Your Foot In The Door: The Well-Crafted Cover Letter
When you hear the word cover letter, it's cringeworthy, right? Despite technological advancements and online resume submissions, a cover letter is still a must. And a well-crafted cover letter is a definite must.
Knowing what to write can be daunting but do not fear.
Let’s break it down.
WHAT'S THE PURPOSE?
Not sending a cover letter speaks loudly to your detriment, signaling you are shooting off resumes, not being selective, or worse – lack an attention to detail or desire to be thorough.
Cover letters and resumes are symbiotic and should complement and play off each other. Think of the cover letter as an extension of the resume - - meaning there should be information that exceeds the resume. This is a chance to fill-in-the-gaps, explain, and humanize a one-dimensional piece of paper or screen. This leaves the reader with a palpable sense of who you are and, in essence, can be your first interview or sorts --- without you ever having met or spoken.
The truth is the resume is usually read first even when other documents are provided. However, there is no way to predict the hiring authorities’ process. Therefore, the resume and cover letter need to be equally compelling. Research shows resumes are scanned for a mere 7 seconds before the yay or nay. That means you have a limited opportunity to pique the person’s interest enough to read your cover letter or resume, or inspire them to take the next step.
GET THE EDGE
The phrase “speak to your audience” has never been truer. But how to speak to or about someone or something you don’t know?
Begin with understanding what they want to see and knowing who they are.
We are going to fill in the blanks and make things easier for you throughout this article. You are likely starting to get the impression one size does not fit all when it comes to cover letters. That is true.
Employers want to feel special just like candidates do. That may come as a surprise but it’s absolutely true.
The same cover letter should not be sent to every potential employer. The only caveat to that rule is unless they are similar in terms of their segment of the market; law firms, in-house, government, alternative JD, etc…and still yet, each should be customized to the extent possible.
Do your research
If you have shown no knowledge of who the employer is or what they represent, it will feel to the reader like internet dating and a lot of swiping left…or right, or whatever.
The research will pay off. Selectively choosing opportunities that are right for you will streamline and save time in the long run, keep confidentiality within reach, and personalize the process with the employers. Showing your willingness to go the extra mile can also be a determining factor to the reader.
What you need to know:
- Research organizations by name, website, and on sites like Glassdoor and/ or NALP.
- Search for mutual connections who may work there, such as alumni, friends, or former colleagues. Chat them up or reconnect to get the skinny – or even an impression about – their current or past employer. They will likely tell all if they no longer work there and may offer to help if they do.
- Read the About page on the company or firm website for invaluable information about how they perceive themselves and what they find important. Figuring out their culture is a big plus, especially if it aligns with what’s important to you.
- Check out the profiles of peer attorneys already working there. You will find they likely have a “type”. If you seem to fall in line, be sure to list those common denominators.
- Know the full job description – highlight keywords and use them in your cover letter and resume, preferably toward the beginning – list them in the order of most sophisticated first. Think trial before hearings, or merger before contract drafting.
- Find push points that will give you a common denominator. Does your research show that several employees are alumni of your law school? Mention it. Is someone on a board of directors where you volunteer? Definitely mention it.
What Employers Want to See
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