How do I write unique cover letters?
November 30, 2011 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Help me write eyecatching cover letters.

I'm in the process of looking for a job on the other side of the country. Basically, I moved across country to attend grad school, then stayed here for law school. I'm almost done with law school and desperately want to move back to my home state.

I go to a school that has a good local reputation (in neighboring states), but it's not really well known at all in my home state. I have excellent grades and (I've been told) an impressive resume (whatever that means--not much, probably, since I can't seem to find a job).

Because my school doesn't have that many connections in my home state, I'm resorting to cold emailing firms that I'd like to apply to. How do I write cover letters (cover emails, really) that will catch people's attention? What kinds of things would prevent my email from getting deleted right away?

Is there a creative way to begin my emails? I'm thinking that the standard
"Dear X,
I'm a student a Y university, and I'm writing to inquire about career opportunities at your firm"
would probably get deleted right away.
posted by raynax to Work & Money (10 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry if this doesn't answer your question directly, but rather than cold-emailing cover letters (that honestly will probably get deleted regardless of quality), why not cold-email non-hr people at the firm for some information interviews? Offer to by them coffee or lunch to chat about what it's like working at the firm to build up your network in the state you want to work in. Sure, you'll get a lot of non-replies, but it won't be any worse than just cold-emailing CVs.
posted by reformedjerk at 7:54 AM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

Are these large firms or small firms? Most firms of any size have a section on their website devoted to HR/Careers. Make sure you email the right person from that group. I don't think they'll throw away your letter; likely they'll pass your resume along if it is impressive.

If you know what kind of law you want to practice, then I would do what reformedjerk says about people in the firm who do what you want to do. I.E. if you want to practice environmental law, figure out who the person is at the firm who runs that kind of department.

If you're looking at smaller firms, maybe try the same thing with a mid-level associate who could help you figure out what the climate is like?

good luck - it's a tough market.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:08 AM on November 30, 2011

I agree with the above--sending off resumes cold is not a great approach. I'd definitely hit people up hard--but strategically--for informational interviews during your holiday break and network like a crazy person. Do you have a practice area you want to get into?

Also, would it be possible to get a job at a firm in your current city that has an office in your home state, with an eye towards transferring at some later date? It might be easier to capitalize on your credentials locally, and then leverage your position in the firm to get to another office. I realize that if you're in NJ and trying to get back to Iowa, you're probably not going to have much luck--but if you're in Chicago and want to get back to Palo Alto, you could try to get a job, e.g., with Skadden, which has offices in both locations.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:14 AM on November 30, 2011

Letters are eye-catching if there's a connection between the reader and the writer. Networking is the best way to do it by far, "Dear so-and-so, your old law school buddy Sue R. Pantzoff recommended that I contact you..." but if you're out of options, perhaps go for the hometown advantage: "Dear so-and-so, after earning my graduate degree and my JD in New York, I'm looking forward to returning home to New Mexico to practice law".
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:48 AM on November 30, 2011

Many years ago (luckily the last time I had to look for work), I used many of the principles in this book:

Throw Away Your Resume
Updated to meet the demands of the job market as we enter the 21st century, this long-time favorite among career advice books shows how to launch a personalized job campaign. It also tells how to overcome the limitations of ordinary resumes, which usually say too little about what a job-seeker really has to offer.

It worked for me. I think in an extremely competitive environment, where, as you point out, it's hard to even get a foot in the door, some of the outside-the-box techniques in the book could work for you.

Once I sent an 'interview' with my self - in print. Did it up like the magazine interviews you see from time to time. Had some humor too. It worked.

Best of luck!
posted by ecorrocio at 9:10 AM on November 30, 2011

The quickest way to make connections to real lawyers in your home state is to join the local bar association. Your undergraduate institution in your home state is another excellent source for contacts. I would talk to your law school placement office, too, which may have some contacts of their own to suggest. Cover letters should be directed to people you've actually met, and crafted to appeal to them personally. Speaking as a lawyer, you should be careful to write in active voice, crisply and pleasantly, without any typographical or grammatical errors. Try to avoid cliches too.

The legal market seems to be slowly improving, but not enough to make a mass mailing approach very productive. Try to be more targeted and your contacts should yield more results.
posted by bearwife at 11:16 AM on November 30, 2011

Yes, go through a contact if at all possible rather than cold-emailing.

Definitely emphasize your personal connections to your home state in your cover letter and initial email. Firms will want to know you will stick around, and tend to be suspicious of people who are relocating for no apparent reason.

Also, do some research on the firm (not just on the firm's website -- check with your law school career office, Google the firm, find out what the firm's reputation is) to learn what practice areas are important at that firm, and tailor your cover letter/email to show your background and interest in those areas.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:30 AM on November 30, 2011

I agree with the common sentiments here; in my view, the purpose of a cover letter is not to stand out or get noticed. Other things do that for you, either your particular expertise, personal connections, shared past employer, shared alma mater, etc. While sometimes these things end up in cover letters, they're best expressed other ways first (resume, phone call to personal friend, etc.). When hiring, I see cover letters as a way to weed out people that can't string sentences together, and not much more.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:32 PM on November 30, 2011

There is lots of good advice here.
posted by Laura_J at 1:53 PM on November 30, 2011

I just finished a search/hire. You have to make sure you read the opening and give them what they ask for. We asked for resume and cover letter, and got quite a few resumes without the cover letter. If they ask for references, supply them. If they ask for salary requirements, punt.

There were some well-done cover letters that showed that the candidate had read the job posting and job description thoroughly, and took the time to address their specific qualifications in their letter. That got them a 2nd look, and an extra point on assessment. Also, if it's easy to assess the candidate for meeting the requirements, the reviewer is less likely to miss pertinent information.

Objective in the resume is pretty useless, but the cover letter can say "I moved to Town because of the beautiful natural environment. As I research law firms here in Town, I've identified Murky, Dark and Murky as a leader in environmental law." etc. It's okay to have a bunch of stock sentences to use in letters, but be careful of being too canned, and avoid phrases that have been used to death. I'm a team player, self-motivated, with a solid track record of achievement. just like the last 16 cover letters you read.
posted by theora55 at 3:08 PM on November 30, 2011

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