Career Services Job Searching Guide: Cover Letters
When you apply for a position, a cover letter must accompany your resume. The purpose of a cover letter is to explain to the employer how your qualifications make you the best person for the job. It acts as a bridge between you and the job. The cover letter is also a writing sample -- make sure your writing is clear, concise and grammatically correct.
There is no one perfect cover letter. The examples included in this hand-out should be used only as guides. Keep the following in mind as you draft (and re-draft) your cover letters:
Address the letter to a real person. You must find the name of the contact person to whom you should write. Never use "Dear Hiring Partner" or "Dear Sir or Madam." Only a letter addressed to "Dear Ms. Smith" will deserve to be read by our dear Ms. Smith. Solution: Pick up the telephone (you can use the phones in the CSO) and call for the information!
The first sentence must grab the reader's attention. "I am currently a second year student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law" does not compel the reader to continue.
Compare it to the following:
"Professor Meisel suggested that I contact you because of your expertise in the area of health care law."
"I read about your firm's representation of Legis Corporation in the January issue of The American Lawyer. I was impressed by your creative approach to dispute resolution." (Be sure the article called the approach "creative," or the reader might think you are either arrogant or fawning, or both.)
Identify yourself, briefly. Your resume will provide a more complete, factual summary of your qualifications, but briefly introduce yourself to the reader:
"I will be graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in May 2003, and I want to use my chemical engineering background in conjunction with my law degree to practice environmental law with your firm."
"I will be graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in December 1999. I have a B.S. degree in chemical engineering, and am a registered United States Patent Agent. During my tenure as a research assistant in the Chemistry Department at Carnegie-Mellon University, I developed an interest in intellectual property matters, and I want to use my strong technical background and my law degree to practice patent law."