Industry Resources

How To Write An Effective Cover Letter

Here are 10 tips that will help you to put your best foot forward.

When you work with a recruiter, there is generally no need to write your own cover letter; the cover letter comes from us. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the exercise of writing a cover letter altogether. It’s crucial that you work with your recruiter to convey any information that may be helpful in marketing yourself to the prospective employer.

I shy away from giving candidates a detailed cover letter template. You do not want your letter to sound too formulaic. It should be authentic and, if signed by you, in your voice. Even using the same cover letter to apply for multiple positions can get risky. It’s easy to spot the non-tailored cover letter.

Here are 10 tips that will help you to put your best foot forward:

  1. Read the job description. Read it line by line. I cannot stress enough the importance of tailoring your cover letter to the specific job.
  2. Do not simply repeat what is on your resume. You may want to highlight just the most important points from your resume, but you primarily want to include relevant information not in your resume.
  3. Think of your cover letter as a first-round interview. What questions might you anticipate? You will want to address:
    a. Why are you looking to make a move, and why specifically do you want to work here, with us?
    b. If applicable, why do you want to move to the new city? What personal or professional ties do you have to the new location?
    c. If applicable, why do you want to move from a firm to an in-house role?
  4. Above all, your cover letter must answer the question, “How are you going to add value to our firm/company?” In your cover letter and in your interviews, remember that it’s not about you. It’s about what you can do for them. A prospective employer will be turned off by candidates who only talk about how this move will advance their own careers.
  5. Remember the old adage “Show, don’t tell.” Give concrete examples of your relevant soft skills:
    a. What precise skills or experiences do you have that qualify you for this job?
    b. What do you bring to the table that makes you unique?
    c. Why should we hire you instead of your competition?
  6. Give your cover letter a basic structure, for example, an opening sentence/paragraph, your “arguments,” and a conclusion. Your cover letter will offer substantive information, but it will also be judged as a representation of your writing and communication skills.
  7. Be concise.
  8. Try to find the appropriate recipient’s name. I am always turned off by the “To Whom it May Concern” letters.
  9. If you are applying for a lateral law firm position and your class year for promotion purposes is different from your JD year, be sure to highlight this.
  10. Proofread. Absolutely no typos!

Your cover letter, whether it comes from you or from your recruiter, should not be a recap of your resume. It should add color and personality to your application, offer the reader a chance to see you as a real human being, and answer the question, “Why should we hire you?” Think of it as a practice screening interview.

Will a good cover letter really move the needle? Realistically, it may only make a difference to a small percentage of applications. But why not give every job application your best shot?