It’s job hunting season for many of you. Whether you’re in law school and prepping for your next summer gig, a 3L looking for a fall fellowship, or a recent grad waiting to for Bar results you need to make sure you showcase yourself as a top candidate.
When I was first starting out, I had never written a cover letter before–I had never had a professional job and all my internships in college had been obtained informally. I didn’t know the importance of a good cover letter or resume. Thankfully, I had a good career counselor who had strongly held beliefs about what cover letters should look like and she quickly whipped me into shape. But I think about the alternative if I hadn’t had that help–in fact, there were some times were I missed the mark. I remember an application I submitted to a government agency that is cringe-inducing. I didn’t understand that I needed to submit a real cover letter and I’m sure whoever reviewed it thought I was an idiot. And maybe you’re reading this and thinking, damn B you are dumb lol. I understand why that would be the case. But you have to remember that ten+ years ago info wasn’t as available. It really was a lot of fumbling in the dark–especially because I wasn’t really aware of the business etiquette and norms expected of me.
That likely is the case for a lot of us–we just aren’t aware of what is expected as normal business practices. Unfortunately, when we fail to meet them, we’re judged as unprofessional-it’s a harsh cycle so the sooner you’re able to show that you understand these norms the better candidate you make yourself.
So what are the key things you should work on to make sure your application is reviewed for its merits? Believe it or not, there are a lot of little things that could end up kicking you out of the competition. It’s easy to think that a lot of these requirements are just stuffy formalities that people don’t take seriously–but hello, law is nothing but stuffy formalities that people take super seriously, so prepare accordingly.
One. Read instructions. Most job postings require multiple things, not just a resume. Some people may think they only need to provide a resume or don’t put a lot of effort in their cover letter. But if someone took the time to write a job positing and ask for certain things, it’s because they want to see them. And just because someone may tell you that they don’t read cover letters or whatever, doesn’t mean the person reviewing applicants feels the same way. Read the instructions of what the job post is asking for and then provide it.
Two. Write a real cover letter. Yes, some hiring managers may not review them, but many do. Consider this your one shot to convince them that you’re the candidate they want. What does a good cover letter do? It explains why your experience qualifies you for the job without simply summarizing your resume. It’s a fine balance and it takes practice. Draft an outline of what you want to convey, look at samples, and edit as much as you can. If you’re still in school, you should absolutely have your career counselor look at your letters and give you suggestions to improve.
Three. Keep it short. Your resume should be a page. Your resume should be a page! I needed to repeat that. If you haven’t had a decade-long professional career then there’s no reason your resume should be more than one page. And tbh, even if you have, it’s unlikely that it’s all super relevant because they were not legal jobs. Try to keep both your resume and letter to one page by being judicious about what you keep. Make sure each position you list is something you can discuss that would make your candidacy stronger. Finally, make sure you edit the resume so that it’s relevant to the job you’re applying (when I was applying for work, I had three separate resumes one for immigration jobs, one for criminal defense, and one for more general legal work).
Four. Make it a PDF. Seriously, please. Make it a pdf. You won’t be knocked out of the running if it’s not, but it’s a pet peeve some hiring partners may have and not converting it to pdf can make you look a little sloppy.
And that’s really the point for these tips–your application should stand out because of your experience, your compelling cover letter, and stellar writing sample; don’t allow quirks or mistakes to detract from that. Don’t risk giving them a reason to say you’re not the one. Instead, focus on creating strong applications to ensure you’re seen as a viable candidate.