Cover Letters

A cover letter represents your first opportunity to speak to a prospective employer.  It is through this letter that employers gain a sense of who you are, why you are interested in working for them, and how you can meet their needs. Below you will find some tips on drafting cover letters, from format to content.  As always you are welcome to have your cover letter reviewed by a counselor at CPD.  Email lawcareers@stthomas.edu to set up an appointment.

Overview

A cover letter introduces you to employers. The letter should explain why they should hire you instead of the dozens of other applicants they are considering. What specific value do you bring to their firm?

  • Tailor information to the employer.
  • Highlight information in your resume that would be of particular interest to the employer.
  • Explain how this makes you a qualified candidate.
  • DO NOT repeat your resume in text format--just highlight it.

Remember that your cover letter is also a writing sample; therefore the letter should use good style and must be error free.

  • Make it clear and lively but brief. 
  • Vary the sentence structure to keep your reader interested
  • Limit your use of the word "I," especially at the start of sentences  
  • It is critical that your cover letter be absolutely devoid of typographical and grammatical errors. 
  • Be assertive and confident. Don't use phrases like "I believe" or "I think."

Format

Heading

Format Example

1. Address of the applicant


2. Date of the letter

3. Complete name, title 
and address of the recipient


4. Salutation

Sue Applicant
123 East Main Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota  55104

June 1, 2011

Ms. Jane A. Doe, Director of Recruiting
Doe Associates, L.L.P.
456 South Fifth Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota  55105                              

Dear Ms. Doe,                                  

  • Always address it to a specific person: "Dear Mr. Smith" or "Dear Ms. Plank." Avoid "To whom it may concern." If you can't get a name, use "Hiring Partner" or "Hiring Manager."
  • Look for hiring contact in the ad, NALP directory, or on the company's website. If you don’t have a hiring contact, call the company to find out.
  • Do not address a woman as "Mrs." unless (1) you know she is married, and (2) you know she goes by "Mrs." rather than "Ms." To be safe, always use "Ms."
  • If you can not determine a person’s gender from the name (e.g., Alex, Pat, or an unusual name), use their full name ("Dear Pat Smith"). It is best to use Google to find out if it is a man or a woman.

Body

Paragraph One: Introduction

  1. Tell employer why you are writing and what job you are applying for. 
  2. Include how you heard of the opening (e.g., website or want ad).
  3. If you were referred by someone, mention that person.

Paragraph Two: Why You

  1. Explain why you are qualified for this position and what aspects of your experience fit this employer and job. Focus on what will set you apart from the pack.
  2. Before you start to write, sit down and come up with 3 reasons why they should hire you for this position. Qualifications can include many things:
    1. Prior work or volunteer experience
    2. Coursework
    3. Undergraduate or graduate studies
    4. Journal or Moot Court experience
    5. Skills in research, writing, analyzing or other things that are relevant to positions
  3. Tailor the qualifications to what they are seeking.  If job qualifications are listed, try to reference at least three.  If qualifications are not listed, try to identify traits/skills relevant to that type of position.
  4. Show and demonstrate your qualifications. Don't just state them. This is your chance to describe them and how you have used them in the past.
    1. Don’t state “I have great writing skills”  Rather: “I have shown my writing skills by participating in Moot Court/law journal."
    2. Don’t state “I have a great work ethic” Rather: "I demonstrated a strong work ethic by working 20 hours a week while balancing a full class load."
  5. Own your qualities and attributes. Show how you have demonstrated them in the past.

Paragraph Three: The Wrap-Up

  1. Reiterate your interest in the position.
  2. Thank them for considering you.
  3. Reference your resume. 
  4. Indicate that you will follow-up
    1. If you indicate that you will follow-up, do so.
    2. If you do not feel comfortable following up (e.g. it says no calls), state, “I look forward to speaking with you soon.”
    3. Do not state, “I am waiting for your call.”

Other Guidelines

  • Use same paper as your resume.
  • Try to use 11 or 12 point font.
  • Keep it to one page, and keep that page as brief as possible while still covering the important content.
  • Make sure you include all your contact information (Name, Address, Phone, email) in the header.
  • Use the same format and header as your resume.

Other Guidelines

  • Use same paper as your resume.
  • Try to use 11 or 12 point font.
  • Keep it to one page, and keep that page as brief as possible while still covering the important content.
  • Make sure you include all your contact information (Name, Address, Phone, email) in the header.
  • Use the same format and header as your resume.

Other Resources

  • Guerilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams by Kimm Alayne Walton
  • Cover Letters That Knock ‘Em Dead by Martin Yate