Cover Letters - SUNY Buffalo Law School

First Impressions:
Writing Impressive
Cover Letters
Lisa M. Patterson
Associate Dean for Career Services
608 O’Brian Hall
[email protected]
What is a Cover
A Business Letter
– use formal language, format
Your first contact with a potential
– “Out of the Blue”
Answers basic questions about
you as a candidate for the job
– Who, What, Where, When, Why,
Goals of a Cover Letter
• To clearly express your interests
to an employer.
• To state how your skills
specifically meet the employer's
• To get the employer to want to
read further, read your resume,
and ask you for an interview.
Helpful Mindset for
Cover Letter Writing
Get in the right frame of mind
with the 4 S’s
• Sensitivity: Put yourself in the
reader’s shoes
• Strategy: Ask the right questions—
request what the reader can actually
give you
• Sales: Avoid “I want” and focus on
“What I can offer you”
– This is subtle: your enthusiasm for the
job is a selling point too, so a little “I
want” is OK
• Self-Confidence: Be comfortable
selling yourself
– Use concrete examples to avoid
Cover Letter Format:
• Use formal business letter formatting
• Stay to one page
• Use bond paper that matches your
• Either left-justified or indented
paragraphs are acceptable
• Date should line up with closing
• Look up titles if unsure
• Use formal, but not convoluted
• ALWAYS sign your letter
• Triple-check for typos
• Have someone else look it over
Cover Letter Tone
• Formal, Not Casual
– “Mr. Smith” not “Bob”
– No contractions or slang
• Simple, Not Verbose
– Use direct, action verbs
– Avoid passive voice
– Shorter, simple sentences
• E.G.
– Formal & Verbose: “I am in receipt of
your correspondence.”
– Casual & Simple: “I got your note.”
– Formal & Simple: “I received your
Cover Letter Grammar
• Use dictionary, thesaurus, and style
manual for reference (look online)
• Watch synonyms
– There, their, they’re
– Your, you’re
• Use apostrophes correctly
– Replace letters: you’re = you are
– Indicate possession: John’s
– NEVER to indicate a plural: “I am
sending you two writing sample’s.”
• Brush up on other areas
(tenses, pronouns, punctuation, etc.)
Cover Letter Format:
• Copy and paste heading from resume
to use as “letterhead”
• Along left margin:
– Today’s date
– Name, title, company, and full address
of addressee:
• Use formal title: “The Honorable” or
“Dean” or “Mr.” or “Ms.”
• E.g. The Honorable John Jay
Chief Justice
The United States Supreme Court
1501 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20003
Cover Letter Format:
• Salutation: Dear “Mr.” or “Ms.”
Last name only
Use a COLON after the name
“Dear Mr. Smith:”—correct
“Dear Justice Jay:”—correct
“Dear Mr. John M. Smith,”—
• Be sure to use proper prefix:
Dr., Judge, Justice, Reverend,
Cover Letter Format:
The Body
• First Paragraph, The Hook:
– Who are you, where did you come from
(implicit in this: how did you find me?)
– What do you want?
– Special circumstances
• Second (optional third) Paragraph,
The Sales Pitch:
– Why should I give you what you are
asking for?
• Last Paragraph, The Next Step A Call to action.
Cover Letter Format:
• Closing should line up with date
(flush left or indented, your choice)
• Use appropriate phrase, such as,
– Sincerely,
– Yours truly,
• Followed by a COMMA
• Second word is NOT capitalized
• Leave 3-4 returns (space for your
signature), then type your name
• Double-spaced under your typed
name, write “Enc.” to indicate that
there is an enclosure (resume, etc)
with the letter.
Sample Cover Letter
Your Name
## Street
City, St Zip
Month day, year
Full Name of Addressee
Title of Addressee
Name of Organization
Street Address
City, State Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms. (Addressee's last name):
1st Paragraph- Your opening paragraph should pique the interest of the potential
employer. Tell why you are writing. Name the position, field or general vocational
area about which you are asking. Tell how you learned of the opening or
organization and why you are interested in the organization.
2nd Paragraph-This paragraph should create a desire to read further. Provide
additional information concerning your education, experience, qualities, and
interests as they relate to the position. Describe one or two qualifications you think
would be of the greatest interest to the employer, keeping in mind the employer's
point of view. If you have related experience or special training, be sure to point it
out. Tell the employer specifically what you have to offer the organization and
support your claim with proof/examples.
3rd Paragraph- In your closing paragraph ask for action. Include your phone
number and email address if they are not in your heading, so the employer can
easily contact you. Be sure to emphasize your appreciation for their time.
Sincerely (or Respectfully or Yours truly),
(Your handwritten signature)
Type Your Name here
Enc. (to indicate that you have enclosed a resume and/or other material)
Cover Letter Format
• Questions?
Types of Cover Letters
• Type A: Responding to Specific
Job Posting
• Type B: Networking/Referral
• Type C: “Cold” Letters
Type A: Specific Job
• Most direct, clearest
• Your letter is expected, will be
Type A: Specific Job
First Paragraph:
• “Who are you?” is easy – an
applicant answering their ad
• “I am a first-year student at the State
University of New York at Buffalo
Law School”
• “I am a native of Nassau County,
completing my first year at the State
University of New York at Buffalo
Law School.”
Type A: Specific Job
First Paragraph:
• “What you want” is easy – to
apply for the advertised job
• “I found your job posting through
my school’s Career Services Office
and wish to apply for an internship
with [your office].”
• “As outlined on your website, I am
enclosing the requisite application
materials for your summer
internship program”
Type A: Specific Job
First Paragraph:
• Special language: Consider
questions that may arise
• You are not exactly what they
advertised for (1L applying for 2L
job, or internship/job typically
advertised to non-law students)
• You need to point out your ties to
their geographic area that are not
obvious from your resume
• You did not find the ad in its
original place, but did extra
research, or were referred to it by
Type A: Specific Job
First Paragraph:
• Special circumstances:
• Other important messages:
– “While your job posting specifies a
Masters Degree, I believe my Juris
Doctor degree will be a suitable
– “While my prior experience is in the
area of retail sales, my ability to
manage client requests and solve
problems will be well suited to a
general practice law setting.”
Type A: Specific Job
First Paragraph:
• Special circumstances:
• Geographic ties
– “As a native of Atlanta, I am seeking
internship opportunities in the
surrounding Atlanta area.”
– “My husband/wife/etc. is a native of
Atlanta and we are planning to settle
there permanently.”
– “I attended college at Emory and plan
to return to Georgia.”
– “I have many friends and relatives in
the Atlanta area and am concentrating
my job search there.”
Type A: Specific Job
Second Paragraph:
• Work from advertised job to respond
to what the employer is looking for
in candidates, and directly relate
your selling points to their needs.
• “You state in your job posting that you seek
candidates with strong writing skills. I have
demonstrated my legal writing abilities
through my membership in the Public
Interest Law Journal and my consistently
strong grades in research and writing
• “While you specifically request second-year
law students in your hiring criteria, I am
applying as a first-year student because my
experience as a legal assistant prior to law
school developed skills and interest in real
estate law much more advanced than a
typical 1L.”
Type A: Specific Job
Second Paragraph:
• Sometimes the job description
doesn’t tell you directly what the
employer is seeking. Use other
information to guess what the
employer wants.
• “Your busy litigation office could use an
intern who learns quickly and works
independently. While earning my Masters
degree in History I had to excel in
independent, deadline-driven research.”
• “Although working with a District
Attorney’s Office will be a new challenge
for me, my experience on the Greenacre
College debate team will serve me well. An
ability to think on one’s feet and reason
quickly to a conclusion is essential, both on
the debate team and in the courtroom.”
Type A: Specific Job
Last Paragraph:
• Call to Action and Thanks:
What happens next?
– “I can be reached at (phone
number) to arrange an interview
at your convenience.”
– “I will be in the area from
February 2-5 if you would like to
schedule an interview.”
– “I will forward my transcript
when it is available.”
– “Thank you for your
Type A: Specific Job
• Questions?
Type B:
Cover Letter
• Identifies a personal link to the
– Mutual friend/acquaintance
– Alumnus of your school
– Met before in another context
• Goal: AIR
– Advice, Information, Referrals
• Result: Informational Interview
Type B:
Cover Letter
First Paragraph:
• IMMEDIATELY identify your
• IMMEDIATELY tell them what
you want!
– The Reader has no idea who
might be writing them, especially
since they don’t have a job
posted. The longer they remain
confused, the less persuasive you
will be.
Type B:
Cover Letter
First Paragraph:
• Examples:
– “Professor Henry Jones, my
Archaeology instructor, suggested that I
contact you as I explore careers in
artifact law.”
– “As a fellow graduate of the Ringling
Brothers Clown College, I am writing
for advice on breaking into the world of
balloon animal design.”
– “We met several years ago at a
Supermarket Produce seminar, where
you led a class on Banana Peel safety.
Now that I am in law school, I would
welcome the chance to talk to you
about your career in personal injury and
risk management.”
Type B:
Cover Letter
Second Paragraph:
• What else will they be wondering
– Who are you? What do you want? How
did you find them? Why do you think
they might be able to help you? What
can they possibly offer you?
– Think of opening letters at home. You
are more likely to respond (i.e. not
throw away) if:
• They are from people/sources you know
• They ask you for something that is easy or
at least within your power
• They are interesting to read
• They instill a sense of obligation or
Type B:
Cover Letter
Second Paragraph:
• Goal: Develop the connection between
you and the reader, so they want to meet
• Describe your interest in their field
– “As I continue to evaluate career options in
different legal fields, I find myself intrigued
by construction law.”
• Show that you’ve done a little homework
– “Professor Jones speaks highly of your firm
and directed me to your article entitled,
“Insuring the Holy Grail,” which I found
– “Your firm, Trigger, Silver & Ed, is
nationally renowned for its excellence in
Equine Law.”
Type B:
Cover Letter
Last Paragraph:
• The Call to Action: What happens
• Remind them of what you want:
– Advice, Information, Referrals
• “While I realize that your firm may
not have any internships available, I
would appreciate any insight or
connection to the entertainment law
community that you could provide.”
• “As I pursue a career in patent law,
any advice, information or referrals
you could offer would help me
Type B:
Cover Letter
Last Paragraph:
• Ask to meet (or at least talk in
real time)
– “I will be in town at the end of the
month and would very much like
to meet you for coffee if it would
be convenient.”
– “I have every Friday free and
would appreciate a few minutes of
your time if you would be
available in the next few weeks.”
– “I would like to schedule a
mutually convenient time for us to
talk on the telephone.”
Type B:
Cover Letter
Last Paragraph:
• Optional follow-up: Since you
initiated this contact, you can
offer to follow up.
– “I will call you next week to
discuss the possibility of meeting
with you in person.”
– “I will be in touch by telephone to
arrange a mutually convenient
time to meet.”
Type B:
Cover Letter
• Questions?
Type C: “Cold” Letter
• COMPLETELY Out of the
Blue: No Connection
• Usually a result of research in a
• ALWAYS address to a
– Never “To whom it may concern”
– ABSOLUTELY never “Dear Sir”
• Pick an attorney to contact
• Call ahead to get a name
Type C: “Cold” Letter
what you want
• Remember STRATEGY: Ask for
what you can get
• Is this a direct application letter or
– Direct application may hit on
unadvertised internships or plant the
idea in the reader’s mind.
– Networking may get you in the door
and create a job where there wasn’t one
before as a result of your informational
Type C: “Cold” Letter
First Paragraph:
• Who you are and what you want:
– Direct: “I am a first-year student at the
State University of New York at
Buffalo Law school, and would like to
apply for a summer internship if one is
• Vs.
– Networking: “I am a first-year student
at the State University of New York at
Buffalo Law school, and am seeking
information and experience in the area
of Tax law.”
Type C: “Cold” Letter
First Paragraph:
• Where you came from/how you
found them:
– “I found your profile in the West
Legal Directory as I was
searching for tax attorneys in
– “I found your firm on a list of
premier tax law specialists
published by American Jurist .”
Type C: “Cold” Letter
Second/Last Paragraphs:
• Essentially the same as the
networking/referral letters
Type C: “Cold” Letter
• Questions?
Final Cover Letter
After writing your letter, use this CAN
DO attitude to evaluate your work!
Have you given enough info?
Check grammar, spelling, titles, etc.
Check formatting, font, etc.
Is the message clear? Is the language simple?
Does your letter flow?
For Reference
Check out CSO To Go
What Can You Do with a Law Degree? A Lawyers Guide to
Career Alternatives Inside, Outside and Around the Law.
Deborah Arron, 5th edition, 2004. A career encyclopedia for
lawyers in transition and law students breaking into the
profession. Includes internet job resources just for lawyers, and
a unique job grid system to define one’s ideal career and work
environment. CSO Reserve (Rm 612). Earlier editions (1992,
1997 and 1999) also available. [1/04]
Cover Letters: That Knock 'Em Dead. Martin Yate, 5th
edition, 2003. Not specifically geared to law, but may be
helpful in giving you a start. Now includes information on
writing an electronic cover letter. CSO Reserve (Rm 612); UGL
Reference (non-circulating) HF 5383 Y378. 1995 & 1992
editions also available on CSO Reserve (Rm 612). [1/04]
Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams.
Kimm Alayne Walton, J.D. 1995. Based on the insights of
many career counselors from law schools around the country.
A MUST READ! CSO Reserve (Rm 612). Also, Law General
Collection KF 297 W34. In addition, there is a videotape
covering Kimm Walton’s presentation of her book. Available
at: Law Library A-V Dept. [6/02]

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