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1 First Impressions: Writing Impressive Cover Letters Lisa M. Patterson Associate Dean for Career Services 608 O’Brian Hall 716-645-2056

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Presentation on theme: "1 First Impressions: Writing Impressive Cover Letters Lisa M. Patterson Associate Dean for Career Services 608 O’Brian Hall 716-645-2056"— Presentation transcript:

1 1 First Impressions: Writing Impressive Cover Letters Lisa M. Patterson Associate Dean for Career Services 608 O’Brian Hall

2 2 What is a Cover Letter? A Business Letter –use formal language, format Your first contact with a potential employer –“Out of the Blue” Answers basic questions about you as a candidate for the job –Who, What, Where, When, Why, How

3 3 Goals of a Cover Letter To clearly express your interests to an employer. To state how your skills specifically meet the employer's needs. To get the employer to want to read further, read your resume, and ask you for an interview. THE COVER LETTER DOES NOT GET YOU THE JOB, ONLY THE INTERVIEW!

4 4 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 bragging!

5 5 Cover Letter Format: General Use formal business letter formatting Stay to one page Use bond paper that matches your resume Either left-justified or indented paragraphs are acceptable Date should line up with closing Look up titles if unsure Use formal, but not convoluted language ALWAYS sign your letter Triple-check for typos Have someone else look it over

6 6 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 letter.”

7 7 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.)

8 8 Cover Letter Format: Headings 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

9 9 Cover Letter Format: Headings 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,”— incorrect Be sure to use proper prefix: Dr., Judge, Justice, Reverend, etc.

10 10 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.

11 11 Cover Letter Format: Closing 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.

12 12 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 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) Your Name ## Street City, St Zip Phone Sample Cover Letter

13 13 Cover Letter Format Questions?

14 14 Types of Cover Letters Type A: Responding to Specific Job Posting Type B: Networking/Referral Type C: “Cold” Letters

15 15 Type A: Specific Job Posting Most direct, clearest Your letter is expected, will be recognized

16 16 Type A: Specific Job Posting 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.”

17 17 Type A: Specific Job Posting 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”

18 18 Type A: Specific Job Posting 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 someone

19 19 Type A: Specific Job Posting 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 substitute.” –“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.”

20 20 Type A: Specific Job Posting 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.”

21 21 Type A: Specific Job Posting 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 classes.” “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.”

22 22 Type A: Specific Job Posting 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.”

23 23 Type A: Specific Job Posting 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 consideration.”

24 24 Type A: Specific Job Posting Questions?

25 25 Type B: Networking/Referral Cover Letter Identifies a personal link to the reader –Mutual friend/acquaintance –Alumnus of your school –Met before in another context Goal: AIR –Advice, Information, Referrals Result: Informational Interview

26 26 Type B: Networking/Referral Cover Letter First Paragraph: IMMEDIATELY identify your connection! 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.

27 27 Type B: Networking/Referral 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.”

28 28 Type B: Networking/Referral Cover Letter Second Paragraph: What else will they be wondering (be SENSITIVE)? –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 sympathy

29 29 Type B: Networking/Referral Cover Letter Second Paragraph: Goal: Develop the connection between you and the reader, so they want to meet you 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 fascinating.” –“Your firm, Trigger, Silver & Ed, is nationally renowned for its excellence in Equine Law.”

30 30 Type B: Networking/Referral Cover Letter Last Paragraph: The Call to Action: What happens now? 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 greatly.”

31 31 Type B: Networking/Referral 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.”

32 32 Type B: Networking/Referral 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.”

33 33 Type B: Networking/Referral Cover Letter Questions?

34 34 Type C: “Cold” Letter COMPLETELY Out of the Blue: No Connection Usually a result of research in a directory ALWAYS address to a PERSON –Never “To whom it may concern” –ABSOLUTELY never “Dear Sir” Pick an attorney to contact Call ahead to get a name

35 35 Type C: “Cold” Letter BEFORE YOU START, decide what you want Remember STRATEGY: Ask for what you can get Is this a direct application letter or networking? –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 interview.

36 36 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 available” 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.”

37 37 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 Chicago.” –“I found your firm on a list of premier tax law specialists published by American Jurist.”

38 38 Type C: “Cold” Letter Second/Last Paragraphs: Essentially the same as the networking/referral letters

39 39 Type C: “Cold” Letter Questions?

40 40 Final Cover Letter Checklist After writing your letter, use this CAN DO attitude to evaluate your work! C Completeness Have you given enough info? A Accuracy Check grammar, spelling, titles, etc. N Neatness Check formatting, font, etc. D Directness Is the message clear? Is the language simple? O Organized Does your letter flow?

41 41 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, 5 th edition, 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, 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 Y & 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 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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