A first-class cover letter requires laser-like focus on how an applicant’s skills might mesh with the needs of a prospective employer. It is the first writing sample and the first chance to create a bad impression.
Sadly, career services and recruitment professionals note that a significant number of students do not know what a business letter should look like, thus providing them with an instant “clueless loser” aura which can be tough to shed. Select from one of the two formats at the bottom of this post, and you will be correct.
NOTES ON EMAIL APPLICATIONS
When applying by email, make sure that the subject line identifies you (Jane Smith’s Application for Summer Fellowship), and that your message has a useful signature block (name, phone, law school if you are a student). In the email body, thank the person for considering your application, and list the attachments.
Why am I writing a cover letter when I’m sending a resume by email?
Unless an employer overtly refuses to accept cover letters, you are foolish to miss this opportunity to make a series of connections that may make the difference between being on the interview list or in the reject pile. Are you from the employer’s city? What do you know about the employer and how did you learn it? (If you have gleaned everything from the website, leave this one alone.) Why are you interested in a specific practice area? (Don’t fudge this. If you know nothing about securities litigation, waxing eloquent about it will come back to bite you.)
Send every document as a pdf.
Business letter formatting rules are like ancient secret signs that mark a person as knowledgeable, sophisticated and (one hopes), trustworthy. Not knowing or deliberately ignoring the rules allows a prospective employer to question your knowledge and your judgement. Learn the rules or ignore them at your peril.
Battles are raging over the use of “Dear” when writing to a person unknown to you. Relax. This is part of the Secret Code of Business Correspondence. Substituting “Mr. Smith:” for “Dear Mr. Smith:” may make you comfortable, but it may make you look unsophisticated and ignorant.
Always use a colon (:) after “Smith.” When you go to work, you will ask your secretary and then follow your employer’s standard.
CORRECT SALUTATION: Get this right
You may know the full name of the person to whom you are writing (John Smith, Esq.,). One of the Secret Rules of Business Correspondence is that the salutation looks like this:
Dear Mr. Smith: (this is correct)
These are not correct: