McGeorge School of Law

10 Things Employers Want Students to Know About Cover Letters

July 12, 2012

  1. To do justice to what they have to offer, students must make their cover letters examples of their best work. Hiring attorneys evaluate cover letters as the student's first writing sample. To impress hiring attorneys, cover letters must possess the qualities of effective legal writing.
  2. Cover letters should not be so general that students could simply change the addressee and send them to any employer. When it appears that a student's principal interest is in having a job, that student will lose out to someone see as genuinely interested in the employer.
  3. Students should purge their cover letters of telltale signs that the cover letters are generic. The most flagrant sign of a generic cover letter is the inadvertent remnant of an earlier letter to another employer.
  4. Students should research employers and parlay that research into individualized cover letters. Students need to show a credible interest in the employer–not simply in having a job–by showing they know something about the employer.
  5. Students should use cover letters to explain two things: why they are interested in the employer and why the employer ought to be interested in them. Properly done, cover letters supplement students' resumes. Cover letters are the students' briefs on why hiring attorneys should interview them.
  6. Students should face the facts: sometimes well-crafted cover letters are not enough. Students need to target most of their cover letters and resumes to employers that are real prospects.
  7. Cover letters should be credible. Employers are put off by inflated, overblown rhetoric: "Yours is the perfect job for me." And hype: "I am exactly the candidate you have been looking for." And, most of all, bombast: "You can't afford not to meet with me." Students should be unpretentiously confident: "I have enjoyed success in..." Cover letters should be strictly positive: "My strengths are particularly well-suited to your practice because..."
  8. If ties between the student and the employer's city are not readily apparent from the resume, the cover letter should establish those ties. Employers want to know that applicants are genuinely interested. Establishing ties to the employer's city reinforces the student's credibility. Students who have trips planned to the employers' cities, or are thinking about making trips, should mention that in their cover letters.
  9. Students should show they are concise and considerate by keeping their letters to one page.
  10. Students should always include cover letters when distributing their resumes. By piquing employers' interest and providing compelling information, properly crafted cover letters give students an advantage.

Students who follow these recommendations will gain a competitive edge. Standing alone, resumes simply present facts. Well-crafted cover letters do more; they persuade.

Tags: cdo, 2012