February 17, 2010

Is "To whom it may concern" the kiss of death?

Excellent advice from Career Builder's blog regarding addressing your cover letter.

"Most job seekers know that, whenever possible, it's best to address your cover letter to the person who has the power to hire you -- or at least the person who can bring you in for an interview.

But, all too often, if a name isn't listed on a job posting, the job seeker resorts to an old-fashioned salutation like, "To Whom It May Concern." What they don't know, is that this approach can sometimes be considered the kiss of death.

Impersonal salutations like "Dir Sir/Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern," show an employer two things. The first is that you lack the initiative to locate the appropriate contact; the second is that you show a disregard for any research needed to be done on your part. In short, employers will think you're lazy and your cover letter will end up in the trash.

One of the most common questions we get is how to find the name of a hiring manager, particularly at a large company. Here are four ways to find out the addressee of your cover letter:"

Click here for the four ways and the entire article.


July 29, 2009

Navigating the Career Development Process

Are you wondering how to begin your job search? Check out this article in the July issue of Hennepin Lawyer, by two of our very own, Dana Bartocci and Vic Massaglia.

June 19, 2009

New CPDC Resources

The guide to participating in On- and Off-Campus Interview Programs was sent to all 2Ls and 3Ls via email yesterday. Even if you are not sure about participating in the interview programs, be sure to check out the guide for information on federal government hiring, fellowships, and other opportunities.

Along with the guide, the email contained a new sample resume and a cover letter guide - watch for these to be posted to the CPDC website soon.

As always, email, stop by the office, or call 612.625.1866 if you have questions!

July 31, 2008

Resume Quick Tip (References)

Note the phrase "References available on request" is outdated and should not be written on your resume. It is assumed a) you have references and b) you will provide them to your potential employer when asked.

For more information, see Kimm Walton's Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams, page 4.


June 19, 2008

Communication alert: use the employer's correct name

When you apply to ANY employer or you write to a networking connection, be very careful about how you write the employer's name. In law firms, blood is (metaphorically) spilled in management committee meetings when partner names are added or deleted, and when the committee decides to use a "comma," it is purposeful. Also "periods" in L.L.P, LLP, LLC, L.L.C., P.A. and PA matter. Using an agency's correct name matters, too.

This is the first detail that you can miss in your very first writing sample, and everyone who sees your documents will notice.

For example:

Arnold & Porter LLP is NOT:

Arnold and Porter
Arnold and Porter L.L.P.
Arnold & Porter
Arnold and Porter, L.L.P

May 13, 2008

How to make a job description work for you

Most job postings for law firm positions are bare-bones: "entry level associate needed for busy family law practice"

When you apply for corporate, non-profit or academic positions, you usually get more to work with because there is a human resource professional who works with the department to craft a meaningful job description.

Every word is in the description for a reason. Make it work for you by mirroring every bit of its language in your resume and cover letter. When discussing something that you have yet to do, use the specific language to link the requested or required experience to something that you have done.

Read more about -- transferable skills!

April 8, 2008

Best Selling Legal Career Guide Updated and Expanded

Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams, 2nd Edition, by Kimm Walton, 2008.

* The long-awaited second edition of this bestseller has finally arrived! This essential and very readable handbook is now significantly expanded to over 1,300 pages. Kimm Walton's informal and infectious style, wit, and humor remain, however. She covers every aspect of the job search, from exploring practice areas to conquering the large firm without stellar grades.

Note that we have copies of this comprehensive text in the CPDC.

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Secret to Being Happily Employed for the Rest of your life
Chapter 2: Figuring Out What the Heck the Job of Your Dream Is
Chapter 3: Getting the Most Out of Your Career Services Office
Chapter 4: The Most Important Element of Your Image

Continue reading "Best Selling Legal Career Guide Updated and Expanded" »

July 16, 2007

Articulating Your Transferable Skills defines the word 'skill' as "to separate, divide; archaic: to make a difference". My take on the word: "a specific ability or abilities used to distinguish one task from another to make an impact."

Communicating transferable skills - which are drawn from experience acquired from previous jobs, volunteer opportunities, and so forth - to potential employers is a challenge many students face. This difficulty often arises during the process of preparing resumes, writing cover letters, and participating in job interviews. It is the responsibility of the candidate to explain how his or her previous experiences and education will benefit the firm or company. Or, as the Webster definition asks 'how can your skills fit and make a difference'? When communicating your skills, think about what potential employers will be looking for specifically when they are reading your materials or listening to your interview answers.

The following link provides a list of legal skills that attorneys possess (click "Skills & Abilities" tab). Of course, this list is not comprehensive, but a good place to start.

After reflecting on the skills that are needed in the legal field, take a look at the skills you have to offer from your past experiences. Note any transferable abilities that employers may find interesting and useful. The following additional resources may be helpful as you identify your own skill set.

January 17, 2007

Making Documents Into PDFs

Many employers and job posting systems, including Symplicity, convert your word processed resumes and cover letters into PDF documents. The on-line application system for federal judicial clerkship applications, OSCAR, requires all applicants to submit documents in PDF format. There are also advantages to converting documents to the PDF format when attaching them to e-mail applications. But what can you do if you don't have a copy of the Adobe Acrobat program at your disposal?

The answer is to search the web for one of a number of free services and downloads that enable you to convert your Word or Wordperfect documents to the PDF format. One such service recommended by an alum of ours can be found at the following website:

This service allows you to download free software that you can use from your desktop. As our alum stated, "This pdf converter application is very simple to operate. I managed to download it, use it, and upload a doc onto the Oscar page. The good news is that if I can figure it out, anyone can." There are other services available on the internet and you should explore them as well.

January 4, 2007

Resume fraud -- not that you would even THINK of this

This link to an article about a 30-day suspension for resume fraud was sent to us by one of our pals who is a Director of Training in a major law firm...

How did they catch it? Employers with human resources infrastructure can capture resume data in ways that allow easy comparisons between old and new applications. In this particular candidate's case, he would have been caught out after providing his transcript.

October 18, 2006

Cover Letter Writing Strategies

Kimm Walton, in her book Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams, suggests there are three basic types of cover letters for potential legal employers.

1. 'Personal' Letters - These are letters that you send to people you have met or to "people with whom you have a mutual acquaintance". It is best to begin this letter: " [Mutual acquaintance] recommended that I contact you." Most people get their interviews and positions through the people they know or who they have met.

2. 'Targeted' Letters - These letters are crafted as a result of some research (size of firm, areas of practice, biographies of lawyers who work there, cases the employer is or has been involved in, etc.). In your letter, you reflect what you've learned and how they will be able to use your skills, experience, and interests.

3. Mass Mailers - Walton devotes six paragraphs (pages 181-182) as to why this type of mailing is not encouraged. Frankly, this method is extremely impersonal, misleading, and akin to fishing in the Pacific Ocean without bait and without knowing what you are fishing for. But most important - it doesn't yield results.

A Suggested Format is Offered Below

Continue reading "Cover Letter Writing Strategies" »

October 1, 2006

Tiny things that get noticed -- and not in a good way

Recent reminders from alumni who read applications:

1. Who gets the letter #1 Make sure that the address at the top of the letter (the inside address) and the "Dear Mr.X" match.

2. Who gets the letter #2 When attaching a letter and resume to an email, make sure that the letter is addressed to the email's recipient.

3. Consider the recipient and your message. You may need more than one resume:

(a) The one-page-focused-on-grades resume for out of town Big City employers making the first cut for grades -- one grad said he had a very hard time with his Hiring Committee whose members looked askance at two-page resumes from a 24-year-old law students;

(b) The one-page, tightly-edited greatest hits of your life resume for employers interested in your grades and your writing or interested in your practical skills and experience;

(c) The as-long-as-it-takes resume that covers all of your public interest and public service for public law jobs and fellowships.

Continue reading "Tiny things that get noticed -- and not in a good way" »

August 14, 2006

Commercial Mail Merge?

This is the season for commercial mail merge vendors to begin to prey on busy law students looking for a "magic bullet" to connect them to employers recruiting in the fall. Before you shell out your hard-earned or high-interest-rate-borrowed cash, consider the following:

1. Most mail merge vendors who solicit law student business are charging you for access to 1400+ employers listed at, which is free to law students and to grads. True, you have to create and print your letters, and stuff them into envelopes, but you really aren't going to apply to 1400 employers, are you?

2. For a nominal fee per letter, mail merge vendors promise "customized" letters, which, you might imagine would take a thoughtful approach to each individual employer based on its practice and your interests and background. You would be wrong. For about $1/letter, you should be able to get the mail-merge function done correctly and the letter in the correct envelope.

3. It is difficult to imagine how a vendor who does not know you might create a well-drafted and specifically-tailored letter that would get passed the Steel Ttrap Form Letter Detector sitting every employer's desk. One NALP employer said "I can spot form letters a mile away, and I pay less attention to them than I do to letters that were written carefully and thoughtfully to my firm."

4. We know that some of you will go right ahead and use the very well-meaning vendors. We hope that you will take the time to craft a letter that speaks for you and tells your story in a way that will be meaningful for the range of employers you will target.

Good luck.

June 23, 2006

Resume Speak from Recruiters & HR Professionals

I recently had the opportunity to attend a panel presentation which consisted of recruiters and HR professionals from the local area (Target, Peace Corps, Cargill, Larson Allen and others). One of the topics they talked about was resumes.

They were asked, "What on a candidate's resume sets them apart from other candidates and puts them on the 'yes' pile?" The answer was suprisingly basic, but very useful:

* The resume is professionally formatted and well-written.
* Has absolutely NO errors (see Susan Gainen's post:
* It is comprehensive and complete.
* Reflects the candidate's most transferable skills.

One of the resume issues raised was the problem they were experiencing with the electronic application process. Most of the employers who accepted electronic applications felt that far too many applicants didn't read the directions before clicking the 'send' or 'upload' button. While some of the organizations want Word (.doc) files - others prefer PDF files. And still, many employers will only receive text files (.txt). As a result of not preparing the document correctly, either the application materials don't make it through the system or the documents are unreadable (wingdings, random characters, etc.).

For more comprehensive resume advice and tips, visit CPDC's Career Files at

May 15, 2006

No interviews? Got typos?

An employer reported that he had recently received five resumes from U of MN students with typos in their cover letters. Because the firm values written work product, and its partners believe that applicants' resumes and cover letters are indicative of the work that they will produce for the firm, the first test for a candidate is "zero errors in applications."

Five students, no interviews.

April 13, 2006

Should I put my future job or clerkship on my resume now?

If you have a commitment from an employer to hire you, put that job onto your resume now. This includes summer or pemanent jobs arranged in the fall or spring semester and clerkships for 3Ls arranged in the fall. Examples:


The Hon. James Johnson, U.S. District Court for the District of [state], City, ST
Judicial Law Clerk (2007 term)

University of Minnesota Law School Legal Writing Program, Minneapolis, MN
Legal Writing Instructor (Fall 2006)

March 21, 2006

Transferrable skills & spin: Will I be trapped in something I hate?

Risk averse law students are sometimes reluctant to take a job because they aren't particularly interested in a practice or fear that they will be forever trapped in something they hate. Fret not. Your skills are transferrable with a little bit of spin. For example:

For Prosecution Although my school-year clerking experience is in a public defender's office, the criminal law practice skills I have acquired should easily transfer to a prosecution setting. ... I respect and admire the lawyers I worked with, but it is clear to me that my interests and instincts are better suited to prosecution.

For Commercial Litigation My school-year clerking has been in a busy family law practice. The client service, research and file management skills that I acquired should easily transfer to a more general commercial litigation practice. ... After working with extremely dedicated and talented lawyers who will remain excellent role models, it is clear to me that my interests and skills are more suited to a general commercial practice.

March 9, 2006

Why you would never put an OBJECTIVE on your resume

While this was not on an application for a legal job, it was written by a law grad (not from the U of MN, thank you very much).

My background has cultivated an aptitude to articulate solutions and reasoning in a concise and discernible format. I am searching for opportunities, outside the jurisprudential sphere, which demand these skills, preferably in a public relational context.?

If you don't see the problem, see me, ASAP.

February 21, 2006

When your resume makes recruiters laugh...


Oklahoma District Attorney's Office, White Color Crime
Oklahoma City, OK Legal Volunteer Summer 2004


OBJECTIVE: Seeking a legal experience with your extinguished firm.