Jobs: Use Cover Letters to Tell Compelling Stories of Fit

Vol. 39 No. 3


Erin Binns is assistant director for career planning at Marquette University Law School.

Pair your résumé with a fabulous cover letter and employers will take note. Cover letters, or letters of interest, shoulder important responsibilities in a job search. Cover letters allow you to pique employer interest differently from résumés. Résumés are lists that tersely detail your professional and academic credentials. Cover letters are stories. Letters are where you tell a tale of your desire to work for the target employer and where you introduce how your experiences have readied you for success with the organization.

Think letters don’t matter? Employers say they do. A recruiter with a large law firm shared, “We’ve begun requesting cover letters during fall recruitment season. All of the applicants’ résumés we see are very similar: top of the class, moot court, and law review. The cover letters are where applicants distinguish themselves, making it easier for us to select students for screening interviews.”

Small firms echo a similar emphasis on cover letters. A hiring partner noted, “Writing is an essential tool of our trade. If a student can’t write three solid paragraphs about why they want to work for me and why I should hire them, I doubt their ability to convince a court of anything.”

Standing naked on a résumé, the value of your past experiences may not be obviously relevant to employers. Take advantage of letters to dress your achievements and experiences with a compelling case for your candidacy. Draft letters establishing your interest in and knowledge of the receiving employer and introduce your candidacy in terms that will resonate with the reader.

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