Cover Letter Refresher—7 Quick Tips and 2 Helpful Handouts

PDO has a few tips for you, based on the cover letters we have been reviewing.  Most are good, but there is always room for some improvement.

1. If you didn’t do so before you drafted your cover letter, please review your PDO Handbook section on Cover Letters and the handouts on Cover Letters in Symplicity’s Document Library.  Follow the basic formats suggested in those materials.  Do NOT copy the exact language of the example cover letters in Symplicity.  Those examples are good to show tone, length, and some possible subjects to discuss in a cover letter.  They are not meant to be copied verbatim.

2.  You must do individualized cover letters for each employer, showing you have some understanding of who they are and what they do.

3.  Even if you have had PDO review it, have at least one other person review your letter for grammar and spelling errors. Those can be killers.

4.  Try, just try, to avoid using the word “asset” in your letter.  See if you can re-phrase to talk about specific skills, or how you might try to contribute and try to reduce the use of the word “I” in your letter.

5.  Don’t write your letter in a way that you would never speak, or think that you must use “fancy” wording in a letter.  Use plain language and active voice.  Shorten your sentences if possible.

6.  Don’t use the first and last name in the salutation line.  Ie, do NOT say “Dear Anneliese Booher.”  Just say, “Dear Ms. Booher.”

7.  Some legal employers (from larger local general practice and litigation firms) have suggested that it can be a little dangerous if you get too specific on practice areas you are interested in, especially if it sounds like you are interested in just one, very discrete area (and it isn’t litigation).  This is not to say that you cannot express interest in a discrete area, but be careful not to pigeonhole yourself—especially when you haven’t explored too much in legal practice areas.

Take a look at some of the handouts PDO has prepared as you work on your cover letters: