How to Write a Cover Letter | Tips for Law Students
How to Write a Cover Letter | Tips for Law Students
For many students, writing cover letters is perhaps the most disdained aspect of applying for jobs. The purpose of cover letters can be ambiguous, and many applicants have no idea what’s supposed to be contained within them. While every employer has different requirements and expectations–and you should read each individual application’s instructions carefully–we can give you a few general tips to help you better understand how to write a high-quality cover letter.
What is the Purpose of a Cover Letter?
For you, of course, the purpose of any piece of your application is to land the job. When it comes to cover letters, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the employer. What does the employer see as the purpose of the cover letter? If you’re lucky, the application instructions will tell you what the employer wants to be included in your cover letter. If your application instructions mention anything about the cover letter, read them carefully and follow them to a T–sometimes, employers will include seemingly arbitrary details in the application instructions just to test whether applicants are reading the instructions carefully.
If you’re not given any explicit instructions for your cover letter, your purpose remains the same–stand out to the employer as someone who can bring value to the company. If an employer is requiring you to submit a cover letter, it’s probably because they want to see something from you that can’t be gleaned from other aspects of your application–your writing ability, details about relevant experience, and professional skills can all be reasons why an employer would read your cover letter.
What Should I Include in a Cover Letter?
Generally, a cover letter should comprise three sections. First, you should introduce yourself and explain why you are interested in the position to which you’re applying. The second section should be the longest, and explain why you are a good fit for the position. Remember, put yourself in the employer’s shoes. The employer isn’t interested in what the job can do for you; instead, explain why hiring you would make the employer’s job easier. Ideally, you could work in a brief anecdote about some experience you had that would be relevant to the job to which you’re applying. The final section should give the employer information on when you would be available to begin working, and the best way to contact you. End with a thanks.
If you’re looking for downloadable cover letter examples, there are a number of publicly available templates. Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, and Columbia Law School all offer a number of sample cover letters in PDF format on their websites. Your law school’s career services office can give you additional advice on how to tailor your cover letter to specific employers.
Common Mistakes Students Make with Cover Letters
- Rehashing your resume: This may be the biggest mistake made by applicants. Because many students don’t think deeply about the purpose of a cover letter, they take the simple route when it comes to writing one–they simply write out their resume in paragraph form. This is absolutely the wrong way to approach writing a cover letter. Most people reading applications don’t have much time to spend on each individual application; if your cover letter is just a repeat of your resume, the person reviewing your application will feel like you’re just wasting his time. Use the cover letter as an opportunity to tell the employer something that you didn’t have the space for in your resume.
- Not tailoring the letter to the job: Applying to jobs can be a long and tedious process. When you’re applying to multiple tops, it’s certainly tempting to just create a cover letter template, fill in the employer name, and send it off. But employers can smell this strategy from a mile away, and it’s a major reason why an otherwise strong application will get rejected. Make your cover letter unique, and you just might stand out as an applicant.
- Writing more than one page: Again, your prospective employer’s time is valuable. If an application just seems too long, it’s likely to be skipped over. Keep your cover letter pithy–unless the application instructions say otherwise, it should be under one page in length. Discuss only the most relevant experiences, and keep the superfluous sentences to a minimum–anything that isn’t useful to helping employers understand how you’ll benefit their organization should be removed.
- Being too informal: Many applicants want to use the cover letter to express their personality. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this–the application process can be very impersonal, and any way to humanize yourself and stand out from the crowd can help. But this can also be a double-edged sword; if you get too casual or informal in your cover letter, you can come across as unprofessional. When in doubt, err on the side of formality.
- Not proofreading and editing: Many employers view the cover letter as an opportunity to test an applicant’s attention to detail. Any misspellings in a cover letter can get an application rejected on the spot. Employers can receive hundreds of applications for a single job opening–often they’re looking for ways to thin the application pile. Don’t give them a reason to throw your application in the trash by making a mistake as frivolous as a typo. Review every cover before you send it. And if possible, get someone else to review your cover letters–this is where your career services office can come in handy. A fresh set of eyes can often catch mistakes that you missed.
- Not focusing on what you can offer the employer: By its nature, the application process is a selfish endeavor–you’re trying to present yourself in the best possible light while searching for that dream job. It’s easy to get caught up in what you want out of a job. But keep in mind that employers have their own set of interests–they’re looking for someone to make their lives easier. So instead of telling the employer how the job would be good for you, focus on writing about how you can help the employer.