Do I need a cover letter?

By Hillary Mantis

These days, major world news is disseminated in 140 character tweets. Important messages are conveyed via texts or Facebook posts. Even email is beginning to seem a little bit lengthy.

So, in this era, is it still necessary to send in a cover letter with your resume?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Much as you would like to just attach your resume when applying for a job, most employers expect a cover letter. Why? Perhaps because in law, which is a document driven profession, employers want to see your writing style. 

Unless the employer indicates otherwise, you should send a cover letter.  A few paragraphs are fine. Generally three paragraphs are enough: One to introduce yourself, give your general background, and mention any connections you might have with the employer; One to match your own experience to the position qualifications; and a closing paragraph to wrap things up.

Although cover letters have not been replaced by texts or tweets (yet!), you can take some strategies from your texting and tweeting experience to make your letters more on point. Employers generally dislike long paragraphs when they are busy reading tons of cover letters, so make every word count. Edit yourself down to the information that is targeted to the specific job listing. Long sentences and vague generalities might make it less likely that you will get an interview.

Make sure your related experience, if you have any, is in the first part of the letter and not buried at the end (just in case the employer does not read the entire letter.) Use verbs when possible, and avoid “legalese”. 

If you don’t have related work experience, you can substitute with realted courses, volunteer work, or student activities. Focus on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you. When your letter is targeted, convincing, and easy-to-read, you are done. You can save it as a pdf. That way the spacing and formatting won’t change if they open it up in a different computer program.

The goal of a cover letter is to land the interview. So, hit the major points, and then stop. Hopefully the employer will be enticed to read your resume, and call you in immediately for an interview.

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Hillary Mantis consults with law students, pre-law students, and lawyers. She is the author of Alternative Careers for Lawyers, and a Director of the Pre-Law Program at Fordham University. For more information, you can reach Hillary at altcareer@aol.com

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