5 Benefits of Cover Letters

Guest Blog by Vault.com’s Sarah Kuhn

Including a cover letter is a great way to express your interest in a company and stand out against other candidates. Many candidates choose not to include cover letters, so putting in a little extra work can really go the extra mile for you in the long run.

Of course, the overall idea is to make sure you are writing a proper cover letter: it should be specific to the position you’re applying for, centered on what you’d bring to the table, and not focused on what you’d want out of the company in terms of salary, progression or other demands.

The five points below will explain the benefits of a cover letter and review how writing one can set you apart from the competition.

1) Recruiters will see who put the work in

Just the fact that not everyone includes cover letters with their resume is reason enough to write one. It’s an extra touch that will help you stand out as a candidate. If you can personalize it with the name of your contact or a specific person with hiring power within the company, that will display additional effort and initiative as well. Take the time, because others won’t.

2) Your resume is factual, your cover letter is personal

Use a cover letter to shed light on the details of your resume. A cover letter gives you the opportunity to tell your professional story in a way that’s more personal. For example, you could address a large gap in employment or change in career path. Bring your resume to life by referencing it in a personal letter to your professional contact within a company.

3) Demonstrate your interest

Putting in the additional work of writing a cover letter shows that you value the time of the individual receiving your resume enough to reciprocate by taking the time and effort to write them directly. You’re willing to put action behind entrance into their company. This is the perfect place to express why you want to work for them. Tell the company why you’d be a good fit for the position. Tell them why you want the position.

4) Show you’ve done your research

Use company-specific examples of what made you look to them as an employer, what sparked your interest in them, or any company initiatives that align with your values. Immediately, this approach sets you apart from mass LinkedIn applications, or individuals who have just clicked a button to apply with no care for the company deeper than the position at hand. Employers value loyalty, and this tactic will help set you apart as a candidate that wants a career, rather than to use the position as the next stop in your job hop.

5) Give them a taste of who you are

Depending on your writing style or skill level, you can get really creative with how you let your personality show through a cover letter. But no matter how skilled you are, it’s important to keep your cover letter concise so that the content is impactful. Make sure to sound professional—you can even use borrowed language from the company itself—but ultimately the voice of the cover letter should be your own.

These five benefits will help you as a candidate by providing leverage that an application or resume alone wouldn’t allow. While your resume provides an overview of your skills and experience, the cover letter is your opportunity to express your personality through paper. Give yourself a leg up on competition by supplying your potential employer with a chance to learn more about you.

The Post-Holiday Job Search

Now that the holidays are in your wake, take into consideration that the early part of the year isn’t quite business as usual. Understanding this will let you make appropriate adjustments and use your time wisely. Here are some thoughts to help you get your search back on track:

1. Reestablish your routine. Even the most dedicated job-seeker saw his or her carefully plotted search plan rendered moot around the middle of December. Some, recognizing the inevitability of this, opted to visit family or friends with the idea of starting anew in January. Many, however, made no such conscious choice and found that their search ground to a halt amid unanswered e-mail and un-returned phone calls.

Regardless of which camp you fall into, you may be finding it hard to get back to a routine that seemed largely meaningless for three weeks. But re-imposing discipline will not only ensure that you resume productive behavior but it also will prevent a slow drift into depression. So, start setting the alarm for a reasonable time again. Prepare a written schedule of your weekly activities, including to-do lists. And reclaim the space that you were using as your “office.” These basic tasks will help you recapture the mind-set you need when job-hunting.

2. Be patient. Once you’re back on your routine, you’ll be all fired up. So you’ll find it particularly frustrating to discover that your job-search network isn’t as responsive as it was prior to the holidays. This doesn’t mean that you’ve hit a roadblock. What it does indicate is that all the people that you rely upon for future employment are also laboring to reestablish their own routines, which they also lost control of weeks ago. Even those people who are desperate to hire in early January will still take a week or more to excavate the pile that has accumulated since mid-December. Until they do that, everything else is generally put on hold, including the hiring process — and answering your e-mail and returning your calls.

No matter how much you might like or need the process to move faster, nothing will return to a semblance of normality until mid-January. Remember this so you won’t panic when the world fails immediately to match your renewed enthusiasm.

3. Do other things. Networking may be difficult right now, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be productive. Now is an excellent time to revisit your resume and other marketing materials to ensure that they’re current and reflect you in the best possible light. Think about this not just in relation to your written materials, but to how you present yourself overall. Are you eloquent about your accomplishments, pertinent skill sets, and potential contributions when speaking to perspective employers? If not, now is a good time to work on that so you can make the most of the upcoming opportunities. Practice — on your own or with someone else — until you have your patter down. Are your job-hunting clothes all set? It’s not a bad idea to make sure they still fit after the holidays.

Early January is also an ideal time to do research on industries, companies, and individuals that are crucial for your search. If you think you might be interested in an area where you haven’t previously worked, use this time to investigate it. Or if you have a big meeting later in the month, use this time to bone up on the industry, the company, and the people you’ll be talking to. Make sure that you use this time wisely so you’ll be fully prepared when the working world reengages and turns its thoughts to new hires.

4. Be optimistic. The old year is gone — and so is the fiscal 12-month period. Many companies that didn’t have the budget to hire last year now have the funds to do so. In fact, there’s often pent-up demand owing to the fact that managers who were eager to hire four to five months ago now have the resources they lacked. On top of that, the New Year brings a sense of renewal and optimism to many companies, which makes the first quarter a particularly good time to secure new employment. So even though you’re unemployed, you can feel cautiously optimistic about your professional future.

Land A Law Job by Volunteering

Are you currently in the hunt for a legal position? Consider volunteering. It could be just the ticket to a rewarding career. And it doesn’t even matter so much where you volunteer, as long as you show up with open mind and a good attitude. One study showed that volunteering increases your odds of getting a job by 27 percent.

Volunteering is not about earning brownie points or padding your resume. It’s about doing something for the sake of doing it – and because it’s the right thing to do.

“Volunteering allows you to try on different organizations, roles, issues, etc., without job-hopping,” according to Ideal Careers. “Of course, volunteering isn’t the same as being on staff, but it can expose you to the work of an organization in a deeper way than becoming a member, following it on Twitter, or even conducting an informational interview with an employee.”

And the best part: random acts of volunteerism can open doors to all sorts of new career opportunities. Read More or check out the many volunteer activities with the NC Bar Association. Here are some of them:

  • 4All Statewide Service Day
  • Law-Related Education Partners
  • Lawyer on the Line
  • NC Lawyers For Entrepreneurs Assistance Program (LEAP)
  • NC LEAP Inventor Assistance Program (Patent Law)
  • Veterans Pro Bono Network
  • Wills for Heroes

Lay the Foundation of Your Network Now. Reap the Rewards Later.

Networking is the process of building relationships with professionals and other relevant contacts in your field of interest. While relevant to the job search, engaging in targeted networking has far more benefits. Meeting and connecting with professionals helps you assimilate into the profession, learn about the day-to-day life of various areas of practice, and start to build the relationship skills that will ultimately benefit you in practice.

Some students cringe at the term “networking,” imagining awkward cocktail parties with individuals competing to get noticed and exchange business cards. For other students, the prospect of getting outside the classroom and meeting professionals is invigorating. The good news is that networking can take many forms, and we encourage students to engage in a networking process that plays to your individual strengths.

Networking can mean attending formal events like Inn of Court, bar association receptions, and law firm cocktail parties. But networking often takes place more informally, through one-on-one connections with professionals. This can be a pre-arranged informational interview, conversation over lunch or coffee, or simply a brief exchange following a law school panel or program. What’s important is to recognize that all encounters with professionals have an impact, whether it’s developing your own professional identity and reputation, or providing leads in your job search.

The process of building relationships takes time. In our culture of immediate gratification and instant messaging, it’s important to view networking as a long-term investment. The time you spend speaking with one person rarely leads directly to a job opportunity, and sometimes you have to spend time talking with someone who may not be practicing in your area of interest. But these connections can lead to other connections, which lead to other connections, which ultimately can help you reach your goals.

A Distinguished Career Starts With Networking

Law school contains fertile networking grounds. That’s where law students may have the opportunity to “network” with: other law students; the alumni; adjunct professors, full time faculty members and the administrative staff, guest lecturers, suppliers to the school, parents of other students and even possibly paying and pro bono clients of the faculty practicing law. But there are numerous other places to network to maximize your growing professional network beyond just law school contacts. These include bar association events, CLE meetings, social events, and more. But why is all this networking so important?

Why Network? Why Bother?
The real payoff from being an exceptional networker and developer of sustainable relationships will impact every aspect of your life including your career, your personal life and your family’s lives. If you do a weak job of developing as a skilled networker, you definitely will limit your professional growth. The more robust your network, the more access you have to other special people and their unique contacts, experiences, knowledge. You leverage your life through your clusters of connections.

Keys to Being a Successful Networker
Being great at networking isn’t hard. We are all capable of excelling at doing it. And in today’s digital/social media age, you don’t necessarily have to be an extrovert to be great at it. Maybe the most important factor in determining how good of a networker you are is simply having a strong, sincere interest in learning about and adding value to other people’s lives. You have to get comfortable talking with everybody, everywhere, all the time, whether it’s via email communication, on the phone, or in person. Practice pays off when it comes to developing strong networking abilities.

Where to Start?
Start slow. Try out your networking skills at your next social gathering whether it’s golf outing, group dinner, or party. Get a feel for working the room, thoughtfully introducing yourself, and ultimately conquering the networking jitters. Then move on to bigger events such as law school events, NCBA Table Talk, or area luncheons and CLEs. After the event, seek feedback from your peers and colleagues on what networking skills you need to brush up on and in time, you’ll be ready to tackle a larger, professional networking event. Soon after, you’ll be expanding your network and adding tremendous value to your career.

Can Blogging Boost Your Legal Career?

There’s no better way for a law student to network with leading lawyers, alums and potential employers than blogging (also called ‘blawgging’ when referencing legal blogs). In addition, there’s no better way for a law student to demonstrate their passion for and desire to get into a niche area of the law than blogging.  Writing frequently helps to improve your expression, and the blog format means you learn to explain things in a clearer, more concise manner. Being able to explain something simply and accurately is the best way to be certain you and others understand it.

Then there are the career benefits. Blogging is particularly helpful if you are interested in a specific area of the law where opportunities are few and competition for particular positions can be somewhat intense. When you have no prior experience, all you can do is tell your prospective employer how interested you are in a particular practice area or legal niche. This typically involves saying, “Oh yes, I’m really interested in this area of the law,” and then worrying whether you sounded too enthusiastic or not enthusiastic enough when you said it.

Not sure how to get started on your legal blog? Read up on Sally Kane’s Ten Tips for how to create a successful legal blog. You’ll find advice on how to start, how to pick a topic, and how to engage your readers. Happy blogging!

Balancing Out Your Law School Thanksgiving Break

The Thanksgiving holiday period is always an interesting time for law students. It’s so close to the end of the semester—right before that crucial final exam time. Some students will choose not to travel to visit family to the holiday, concerned about potential distractions from studying, while others feel that a visit home is just what they need at this point in the semester.

Regardless of whether you are going to be with family or on your own for the Thanksgiving holidays, there are things that you can do to stay on track with your law school studies. Like so much about law school, the key to studying over Thanksgiving break (or any other holiday break, for that matter!) is balance.

Here are some tips to making this holiday break a time for both recharging the batteries and getting ready for final exams:

1. Give yourself permission to take a break. Sometimes law students feel so guilty about taking time off that they don’t actually enjoy the holidays. But it’s important to take a break sometimes so that you can recharge your batteries, and your family and friends’ support may be just what you need after working so hard this semester. Whether you are going home to visit family or staying near school for the Thanksgiving break, give yourself some time off so that you come back to your studies refreshed and ready to tackle your finals.

2. Create realistic goals for what you want to accomplish during the holiday period. When thinking out a study plan for Thanksgiving break, it isn’t always sensible to think that you will have the time to work on every single class. So packing every casebook, supplement, notebook, etc. when you travel home for the holidays may not be necessary. When students set unrealistic goals for themselves, they are tempted to give up entirely once they realize that they do not have time to get everything done. If you set realistic goals, you are much more likely to accomplish what you set out to do. Make a plan to tackle 2-3 important study goals during break so you can feel accomplished when completing them. Then, if you have the time and energy to take on more, you will feel even more accomplished for tackling those additional goals.

3. Create a schedule, and stick to it. If you do go home for the holidays, create a realistic schedule for what you want to accomplish—and, most importantly, hold yourself to that schedule. Communicate with family and friends about what you need to accomplish, and find the time and the right distraction-free location to get your work done. Maybe you set aside several hours each morning to work on your outlines, and then visit with family and friends in the afternoons and evenings. Or maybe you commit to studying all day long on certain days so that you take other days off entirely. If you set aside time to study and stick to it, you will be able to enjoy your time off even more because you won’t feel like you have so much hanging over you. If you are not traveling for the holidays though, make sure that you take the same approach—create a study schedule for the break so that you accomplish your study goals. It’s much easier to make progress when you have a plan for what you want to accomplish.

4. Get some sleep. Make sure that you come back from the Thanksgiving break refreshed and ready to tackle the end of the semester. This is the perfect time to make sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and getting exercise so that your brain and your body are ready for those final exams.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Preparing for Your Video Interview

As legal employers search for more efficient and cost-effective ways to recruit for summer and post-graduate positions, use of video interviews is increasingly common. Software use varies from the popular Skype, to Microsoft and WebEx, to even fancier teleconnect modes of direct machine-to-machine dialing.

If you are having a video interview scheduled, or if you have never participated in a video interview, here are some tips to help familiarize yourself with the process:


Practice Makes Perfect

Before starting an interview, make sure that your webcam is working properly and that the sound levels are correct. Set your webcam to record and practice answering questions. Then review the video and see what you think you can be improved. If possible, ask a friend to send you questions so you can practice thinking on the spot. Remember, sound and video can lag due to slow internet connections, so be sure you stop after your responses to allow your interviewer time to respond.

If you are conducting a video interview at your residence, be sure to run a test video call with a friend to check speeds and reliability. Use a dedicated Ethernet cable if possible as wireless connections are slower if you are not close to the wireless router.

Do Your Research

Prepare for a video interview as you would an in-person interview. Be sure to research your interviewer and firm, and consider how you might respond to some common interview questions. Don’t get caught scrambling to think of what you might ask the employer. Prepare a couple of questions ahead of time to show you have taken to the time to fully research the company and the position.

Look at the Camera, Not the Screen

This isn’t the time to be checking yourself out on the screen. Eye contact is critical in an in-person interview, and it helps the video interview feel more effective as well. Pretend your webcam is the person interviewing you. Keep looking at the webcam as you would look at your interviewer.

Dress Appropriately

Plan ahead so you look your best. It’s best to dress professionally from head to toe, both to avoid embarrassing mishaps and to put yourself in the interview mindset. If you are considering dressing “business on top and casual on the bottom,” be careful! When you shift in your seat, you don’t want your pajamas or sweatpants showing! Dress in light colors against a darker background or dark colors against a light background. Give yourself enough space to make hand gestures as these are an important part of communication.

Have Paper, Pens, and Notes Available

It can be useful to jot down a couple of bullet points during your video interview when it’s time for asking the interviewer questions. Likewise, if you are asked to name your three best attributes, you can prevent any awkward silence when you forget your second point by glancing down at your notes. Having a few papers out on your computer desk is fine. Just don’t rely on having 10 pages out in front of you – flipping through multiple pages would be very distracting to interviewers.

Be Yourself

Treat the interview as you would any other professional opportunity, and make the most of it. Act naturally and answer the questions with as much enthusiasm as you would face-to-face. Finally, don’t forget to smile! Employers appreciate a warm and genuine conversation just as they would in person.

How to Set Up Effective Networking Meetings

It’s fall and you’re getting back in touch with your classmates and friends, finding out what they did over the summer, and asking for advice about classes, professors, and even where great new restaurants are located near campus. Networking operates along the same principles. You’re asking friends, acquaintances, and referrals about career paths, people they know, and job search strategies. It’s really just a conversation. There’s nothing all that complicated or scary about it.

In addition to checking job listings in Symplicity and other locations, you probably want to start setting up networking meetings. Our office is a good place to get tips. The school alumni directory, located in the new Wake Network, is a great place to start. You can also talk to your career advisor about locating a specific alumni in a field and geographic area of interest. With alumni, you both have a connection to the same school, which is a good ice-breaker. Professors can also be a good source of information.

Student memberships in professional associations are another way to find people to network with – since you are a member of the same organization, they have a built in connection to you. LinkedIn groups are also helpful. Of course, friends, family, people you know through sports, campus activities, and other schools you have attended, are another good place to start.

Now that you have some un-intimidating ways to find people, what should you do next? You can send a brief, friendly email asking to chat with them about their career, and mentioning your connection to them. If you want, attach your resume. The email should be more conversational than job search directed at this point.

Next, put together a list of questions for networking contacts. Questions about their own career path are a good place to start. You know that everyone likes to talk about themselves, right? Questions about areas that are in demand, job web sites and professional organizations related to what they do, and predictions about future growth areas and are also good. You can show them your resume, and ask for suggestions to improve it. Questions about referrals to others they know in the industry are fine (but I would wait until the end of the networking meeting to ask for other names). Hold your first networking meeting with someone you know, rather than your dream employer, so you can practice, and work out the kinks.

Plan to conclude networking meetings by asking your contacts if it’s okay for you to follow up with them. Follow up is the key. It takes the pressure off them having to feel they have to come up with an available job for you, but leaves the door open to remembering you when they do hear of an opening.

Once you get into the mindset that networking is a conversation and not a high pressure job interview, it’s a great way to meet people. There are many career studies that indicate it’s the best way to find a job. Need advice on getting a networking plan in place? Make an appointment with your career advisor today.

Why Attend the Equal Justice Works Conference & Career Fair?

For those students interested in pursuing a career in public interest law, now is the perfect time to mark your calendars and make plans to attend the annual Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair. The career fair will be held this year in Arlington, Virginia, from October 28 to Saturday, October 29.

This event is the largest national public interest legal career fair in the country and provides students with the unique opportunity to network with a diverse grouping of public interest employers and organizations in one location over the course of just two days. The career fair typically draws more than 160 public interest employers from many states, including California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, and Texas. The employers conduct actual interviews for internships and full-time jobs and meet with students in informal “table talk” discussions of public interest legal opportunities with their organizations. The conference also includes opportunities for networking, mock interviews, and resume review with practicing attorneys and workshops on specific public interest careers.

The cost of registration for the conference is only $25.00 and registration information is available.  A list of employers participating in this year’s conference is also available. Some notable attending employers include:

  • Animal Legal Defense Fund – Cotati, CA
  • Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, PA
  • Disability Rights Advocates – New York, NY
  • District Attorney’s Office of Charlotte, NC
  • Federal Trade Commission – Washington, DC
  • Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
  • U.S. Senate Office of the Legislative Counsel

Registration for the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair ends on September 14, 2016 so be sure you register early! To stay abreast of other Equal Justice events and public interest opportunities, students should also consider joining the Equal Justice Works JDs for Justice Network or following Equal Justice Works on Twitter.