Résumé and Application Development

Cover Letters and Job Search Correspondence

Cover Letters | Follow Up Letters

Cover Letters

The cover letter is as critical to the job search process as the résumé. It is the only professionally accepted tool used to introduce you to potential employers and to communicate directly with an individual employer. You should always include a cover letter with a résumé when applying for a position or responding to an advertisement, even when it is not expressly requested. The cover letter is the tool that allows you to address qualifications that specifically match a particular position. A cover letter:

  • Should be typed and, to the extent possible, tailored for a particular position;
  • Should be addressed to an individual rather than to "Dear Hiring Attorney" or "To Whom It May Concern";
  • Should focus upon, and request, a particular outcome such as an employment interview or an informational interview;
  • Should not be sent via facsimile unless the employer specifically asks you to do so, or you can not make an application deadline otherwise.
  • Should be error-free. Typographical and grammatical errors are usually deadly. Spell-check your document, but do not rely on it solely, as it will not detect all errors; proofread carefully and have someone else read it.

Format

Use standard business format in all correspondence with employers. Be sure the employer's name is correct –- if it is a law firm, this includes the proper spelling of all named partners, appropriate placement of commas, and whether the title includes an ampersand (&) or an "and" before the final name. When including "Esq." after an individual's name in the address block, never use Ms. or Mr. as a prefix. Esquire is used alone at the end of a person's name to indicate that he or she is an attorney.

Salutation

Your letters should be addressed to a specific person. If you cannot find the name of a recruiter or hiring attorney, call the organization to find out the name and correct spelling of the person responsible for hiring. Because this is a business and not a personal letter, always use a colon in the salutation and never a comma (e.g., Dear Mr. Smith:).

First Paragraph -- The Opening

The opening should be up to three sentences. Begin confidently and state who you are, why you are writing (the position for which you are applying), where you heard of the opening, and reference the documents you have enclosed. If someone referred you to the addressee, mention that person's name in the first line of the first paragraph.

Second Paragraph --The Sell

Tell employers what you bring to the job. Focus on why the reader should talk with you. Possible topics include: prior experience, clinics, internships, and appropriate school-related activities (journal, moot court). Most importantly, discuss what you gained from these experiences. You may also include language abilities and other professional skills, when relevant. Highlight significant, relevant portions of your résumé, but do not repeat the content of your résumé.

Third Paragraph-The Closing Statements and Salary Information

Ask for a personal interview and indicate your flexibility as to time and place. If you are applying out of state, tell the employer when you will be in the area and available for an interview. Thank the employer for his/her time and consideration.

The closing paragraph is an appropriate place to respond to any requests for salary requirements/history. If a job advertisement requests that you provide such information, you should address this issue without stating a dollar amount or even a range. Providing a salary amount can eliminate you from consideration if it is too high, or limit your ability to obtain a higher salary if you obtain the position. Often you do not have enough information to determine what the position would pay. You should postpone the salary issue until further into the interview stage. However, to demonstrate that you are aware of the request and that you are detail-oriented, include a sentence in your closing paragraph that states something to the effect of: "My salary requirements are negotiable."

Paper Type

Use the same paper stock for your cover letters and envelopes that you use for your résumé paper; use 25% to 100% cotton paper in white, off-white, or very light gray.

Avoid mass mailings

Avoid the temptation to send out résumés and cover letters to a host of recipients. Do not use e-mail to send materials to employers unless requested to do so. Instead, define a targeted group of 10 – 20 employers to contact and customize your letters to each employer. Above all else, the content of your message should reflect your reasons for the interest in that specific employer. Similarly, if you feel you owe a special thank you to several persons within an organization, take the time to send each an individual message, not "cc" copy.

Follow-up Letters

Most large employers do not expect a thank you letter following the initial interview. If you have a follow-up interview with those same employers a "thank you" note is appropriate. All correspondence must be well written, error free, courteous, and sent to the appropriate person and address. Do not invest time and energy in your initial cover letters, résumés, and interviews only to be eliminated from consideration because of a careless follow-up communication.


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500 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-1786 PHONE: (410) 706-7214 FAX: (410) 706-4045 / TDD: (410) 706-7714

Copyright © 2014, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. All Rights Reserved