Several years ago, I dated a girl who loved to watch old school romance movies. And by “old school” I don’t mean Sixteen Candles. I’m talking about the movies with Keira Knightly meeting her love in an English meadow, surrounded by perfectly cinematic fog or sprinting through the rain. You know, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Atonement, and Marie Antoinette. This same girl is now a die-hard Downton Abbey fan for obvious reasons.
While watching these titles with her, I noticed a common theme of the male lead typically ignoring our female protagonist, having an intimate conversation with her, being called away for some time, writing extensive love letters, and then asking her father’s permission to be married upon his return. Mr. Darcy flexing his game is probably one of the smoothest things you will ever witness.
These movies are in no way masculine. However, I love them. Hearkening back to the “good old days” of courting has its appeal, and love letters written in Victorian English have a certain quality to them a 7-second Snapchat just can’t match. It’s for this same reason that I tell students on a regular basis how much I love cover letters.
And I’m not lying.
This much-maligned part of the job search process is highly effective. Similar to a Jane Austen-like garden conversation on the family manor, a cover letter leverages a little formality to put your best foot forward.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed and exasperated, as I used to, think of a cover letter as accomplishing 3 things:
- Inform the employer how you heard about the position
- Highlight two or three relevant points from your resume
- Provide your personal contact information
A cover letter should be 3, possibly 4 paragraphs long and look very similar to the sample below:
One of my personal job search secrets: Save your cover letter from previous applications, and then use it as a base for another application. There is no need to start from scratch every time.
Here are a few more major cover letter guidelines:
- Always use the traditional heading of your address, date, and employer’s address, whether sending electronically or a paper copy.
- Never restate your entire resume. Choose 2 or 3 relatable experiences and tie them in to fit the keywords of the job description’s requirements.
- Always address your cover letter to a specific person. This should be the recruiter, head of HR, or highest position person whose name you know. Visit the “About Us” tab on the company website or contact the human resources department to get the recruiter’s name, whether through phone or email. There are also helpful websites to make the search easier such as Hoovers.com, Zoominfo.com or LinkedIn.com.
- Always include your phone and email in the last paragraph, even though it should also be on your resume.
- Feel free to name drop in the first paragraph. This is an opportunity to show you know a little about the company through a personal connection and it won’t be perceived as arrogant.
- Add a sentence or two about the company, such as their motto, mission statement or current news.
- A cover letter should always be one page, but try to fill majority of the page. There is no word count min or max. Focus on the aesthetics of how it appears on the paper, and match the sample above.
Also keep in mind to ALWAYS upload a cover letter on Dawglink or other company sites if there’s a box for one. If no box is available, a cover letter isn’t needed.
Outside of Dawglink, many employers will use an application service like Taleo. If it asks for an uploaded cover letter, quickly customize your basic cover letter for that position, save as PDF, and upload it along with your resume.
This should answer most of your cover letter questions. Anything I missed can be found on page 34 of the Career Guide available on our website or on our app for your iPad. By following these steps, employers will be falling hopelessly in love with your credentials in no time!
Cover Letters/Letters of Interest
Cover letters or letters of interest are the letters that accompany a job application, either in response to a job listing or inquiring about the possibility of unadvertised work. They provide a bridge between your resume and the specific employer. Don’t overlook the importance of this valuable part of the job application.
CDO counselors are always happy to review drafts of your letters.
When applying to jobs through Symplicity, you are not required to upload a cover letter unless the employer requests one. However, you may want to submit one if there is key information that may be crucial to their hiring decision (e.g., your geographic tie to their community) that is not already reflected in your resume.
Cover letters and letters of interest almost always follow the same substantive structure:
- Paragraph 1: Explain who you are and why you are writing.
- Paragraph 2: Connect your skills and interests to the employer. Draw from your resume, but do not regurgitate all of the information. Be selective and concise. Use brief, concrete examples. Illustrate why you will be valuable to them. Highlight your work experience, law school activities, volunteer experience, etc.
- Paragraph 3: Conclude. Identify any attachments to your letter, if not already done. Indicate what the next step will be. For example, let them know when you plan to be in their area, or if you will follow up or be available for an interview. Thank them for their consideration of your application or request.
See the basic format with annotations.
- Keep the letter to one page, if at all possible.
- Keep your writing simple. Avoid run-on sentences and passive voice.
- Avoid clichés, flowery adjectives, and colloquialisms.
- Show a real interest in the employer. Don’t just recycle their website.
Contacting an employer by email
Do not simply cut and paste your cover letter into the body of an email when contacting a prospective employer. Instead, use a shorter, more direct message (see sample email). Make sure to attach your resume and any other application documents in PDF format to avoid any formatting changes between computer programs.
Public interest cover letters
See the Public Interest Career Guide for excellent cover letter examples for public interest opportunities.