Cover Letters Can Make Or Break Your Candidacy

We just met with the summer starters last week, and as you know, something we address in that 2Q meeting is spending time working on document preparation. Constructing a resume, selecting a writing sample and drafting a cover letter template are all important pieces to this puzzle; however, the cover letter often presents the greatest challenge to candidates and they may not even realize it. Why do employers ask for cover letters you might ask. Generally, my impression is they ask for the following reasons:

  1. To help narrow the pool. This is the first and primary reason for most, as by spotting typos and other mistakes, or simply by not appreciating the candidate’s writing style, it is an easy way to reduce the number of candidates prior to conducting costly and time intensive interviews;
  2. To identify good writers. You might not think a cover letter is where you showcase your writing chops, but employers have a way of translating the quality of a cover letter to the quality of your written work in practice; and
  3. To identify those with real interest. You’ll hear us say over and over again that you must cater each cover letter to the individual employer, and it is for this reason. They want to see why you want to work for them, and it can’t just be because they have a job opening.

Knowing the ways employers will be evaluating your cover letter should help you to prepare a series of templates to work from when the time comes to apply. Notice I said template(s) plural. This is because unless you are only planning to apply to one employer type in one city, you’ll need variations. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a few sentences common to all your letters; you likely will. But there should be substantial differences from cover letter to cover letter which will require more than one template to work from. Sometimes students try to minimize the number of cover letter templates they need by using sentences such as: “I am open to a number of practice areas and am willing to move and live anywhere.” While this sentence sounds benign, perhaps even positive because it communicates openness and flexibility, employers are usually looking for a candidate(s) with specific qualifications and goals. A better sentence would be: “I grew up in Fort Worth and am excited to return home and build a litigation practice at Allen Banks and Charles, LLP.” The first example has the perceived benefit of not needing tailoring for each employer while the latter demands it, but it is just that level of detail and specificity that will set your cover letter apart and make you a more attractive candidate. Make no mistakes, write with quality and clearly communicate why you want this job with this employer, and your cover letter will do more than not break your candidacy, it might even make it. Connect with Daniel at and/or @BaylorLawDanielon Twitter. Job of the Week: Each week I highlight a job in Symplicity you might be interested in but may have missed. This week’s job is: Summer Clerk AND Associate Attorney (2 positions) at The Harrell Law Firm in Killeen Log in to Symplicity to view this job and apply.

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