address the cover letter. If you are applying to law firms, address your letter to the recruiting director. For NALP member firms, use the NALP Directory to obtain contact information. (NALP also provides a useful mail merge feature for generating multiple letters). For other employers, you can refer to their websites, or contact the office to determine to whom your materials should be directed.
Although there are many ways to write a cover letter, the following format has worked well for students in the past.
- In the first paragraph of your cover letter, explain why you are sending your resume to the employer: “I am a first-year student at Yale Law School and am seeking a position with your organization for the summer 20xx.” If you are applying to public interest employers and are eligible for SPIF funding, you can mention that here.
- Use the second paragraph to explain your interest in the employer, including your interest in the employer’s geographic location, reputation, specialty area, or public service.
- In the third paragraph, stress why this employer should hire you. Elaborate on the qualifications that you possess that will make you an exceptional summer intern or attorney.
- The final paragraph should thank the employer for taking the time to review your application and tell them how to reach you. You may wish to state that you will contact the employer in a couple of weeks to follow-up and then actually do so. This is especially true with public interest employers who are often understaffed and will appreciate your extra effort.
Additional CDO Resources
A lot of job applications are now done online in fancy, new-fangled, digital application forms. However, many companies still favour the traditional CV and cover letter application combo.
Whether it’s a speculative application, or one targeted at a specific job advertisement, the covering letter is a key ingredient in this process!
So, how do you stand out from the overstuffed pile?
This article takes a look at how to write a covering letter for all those companies that are keeping it real and asking you to tell them all about your employability on just one page of A4.
> If you're keen to find out more about those companies, you can head over to our Law Jobs section.
What's the point of a cover letter?
The covering letter is the paper equivalent of those initial few seconds when we meet someone new. Much is judged upon little!
The ultimate aim of the covering letter is to politely scream “choose me”, in a way that convinces an employer that you are worthy of them offering you an interview. No pressure then!
What does an employer want?
Let’s take a second to consider the employer’s perspective:
“I want someone that is perfect for the job as soon as possible with the minimum amount of fuss or hassle. That means don’t waste my time, don’t waffle and get straight to the point.”
If you fail to fit within any of the above criteria, then you’ll be given short shrift from the employer.
That means shift F7 is definitely out of the question for this one! When creating you covering letter masterpiece, it is important that you follow a clear structure.
Outlined below is a template that most recruitment consultancies and employers recommend:
1) Who are you & why are you writing to me?
You must let them know this within the first few lines of your covering letter; otherwise it is unlikely they will go any further.
E.g. “My name is Joe Gissajob and I’m writing to apply for the position of Editorial Assistant that I saw advertised on the XYZ website.”
2) Why do you want the job?
Be honest. Discuss what excites you about the specific job responsibilities. Demonstrate your enthusiasm in an original but appropriate way.
3) What attracts you to the company & the position you are applying for?
Mentioning money is probably not the best thing to do here. Employers will be far more receptive to your application if you have taken the time to understand their business and how the role you are applying for will fit into it.
4) Why should you be offered the job?
The elders of a settlement in rural India may have honoured you for your efforts in preparing their village for the monsoon season, but can you use Outlook and Excel?
Don’t simply see this section as an opportunity to put down every achievement since primary school on the page.
It must be relevant to the work you will be doing for them, and it must encourage them to read on.
Consider selecting three or four qualities that you possess which match the needs of the job.
Be wary of exaggerating anything though. You’ll soon be found out if you didn’t actually invent the chip and pin device!
Briefly detail any practical issues that might need to be addressed. If they specify you must have a clean driving license, this is your opportunity to let them know.
To summarise, when writing your covering letter: be concise, tailor it to the job specification and talk up the relevant qualities you possess that make you ideal for the position. Most importantly though, good luck!