7 Things Law Students Should Do Over Winter Break

After a semester unlike any other, it’s no stretch to say that law students around the country are happily anticipating Thanksgiving & winter break. Exams and what may have been the toughest few months of your life are over…and that’s something to celebrate!

This year you have an extended winter break, which should give you plenty of time to prepare for next semester and the months ahead. By taking advantage of these precious weeks away from academic pressures, you’ll be putting yourself in the best position possible to hit the ground running in January and be ready for a successful summer or postgraduate job search.

1. Update your résumé

You have a whole semester of new experiences under your belt; make sure your law school résumé reflects that. Add any internship, externship, clinic, or other practical experience you gained over the semester. Volunteer/pro bono activities and research projects count too! Also add any accolades you earned or student activities you participated in—and don’t forget to note a leadership role if you had one.

Not sure what to include in your résumé or how to format it? Don’t be afraid to ask your career advisor; they can share resources and provide personalized résumé and cover letter review. (Hint: There are plenty of résumé & cover letter examples in the Career Planning Guide!)

2. Update your LinkedIn profile

Your LinkedIn profile is likely one of the first pages potential employers will see when they search for you online—and they will search for you. So use your newly updated résumé (see tip #1) to make sure your profile is up-to-date.

But you don’t want to just rehash your résumé on your LinkedIn profile; you should follow LinkedIn-specific best practices too: join groups related to your career interests; connect with new classmates, friends, professors, colleagues, and legal professionals you’ve met (virtually!) over the semester; and include a LinkedIn summary that sets you apart among law students.

3. Apply to jobs

Once your résumé and LinkedIn page are in great shape, you can use your winter break to further your job search. Block off a few afternoons to research companies and positions, work on cover letters, and submit applications to jobs or legal internships.

Check Symplicity jobs often, as well as other nationwide & statewide job search web sites. Target firms and organizations in your geographic area and legal field of interest.

4. Set up an informational interview

Informational interviews are a critical tool in your job search toolbox. And they don’t need to feel intimidating. 80% of our graduates report finding jobs through networking and referrals, and it’s usually an informational interview that kicked off the web of connections. You don’t need to have family members or other connections in the profession. Informational interviews are how you build connections – by finding people in the profession who you want to emulate, and asking them how they got there.

Spend some time this winter break researching alumni or other attorneys in your practice area and city of choice. Use the Wake Network to find law school alumni, or utilize the LinkedIn Alumni feature — a great place to identify and establish connections with fellow graduates from Wake Forest Law or from your undergrad school who are practicing law. If you are considering clerkships, review our list of Wake Forest Law & Faculty Law Clerks going back to 1990.

Once you have a list of folks you’d like to connect with, send them a short, respectful email to see if you can set up a virtual informational interview over the break.

5. Reconnect with old contacts and establish new ones

The holidays are a great time to reconnect with former employers and colleagues, as well as friends and family, in order to wish them well and update them on your academic and career progress.

Use virtual holiday parties or virtual open houses to catch up with old friends, relatives, and neighbors, and share your recent experiences, interests, and goals. You never know who has valuable contacts that could lead to internship or job opportunities.

For anyone you might not see in person, like an old boss, send a holiday card with season’s greetings and a brief update on what you’ve been up to in law school.

6. Reflect and plan ahead

Curl up with a cup of cocoa and really think about last semester: What went well? What went poorly? What do you wish you had done differently? What opportunities did you learn about that you’re excited to pounce on next semester? The end of the year is a great time for reflection, and that’s as true for law students as anyone.

Think about your goals for the future and steps you need to achieve them too. Mark important dates on your calendar, like Spring recruiting deadlines and virtual OCPD events you don’t want to miss. Think about ways to strengthen your time management techniques. Reach out to a friend to be your “accountability buddy” so you can help each other stay on track with studying or even maintaining healthy habits.

It’s never too late to make plans, set goals, and develop good habits.

7. Relax

Last but hardly least, winter break is your chance to catch up on a little rest and relaxation so that you feel rejuvenated upon your return to the Spring semester. Sleep in, catch up on your favorite TV shows, do some non-law school related reading, and spend quality time with your family and friends.

Best of luck and have a happy, productive, and safe winter break!

Career Counselors’ Corner: Elizabeth Goodwin

eliz_smallWhy did you decide to work in career services? 

The job of employer outreach seemed like it was a good fit for my personality— I get a lot of fulfillment from meeting new people, working on behalf of my law school, and helping students. I didn’t understand how to best use all the career development tools available to me when I was a student, and didn’t really develop expertise in networking until well after I graduated. It feels good to pass that knowledge on now and help demystify the job search for students.  I love making connections for them.

I also thought that my strengths in organizing and networking would benefit the office and the school. I graduated in 2008 from Wake Forest Law, at the start of the Great Recession. My career advisor was very helpful, but I wish that I could have gone to her and said “I want to do estate planning in Charlotte” and that she would have been able to give me names of a few alums in that practice and geographic area who had already agreed to help students. Part of my job now is to help find those “warm” lawyer contacts, and to educate them on how they can best interact with our students and grads. They usually can’t provide a job off the bat, but they can help connect students with others in the practice area, introduce them around to the local bar, and send any leads on jobs their way.

Having been here several years, I’m consistently impressed with the level of commitment and professionalism I see from my colleagues towards our students— we all truly want to do more than just help them land a job. We want to help them get on the path to a fulfilling career.

What advice do you wish you had received in law school?

Don’t treat law school like three more years of college. Approach it as an investment in your professional development, not solely as an academic exercise. That means do more than study. Grades are important, but so is learning how to network and applying those skills to build a professional network that will connect you with potential employers.

Work with intention towards a fulfilling legal career, and focus beyond the next essay or exam. Work just as hard to get that 2L summer job as you are working at writing that brief for LAWR.  Also, work to build a brand and stand out from the crowd.

How do you define success in your current position? 

As a counselor: I feel successful when the advice and guidance I give a student finally *clicks* and they feel like they are making progress in their job search and understand how all the methods of looking for a job work together.

As the employer relations coordinator: When I develop a relationship with an attorney who ends up engaging with the school or one or more of our students in a meaningful way.

What’s your greatest weakness? 

I’m very risk averse, which has its benefits for sure, but sometimes risk is necessary for growth.

Also—this a horrible interview answer— but if I’m being honest, I’m pretty sure my internal clock is permanently set to five minutes behind everyone else’s (so I’m usually late).

What do you do when you are not in the office? 

I joke that I am a professional volunteer.  I used to work on political campaigns full time, so now I volunteer my political expertise to candidates I believe in during my spare time. I also serve on several community boards in Charlotte, where I live. I’m on the board of Generation Nation, a nonprofit that works to educate K-12 students on civic engagement.  I’m the vice chair of the board of Carolina Voices, a community choral organization, and am actively engaged with our Arts and Science Council.

I’m also a movie buff, love to read, and have gotten caught up in the true crime fad we seem to be experiencing now— so I enjoy all the documentaries and podcasts like Making a Murderer, Staircase, and Serial.

What song would you sing at Karaoke? 

I usually end up singing Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” because I can’t think of anything else and it is pretty much the same three or four notes, so it’s hard to mess up. I’ve also been known to belt out some Carly Simon, Miranda Lambert or Britney. Oh and Wagon Wheel — either the OCMS or Darius Rucker versions.

Career Counselors’ Corner: Jordan Lee

Photo of Jordan Lee

Why did you decide to work in career services?

As much as I loved litigation, I also love playing music. I started picking up more and more gigs, and I ran out of time. I couldn’t bill first or second year associate hours while also rehearsing, recording, writing, and performing. So I had to make some really tough decisions. I needed a more stable work schedule, but I also wanted to do something I was passionate about. And I still wanted one foot in the legal field. Back in 2009 I had taught high school for a few years and loved every second of it. So, education, the law, and more stable work hours? Wake Law was the right fit. I hope I can serve as an example for how versatile a law degree can be. Despite competing interests, I was able to find truly meaningful work that I wouldn’t trade.

What advice do you wish you had received in law school?

To be fair, I got a lot of great advice. I had incredible mentors including our very own Alvita Barrow, my trial coach Mark Boynton, Professor Wilson Parker, and Professor Mark Rabil. I’d highly recommend using the faculty and staff here. It’s such a tight community. Take advantage of the professors’ accessibility.

Dean Scott wrote that she wishes someone had told her to pursue work she really enjoyed. The advice I wish I had received is similar. I wish someone had told me to choose to live and work in the geographical location I really wanted. I wanted to stay in North Carolina upon graduation, but I tricked myself into thinking I wouldn’t miss it that much, so I moved home to Texas. Don’t get me wrong, I love Texas. I’m still licensed there; I’m from there; my family is there; but I missed North Carolina in a way I can only describe as love sick. (It’s funny, but Mark Rabil actually told me to trust my heart and even pointed me toward part time work in North Carolina so I could stay after graduation. So the advice was given; I just didn’t listen.) The point is this: go where you want to go. Live where you want to live. The exception is if a specific practice area requires a certain geography. In that case, there are decisions to be made. Aren’t there always?

What’s the best career-related advice you ever received?

I can’t remember where it came from, but I want to say Butchie (my dad) told me this once: working hard and keeping your head down is a fantastic way to get overlooked. Although I may have forgotten the source, I have never forgotten the point. This idea that your employer will reward you so long as you stay quiet and grind it out is at best misinterpreted and at worst simply not true in the 21st century.

It’s imperative to keep your employer apprised of the work you do and the value you provide. For example, if I stayed at the office until 9:00 pm, then I sent my supervising attorney an email (about anything) at 8:45 pm just so he knew I was still there. If I had an idea regarding how to deal with a difficult issue, I shared it with him instead of filing it away in an in office memo. Another example, if a client were to send me a small gift or thank you card, I would, as humbly as possible, tell my boss something like this: “Thanks for helping me with Mrs. Client’s case. Mrs. Client was happy with the service the firm provided. In fact, she left a thank you note for me at the front desk today. It was nice to know she thought we did alright.”

Some might argue and say that your billables will do the talking, but that isn’t necessarily true. First, flat rates are becoming more popular. Second, clients (especially insurance companies) are allowing the attorney to bill for fewer and fewer tasks. And third, as a new associate, billing is an art that takes time to learn. In the beginning, your bills likely won’t reflect the effort you’ve put in.

Keep in mind, you’re not bragging or complaining. Think of it as making a record. You’re making a record of your achievements and accomplishments so they’re not lost amidst the chaotic and fast moving nature of a law firm.

What’s your greatest weakness?

I tend to obsess on things. Sometimes I get hold of an idea or a problem, and I can’t let go. I was once drafting a brief requesting summary judgment, and the law was kind of circular. I couldn’t let go that there was not a firm starting to place to build an argument. In an attempt to pin down this circular argument, I wound up writing in circles. Before I knew it, I’d burned up the ten hours the client had allotted to spend on the brief. Sometimes done is better than perfect–especially in the law when there are deadlines to consider.

What do you do when you’re not in the office?

My wife and I have three dogs that keep us pretty busy and miserable. We also play live music. Our duo is called the Couldn’t Be Happiers, and we play a blend of Americana, Folk, and Country. We gig out about twice a weekend, and if we’re not performing then we’re rehearsing or recording in the studio.

If you could be reborn as any musician, who would it be?

Probably Guy Clark. He’s arguably the greatest songwriter of the 20th century. He lived a life of food, love, and music. Doesn’t get any better.

Career Counselors’ Corner: Alison Ashe-Card

Photo of counselor Alison Ashe-CardWhy did you decide to work in career services? 

I come from a family of educators, so I knew that if I wasn’t practicing law that I likely would have been an educator. When I decided to take a step back from the practice of law, I actively sought out positions in academia. The position in OCPD seemed like a natural fit to combine my passion for helping others and my strategic thinking skills to assist students with creating a meaningful and fulfilling career path.

What advice do you wish you had received in law school? 

I went into law school knowing exactly what I wanted to do, public interest law. And that is exactly what I did coming out of law school. I wish someone had encouraged me to explore other areas of law outside of the required classes to expand my horizons. I took Federal Income Tax the second semester of my 2L year and really enjoyed the class. I took another tax class my 3L year, but I wish that I had been encouraged to explore more of the business side of law because I may have found that I liked it more than I thought. In fact, during my 14 years in big law, I found that I enjoyed business/corporate law more than I ever thought. I came to realize that I loved being a lawyer and simply found the practice of law engaging. 

How do you define “success” in your current position? 

There’s an old saying often attributed to Confucius that says, “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” Often students come to our office asking for lists of alumni and/or lists of employers in a certain city or practice area. It is very easy to give a student a list; however this is equivalent to giving the student a fish. I believe that my role as a career counselor is to teach that student how to fish so that I am preparing them for life beyond law school. Thus, I will often take the time to show students how they can develop their own lists by utilizing the various resources that they have available to them through martindale.com, Wake Network, LinkedIn, etc. I also realize that strategic referrals to individuals play an important role in our students’ success. 

Tell us something about you that’s not on your resume. 

When I worked in legal services in Chicago, I was a member of a labor union. Two months prior to leaving my position to move to North Carolina, the union went on strike when contract negotiations reached an impasse. We knew that a strike was likely and in the months leading up to the end of our contract term, we were encouraged to set our court dates toward the end of the month following the contract expiration date. Local judges and opposing counsel were aware of the situation and accommodated our requests. So, for approximately three weeks in April 1997 when it did in fact snow in April as the Prince song says, I walked the picket line in downtown Chicago. Not many attorneys can say that they have had this extraordinary experience. 

What was the last book that you read? 

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, by Anthony Ray Hinton. In 1985, Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. He knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free. But with no money and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in agonizing silence—full of despair and anger toward all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon—transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015. And it wasn’t new forensic technology that ultimately exonerated him. It was the perseverance of a handful of men and women willing to turn a mirror on the system itself. This book should be required reading for all law students.

Favorite vacation spots? 

Aruba, Dominican Republic and Tybee Island, GA 

Favorite family recipe? 

I love to cook and I am constantly looking for new recipes, so it’s hard to pick one favorite recipe! My Pinterest account is full of recipes! Most recently, I have been utilizing my crockpot quite a bit and the following recipe has become a family favorite:

Slow Cooker Salsa Verde Honey Lime Chicken Tacos

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup mild salsa verde (I use Herdez in the jar)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  1. Rub chicken breasts with olive oil and place in the bottom of your slow cooker. Add all of the remaining Slow Cooker ingredients except for the hot sauce. Cook on high for 2-4 hours or on low for 6-7 hours or until chicken is tender enough to shred.
  2. Remove chicken to a cutting board, and let rest 5 minutes before shredding (there will be a lot of liquid remaining). Return shredded chicken and let cook on low for an additional 20-30 minutes to absorb some of the liquid/juices. Drain excess liquid before serving or use tongs to remove shredded chicken.
  3. Stuff taco shells with chicken and top with desired taco toppings.

Career Counselors’ Corner: Alvita Barrow

Photo of counselor Alvita BarrowWhat’s your favorite part of being in OCPD? 

I enjoy most the opportunity to develop relationships with the students – to watch them arrive, whether they think they know what they want to do or have no clue, and then watch them develop during their time here as they get a clearer sense of who they are and the things that are important to them.

What advice do you wish you had received in law school?

I wish someone had advised me to make the effort to reach out and talk more with my professors outside of the classroom.  Once during my 3L year, I ran into one of my favorite professors in the grocery store which led to a meeting later over lunch. I realized then how much time I had wasted in not trying to get to know some of the professors outside of class.

What’s the best career-related advice you ever received?

Many years ago, as I profusely apologized to an employer and explained my reasons for turning down a job offer, the employer stopped me and told me not to apologize. She reminded me that just as they had been checking me out, I had every right to check them out also. It is advice that has saved me time and effort in even applying for certain positions that I knew, upon reflection, would not be a good fit for me.

What’s your greatest weakness?

I love storytelling, which can be both a big weakness and a strength, particularly in a position such as mine where listening is critical. Before I dive in and share a story that I think is relevant or might be helpful to a particular student with whom I am meeting, I have to remind myself that storytelling can lead to too much talking and that I need first to seek to listen and understand.

Why did you decide to work in career services?

I served as managing director of the clinic at Catholic’s law school for about 18 years and during that time, I always enjoyed talking with the students who would seek me out for career advice. Over time, I came to enjoy those conversations more than many of the other tasks that necessarily consumed my day. When I learned of the opportunity here at Wake Forest, the timing and the fit seemed right.

Tell us something about you that’s not on your resume.

Looking at my resume, which includes time spent in excess of 30 years in New York and Washington, DC, it would surprise many people that I actually was born and grew up in a very small town in the northeastern part of North Carolina. When I left the state to attend law school, I harbored an interest and expectation that I would return to North Carolina. I just had no idea that my eventual return would be more than 30 years later and that it would be here in Winston-Salem.

What do you do when you’re not in the office?

In some respects, I still consider myself a newcomer to the area and so I like exploring different area walking trails, coffee shops, and antique and consignment shops. My husband, who was born in Panama, likes to remind me that he was able to walk to the ocean when he was growing up and so we always have to include periodic trips to the beach, even if it’s just for the day. Also, and most importantly, we have twin daughters who live in Arlington, Virginia, and we travel up to the area regularly to visit with them.

What celebrity would you like to meet at Starbucks for a cup of coffee?

Even with my appreciation for a good cup of coffee from Starbucks, let’s plan the meeting at Krankies instead – that way, we are in Winston, able to enjoy a great cup of coffee, without rushing or being interrupted by a legion of other people potentially vying for a selfie or quick handshake. Now, as for the celebrity, I would say Bill Gates. I am not sure if he considers himself a celebrity, but I do know that he is a person of great influence and that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does some great work. I would love to share with him a few thoughts about how the Foundation can expand the ways it works to make a difference in people’s lives, especially in many of the poor and struggling areas of this country.

Career Counselors’ Corner: Dean Francie Scott

Get to know your career office! In this seriesPhoto of Assistant Dean Scott, we pose some of our favorite interview questions to each of the members of the Office of Career & Professional Development, as well as some general queries to learn more about their lives and interests. First up, Dean Francie Scott.

What’s your favorite part of being Dean?

I love being the visionary for an organization. I sort of consider the OCPD an independent entity within the law school – we’re part of the law school’s educational mission, but we also work to accomplish an individual mission, which is to ensure each student gains the professional skills, tools, and resources they need to pursue their chosen career paths. As the leader of the OCPD, I get to work with the team to develop our priorities, set goals, and evaluate all we’re doing to accomplish our mission. While there’s a certainty to day-to-day activities, there’s plenty of room for creativity and innovation in how we’re delivering our message and getting things done. That’s really exciting and fun for me.

What advice do you wish you had received in law school?

I wish someone had convinced me to pursue work I really enjoyed. Right out of law school, I took a high-paying job with great prestige, working with some really smart people, but I was completely unfulfilled by the day-to-day work. Looking back, though, I don’t regret the path I took. There were a lot of outside factors that made it the right choice at the time, and it’s hard to say it was the wrong choice, because I’m very happy with where I ended up.

What’s your greatest weakness?

I can be a little thin-skinned. I tend to take criticism personally, even though I try to let it roll off my back. I think it’s because I’m really passionate about my work and about having an impact, so it’s hard on me when I find that something hasn’t worked out how I intended.

Why did you decide to work in career services?

I really love working with people. I’m fascinated by what makes people tick, what brought them to a particular place in their lives, what motivates them. This work combines my interest in developing strong relationships with my desire to help people achieve their goals. I consider it a great privilege.

Tell us something about you that’s not on your resume.

I played the French horn for four years, from fifth through eighth grade. I was terrible – like, really terrible – but my parents made me stick with it for FOUR YEARS. Looking back, I actually think that was a smart decision, it taught me that not everything would come easily to me, and that sometimes you have to work hard to be good at something.

What do you do when you’re not in the office?

I have two sons who are 7 and 10 years old, so right now I spend a lot of time watching Little League games or hanging out at the pool. I also teach cycling classes at the local YMCA. In any free time left I can be found reading a good book – I especially love character-driven novels about families and relationships.

What are your favorite restaurants in Winston-Salem?

Mozelle’s. 18 Malaysia. Prissy Polly’s Barbecue in Kernersville. Kitchen Roselli in East Bend.

What is your favorite zoo animal?

Chimps, or really any kind of primate. They remind me of my children.

Plan Your Summer with an Interview Program in Mind

Wake Forest University School of Law participates in more than 25 off-campus interview programs that take place all over the country each year, including over 15 diversity off-campus interview programs. As a student, you have access to employers who may not participate in on-campus interviewing due to distance and time constraints, or who may be seeking students with specific credentials or characteristics.Location specific off-campus interview programs include: the New England Interview Program (NEIP), the Southern Legal Interview Program in Dallas, Texas (formerly Texas Interview Program) & the Southern Legal Interview Program in Atlanta, Georgia.

Practice specific off-campus interview programs include: Southeastern Intellectual Property Job Fair (SIPJF) in Atlanta, GA, the annual Equal Justice Works Conference & Career Fair, and the Loyola Patent Law Interview Program in Chicago, IL.

View the Complete List of Off-Campus Interview Programs for 2018

Entry-Level Public Defender Hiring: What’s the Secret?

Living a life of public service and being a public defender is a high calling. On a human level, it can be one of the most rewarding jobs a lawyer can have. On a practical level, public defenders acquire significant transferable skills: experience “standing up” in court; confidence interacting with clients, opposing counsel, and judges; the ability to juggle multiple priorities and cases. But how does one obtain a rewarding public defender job post-graduation?

Many public defender offices hire entry-level classes each year, so their hiring is fairly regularized. Some offices begin a hiring process in the fall for their class in the following fall. For example, offices in New York hire pre-bar because law graduates in New York can practice so long as they take the first bar exam after their graduation. In other states, such as California or Maryland, offices do not make hiring offers until after applicants have passed the bar, but they may hire 3Ls into “law clerk” positions pending bar exam results.

Other Tips for the Post-Grad Hiring Process: References 

Because the post-graduate hiring process can be competitive, a great recommendation for students would be to ask one professor or previous employer if they would be willing to make a phone call or send an email before the employer contacts them (in other words, ask the reference to do “outreach”). This technique demonstrates to the employer that a reference thinks very highly of the applicant. Note that this technique should only be used once per application; please consult with your career counselor if you wonder when the best time is for requesting a reference. It is usually most effective around the time of an interview. For example, the Criminal Defense Practice of New York Legal Aid prefers to receive calls from students who need recommendations after they have been notified of an interview with him but before the interview takes place.

Need more information on applying to public defender jobs? Check out the NC Public Defender Directory in order to contact your local office. You can also check out PSJD’s complete resource list on Postgraduate Fellowships and the NC Court System – Public Defenders Information.

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.