Cover Letter Rehab

cover letter rehab
Athletes in Law Special Issue

Stop right there, friend. Put the mouse down and back away from the keyboard. This is an intervention. I’m trying to protect you (and your reader) from yourself and that monstrosity of a document you call a cover letter. Yes, I’m talking about your letter to prospective employers where you blab on and on about how you “leverage your core competencies through value-added, synergistic, cross-platform ecosystems wherein you move the needle by maximizing buy-in, thereby improving the bottom-line.” If this sounds like you—or sounds good to you—you need cover letter rehab immediately.

The purpose of a cover letter is plain enough—to introduce yourself to a prospective employer and to quickly explain how you can help meet the employer’s needs. The trick is to talk about yourself in a way that’s all about them. Naturally, you’ll need to highlight your skills and relevant accomplishments. But, in so doing, keep the focus on the reader. Yes, you are extremely awesome, and you could write volumes about your accomplishments. There’s no denying that. But your reader, like yourself, cares more about her needs than yours, so write accordingly.



Dear Ms. Jones:

I write to express interest in the Associate General Counsel position. I learned about this position through your online posting.

Your opening doesn’t need to be fancy, just state the position you’re applying for and how you learned about it. And remember: Everything is about people, so address the letter to a real human being rather than a “hiring coordinator” who may or may not exist. This may require a little extra research, but this is an intervention after all—it’s tough medicine!

As general counsel to an established dietary supplement company, I handle company litigation; manage the company’s growing intellectual property portfolio; provide enterprise risk management; draft, negotiate, and vet contracts; and serve on the company’s senior management team. Your organization undoubtedly has similar business law needs that I am immediately ready to meet.

While you shouldn’t regurgitate in your cover letter what’s already apparent from your resume, you need to underscore your qualifications and relevant experience. Just don’t give in to your temptation to create a laundry list of skills or responsibilities uncoupled to examples or your reader’s needs.

During my six years as general counsel, I learned the true value of practical lawyering, based on creative, problem solving rather than merely pointing out obstacles. In the process, my department became known as the Department of ‘Yes’, rather than the Department of ‘No.’

Your employer expects you to get stuff done. It behooves you, therefore, to show you understand the need for pragmatic lawyering, rather than just imparting your brilliant analysis. Saying so doesn’t make it so, however, so include examples.


Computer Forensics

For example, I helped my company navigate the uncharted regulatory waters of cannabidiol (CBD) supplement sales by becoming an in-house expert. I demonstrated this expertise through participation in public seminars hosted at the nation’s two biggest dietary supplement trade shows, Expo West and Expo East, where I educated companies and the public on the complex and evolving legal landscape. Similarly, your business needs its lawyers to do what it takes to get things done.

Again, hitch your examples to your employer’s interests— “your business needs….”

Before my current position as general counsel, I was a litigator, resolving approximately 175 cases in four years through trial—both as first- and second chair—and through arbitration, mediation, and negotiation. My litigation background continues to serve as the backbone for my work as general counsel and will benefit your organization by bringing competent and affordable litigation and dispute resolution services in-house.

Narrate your career so all employment threads felicitously converge upon the reader’s present needs. Here, we weave earlier litigation work into the reader’s interest in capping litigation expenses.

Successful businesses like yours need lawyers with the above attributes and skills. To that end, I have enclosed my resume and invite you to contact me to discuss this opportunity.

As stipulated, you are awesome and stopping here admittedly deprives the reader of many more pages detailing your exploits and lawyerly derring-do. But the reader is in a hurry, so end your letter early. You’ll thank me later.

Well, there you have it—you’ve written a plain-English cover letter without legalese, platitudes, or jargon, all while keeping the focus on the reader. Well done! You’re on the path to recovery.

Joel Matteson

Joel Matteson is General Counsel to Barlean's, a leading dietary supplement company in the Pacific Northwest. Joel's practice includes intellectual property, contracts, litigation, risk management, and regulatory compliance. Contact Joel at [email protected].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts