Archive for December, 2014

Job’o’th’Week (Entry-Level Edition)–Legal Division for the US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

The US Court of Appeals is seeking “highly qualified” attorneys to join the Legal Division of its Office of the Clerk for a permanent, full-time appointment (after a one year probationary period). However, the position qualifications indicate that “highly qualified” individuals may include recent grads with impressive student resumes.

Interested? Check out the complete job post on PSJD. The application has a rolling deadline.


Job’o’th’Week (Experienced Edition) — Civil Legal Aid with NYC-based Holistic Public Defense Practice.

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

According to its mission statement, the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem is a “holistic public defense practice.” Among other things, this means that “when [their] clients face collateral consequences with their employment, school, or in family, housing or in immigration court, NDS strives to help our clients solve those issues.” According to their recent job post on PSJD, this civil aspect of NDS’ practice is growing. (No wonder: according to National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction, there are over 1200 potential collateral consequences in New York State.)

In order to protect their clients from these civil consequences of criminal convictions and criminal accusations, NDS is looking for a supervising attorney for their civil team.  They need someone with managerial experience who’s spend at least five years representing clients or supervising representations in civil legal proceedings, with at least three years working with housing and/or benefits law in particular.

Interested? Check out NDS’ complete post on PSJD. (Application deadline December 31.)


You Need A Montage: Informational Meetings Scene II (Making Contact)

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow 2014 – 2015
Christina Jackson, Director of Public Interest Initiatives and Fellowships
(with thanks to the professional development teams at UC Berkeley, Washington and Lee, and Seattle University Law Schools)

Okay, grasshoppers. Last month, I confessed my job search skills are weak and committed to questing with you to learn from PSJD’s resident career development guru Christina Jackson. Since then, we’ve re-made our resumes and cover letters. This week, we’ve begun the real work, for to master the art of informational meetings we must remake ourselves.

Creating a Strategy for Informational Meetings (Tip 5)

On Monday, I wrote about the first step in our strategy—identifying contacts. If you haven’t worked through that blog post already, go back and make sure you’re up to speed before starting on this one.

Ready? Okay. Today, we’re focusing on crafting our initial meeting requests. After reading this post, you should be able to draft a few emails making initial contact with the people on your list (see part one) that you decided you should reach out to first.

NB: Don’t forget to check out the Google Drive spreadsheet tool I’m using to organize my own informational meeting efforts. For contacts I’ve already spoken with, I started by recording our most recent exchange (email, etc.) in the “Log Interactions” sheet. I also used this sheet to log the new emails I sent today during this exercise.

Part II: Making Contact

Send an email or (if time permits) write a cover letter. (You can call, but if you do be prepared to have your meeting on the spot if a person answers the phone and expresses willingness to speak with you right there and then.)

This week, I worked up several emails for a few of my first-run candidates, including both people I know and people I don’t. (To avoid calling possibly-unwanted attention to my contacts, I’m not sharing these messages in their entireties.) As with job applications, you’ll want your emails to be well-written and to demonstrate your background research. Still, keep in mind that the stakes here are lower than with communications related to job applications: People are usually much happier to receive requests for information and advice than requests for a job, and answering questions is less intense than evaluating candidates for a position. You shouldn’t have to work quite as hard to land an informational meeting as you will for a job interview. (My informational meeting requests all took between 100 and 200 words.)

    1. WHAT TO SAY: When you contact a person to ask for an informational interview, your messages should establish three things:
      1. Who you are. Once the person can picture who you are, they can start to imagine what sort of advice you might need. You’ll always want to briefly explain your background. (E.g., “I’m a recent graduate from Georgetown University Law Center with a background in economic justice and human rights.”) (Editor’s Note: We’re going to discuss the art of boiling your life down to a sentence or two later this month, when we cover how to rehearse your “pitch.”) One thing I’m trying right now (I don’t know if it will help) is including a link to my LinkedIn profile in the postscript; I’ve learned that some people check me out there any way before our meetings. (E.g. “I didn’t want to throw a resume at you, but if you’re curious you can find me at [link].”)
      2. Who they are (to you). Busy people are more likely to arrange an informational meeting with you if they can tell you’ve chosen whom to contact carefully. An easy way to establish your familiarity is to mention any professional connections you might already have. If you got the person’s name from someone else, be sure to mention the name of the person who referred you.  (E.g., “Christina Jackson at NALP mentioned you might be a good person for me to speak with.”) If you took a professor’s class, remind her of that fact. (E.g., “I was in your comparative rights seminar in 2012.”) Even if you don’t have an existing link, you can always try to connect with a person’s work. (E.g., “I’ve been particularly inspired reading about your organization’s Community Development Project and its Safety Net Project.”)
      3. How their work relates to your goals. You may also want to tell recipients why you believe they would be good for you to speak with. You don’t have to write out a list of questions you plan on asking, but it helps to give people an idea of where the conversation might go. It’ll help them figure out if they have meaningful advice or insights to share with you. (E.g., “I’m interested in the path you took to Pro Bono Net and how your previous experiences with New York legal aid organizations inform your current work.”)
    2. WHAT NOT TO SAY: Make it clear you’re not asking about a job or for a job. You don’t have to say this explicitly. (I generally don’t.) Just make sure there’s no doubt.
    3. WHAT TO ASK FOR:Be specific about how much time you’d like each person to give you, and try not to ask for more than fifteen (or twenty) minutes. Ideally, you want to meet in person. However, make it clear that you’re available to speak over the phone if an in-person meeting isn’t possible. Keeping with our holiday job search theme, you’ll probably find yourself letting people know when you’re in town for the break, proposing that they tell you whether they have time for you on any of those days.
    4. WHAT TO DO NEXT:Be ready to go the distance. Don’t write to someone if you can’t commit to doing everything you can to get an interview. This means you have to make a follow-up call if you don’t hear back. Many of the attorneys you contact are very busy; in many cases, if you email but then never call to follow up, you may as well not have bothered writing in the first place. Follow up with a call about a week or ten days after you send the email or cover letter. If you reach your contact, you’ll want to be prepared with a spoken version of your email: introduce yourself, confirm your email got through, ask for a meeting (no more than 20 minutes), and stress that you’re willing to meet at a time and place convenient for that person.As before, don’t call until you’re prepared for the meeting itself—your contact may ask you to do the informational meeting on the spot after picking up the phone.
    5. DEALING WITH REJECTION: If you get turned down, always politely thank each person for his or her time. If you still have the confidence, think about asking whether the contact might recommend someone else they think would be useful for you to meet with. If you don’t hear anything after emailing and calling to follow up, use your judgment. Typically, the third email or call is the limit; if you still don’t hear back you need to move on. It’s useful to keep track of each email and call and to note their results (this is where the spreadsheet tool comes in).


I hope this advice helps you get your first few meeting requests out to your contacts. I’m aware this week’s posts are less soul-baring than previous ones in this series, though. If anyone of you feel we’re missing out by not posting a clear example, please write and let us know. I’ll look harder for a solution.

Wax on, wax off,



You Need a Montage: Informational Meetings Scene I (Identifying Candidates)

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow 2014 – 2015
Christina Jackson, Director of Public Interest Initiatives and Fellowships
(with thanks to the professional development teams at UC Berkeley, Washington and Lee, and Seattle University Law Schools)

Okay, grasshoppers. Last month, I confessed my job search skills are weak and committed to questing with you to learn from PSJD’s resident career development guru Christina Jackson. Since then, we’ve re-made our resumes and cover letters. But now, the real work begins, for to master the art of informational meetings we must remake ourselves.

Creating a Strategy for Informational Meetings (Tip 5)

The goal of an informational meeting is twofold: First, it allows you to gather information and advice. Second, it helps you develop professional relationships. A master of these meetings has power far beyond one who can research and write application documents quickly and with confidence.

Resumes and cover letters are documents you send out during your job search. Planning for and following through with informational meetings involves putting your self out there, all the time. Although these meetings aren’t job interviews, how you present yourself and your credentials matters. They may reveal otherwise hidden opportunities. At PSJD, we do our best publicize positions, but often job opening info travels by word of mouth. Attorneys upon whom you make a good impression will remember you when they have openings or even recommend you to friends for positions for which they believe you’re qualified. Also, these meetings aren’t just for the beginning of your job search. While extremely helpful for beginners, they’re critical at later stages as well, helping to narrow practice areas or geographic locations—even to choose particular offices. This means you’ll always want to be reaching out to other lawyers and maintaining contact with practitioners already in your network, whether or not you’re looking for work.

If this idea sounds daunting, I agree. Christina’s ramping us into this task over three posts.  First, we have to learn how to identify candidates for these meetings and how to decide whom to contact first. Next, we’ll practice crafting our initial meeting requests. At the end of the week, we’ll discuss how to follow through with a meeting and follow up on one. After reading this post, you should be able to create a list of candidates for informational meetings and decide to which people you’ll reach out first.

NB: I’ve created a little spreadsheet tool in Google Drive to help myself. I’m sure there are more sophisticated programs out there, but this one was easy to make, and makes sense to me based on Christina’s advice. If it helps you, feel free to download it for yourself. What we discuss today involves filling in the first sheet of the tool (“Add/Edit Contacts”). (I marked down which people I wanted to contact in the first group (and so on) in the “Notes” section of the sheet.)

Part I: Identifying Candidates

Informational meetings are like job interviews in reverse. You initiate the contact, and you ask the questions. People who enjoy their work are happy to talk about what they do and are usually willing to help. In return, though, you must be prepared to use their time effectively. As a first step, this means you need to make sure you’re reaching out to the right people.

  1. Set parameters for your search. Contacting people takes time and energy; you need to focus your efforts. (Also, when you begin meeting with people, they’ll want to know why you were interested in talking to them in particular.) To begin developing a list of candidates for your informational interviews, you should first identify your areas of interest. Think about classes you’ve enjoyed, areas of practice you thought about before law school, or things that simply sound cool. Talk to classmates, read professional articles, and attend extracurricular events, noting what piques your interest. (The PSJD Resource Center’s “Practice Area Guides”—as well as your friendly neighborhood Career Office—are also a good place to start.)

    Next, limit your geographic preferences. It’s both prudent to use these meetings to connect to the legal market in areas where you’d like to practice and impractical to talk to practitioners in many different locations. Get a particular perspective on one or perhaps two geographic regions where you’d like to set your law career. (Remember, for the holidays it may be most efficient to focus on the geographic area where you’ll be spending winter break.)

    After some brainstorming, my list included 4 categories and 2 geographic regions. In general, my areas of interest were pretty broad for someone who’s already graduated. But, Christina noted that the breadth of your list can often depend on what you’re choosing to focus on. For example, if your interest is criminal defense, you’re aiming for a tightly-bound world of work. My interest (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) doesn’t have an official place in the US legal pantheon. As a result, I’m still searching through several different fields that touch on ESC rights. Bottom line: your list will look different depending on where you are in your career and what you’re hoping to do. But always ask yourself whether you could be more focused in your search, and whether you’re ready to articulate your career goals more clearly.

  2. List the people you know best and work outward. Make a list of people you already know that have or might have connections to your areas of interest within your geographic range. Don’t just look for people with your “dream job”; also find people with information or experience that might help you clarify your job search or achieve your intermediate goals. Start with your professional and social groups, including:
    • Classmates & Alumni (Law school & undergrad)
    • Law School Faculty and Staff
    • Family (nuclear & extended)
    • Friends & Neighbors
    • Colleagues & Supervisors (present & former)
    • Volunteer organizations
    • Religious groups
    • Professional contacts (from conferences, CLEs, etc.)

    Once you’ve worked through these possibilities, if your list feels thin in certain areas then think about who you might want to cold call, looking at names from:

    • Local trade & professional associations (i.e. your local state bar association)
    • Trade magazines and journals
    • Newspapers
    • CLE faculty rosters

    I’ve had a variety of legal work experiences, so I was able to come up with a decent list drawing mostly from people I know directly. My list wasn’t complete, though. According to Christina, your initial list should always include: (1) supervisors from all your legal jobs, (2) all professors you studied your areas of interest with, and (3) all classmates (law and undergrad) doing work in your areas of interest. I had to backtrack and add professors I hadn’t developed close relationships with, as well as classmates with whom I haven’t spoken in a while.

  3. Set contact priorities. Start with the people you know best, and to whom you feel safest reaching out. In particular, your Career Development Office is probably sitting on a wealth of contacts and has the expertise to help you figure out who your best bets are. Another advantage of your CDO is that you know you aren’t imposing on them for help—helping you with this stuff is their job. Personally, I worry hugely about bothering busy people. Christina stressed how important it is not to worry about imposing on your contacts, especially in this early stage of planning:

    “If people don’t want to be bothered, they just won’t write back. If they do write back, they’ve made a conscious decision to help. Take them up on it. You may not feel as though you have anything to offer them, but most people probably received help themselves at some point; they want to pay the favors they received forward.”

I can’t think of better words to leave you with than those. Good luck building your lists; we’ll talk about what to do with them on Wednesday. Until then…

Wax on, wax off,


Our Friends at EJW: New Student Debt Blog on the Huffington Post!

Take Control of Your Future - A Guide to Managing Your Student Debt

Our Friends at Equal Justice Works have some news they wanted us to pass along about their new resources to help public interest lawyers tackle their student debt:

We’re excited to announce that Equal Justice Works’ new blog on the Huffington Post is up and running. We’ll use it to provide helpful advice on managing student debt and in-depth analysis on what the latest developments in student debt mean for you.

Go here to check out our recent post, How Public Service Loan Forgiveness Helps Close the Justice Gap.


PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 5, 2014

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Happy Friday and welcome to December!  Check out the PSJD blog, where we’re featuring tips for your job search during winter break.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Leading Law Students Program seats Penn State Law students on boards of nonprofits;
  • Push for legal aid for civil cases finds advocates;
  • UO Law becomes newest Gideon’s Promise law school partner;
  • ID legislative committee rejects public defender resolution;
  • The Law Commission of Ontario releases final report in its Capacity and Legal Representation for the Federal RDSP project;
  • Chief Justice leads commission to solve FL’s legal aid woes;
  • Legal Aid Ontario funds 3 Gladue workers in northern Ontario;
  • FL bill would give prosecutors/defenders student loan assistance;
  • Atkinson Foundation honors pro bono legal program at children’s hospital;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Nobel Peace Prize winners;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 19, 2014 -“An innovative program now in its second year at Penn State Law provides students with a unique avenue for developing their leadership skills while they serve in their local community. Leading Law Students, which started last year at the suggestion of a current Penn State Dickinson School of Law student, places select law students on the boards of directors of local nonprofit organizations.”  “‘The program was envisioned as a way to encourage our students to begin thinking about how, as future attorneys, they can give back to their communities and start interacting with community members who could be their future clients,’ says Neil Sirota, assistant dean of Career Services at Penn State Law. ‘The reaction from our students and the local community has been tremendously positive. Our students are honing their leadership skills, expanding their professional networks, and helping to create new connections between the law school and the local community.'” (Penn State Law)

November 21, 2014 – “Free legal assistance in noncriminal cases is rare and growing rarer. A recent study in Massachusetts found that two-thirds of low-income residents who seek legal help are turned away. Nationally, important civil legal needs are met only about 20 percent of the time for low-income Americans, according to James J. Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation, a federal agency that finances legal aid groups.”  The Eviction Assistance Center, a legal aid office in the same building as the housing court works to provide legal aid.  “Established in 2011, the center is part of an experiment by the California courts on the benefits of providing more lawyers and legal advice to low-income people in civil cases such as child custody, protective orders against abusers, guardianship and, most commonly, evictions.”  “The California initiative and similar projects in New York, Massachusetts and elsewhere aim not only to help more needy clients but also to improve guidelines for the unavoidable and often painful legal triage: In a sea of unmet needs, who most needs a lawyer, who can do with some ‘self-help’ direction? What happens to those who must be turned away?”  Read on to find out more.  (NY Times)

November 24, 2014 – “The University of Oregon School of Law has joined the ranks of law schools at the University of Chicago, the University of California at Los Angeles and others by becoming a Gideon’s Promise law school partner.”  “Oregon Law graduates who participate in the program will receive a post-graduate fellowship from the law school and the promise of a job within one year of graduation at the public defender offices where they are placed. Graduates in the program will also receive three years of training and education from Gideon’s Promise.”   (University of Oregon)

November 24, 2014 – “Lawmakers on a committee charged with improving Idaho’s broken public defense system have killed a resolution that would have given the state full responsibly for assigning attorneys to indigent defenders.  Earlier this year, representatives from the state’s 44 counties voted that Idaho should manage the public defense system. However, members of the Legislature’s Public Defense Reform Interim Committee at a meeting Monday agreed that counties should remain in control.”  “The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho and other legal experts have warned lawmakers since 2010 that Idaho’s public defense system is a potential target for lawsuits. The Idaho Association of Counties says the resolution won’t be presented again.  (

November 27, 2014 – “The Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) today releases its final report in its Capacity and Legal Representation for the Federal RDSP project.  The Government of Ontario requested that the LCO undertake a review of how adults with disability might be better enabled to participate in the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). The RDSP is a savings vehicle created by the federal government to assist persons with disability with long-term financial security. The LCO’s final report presents recommendations respecting the creation of a streamlined process to appoint an ‘RDSP legal representative’ for adults seeking access to the RDSP who do not have legal capacity to establish a plan themselves.”  “The final report was the result of extensive research and consultations, and benefited from work being carried out in the LCO’s larger, ongoing Legal Capacity, Decision-Making and Guardianship project.”  (CNW)

November 27, 2014 – “Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga doesn’t have solutions yet, but he announced this week a commission filled with lawyers, politicians and business leaders who he thinks can figure out a way for people to have more access to civil justice. In 2008, the Florida Bar Foundation gave $29 million to legal aid, nonprofit law firms that help the poor. This year, legal aid gets just $12 million. That means fewer attorneys can help fewer poor people navigate the civil courts.”  “Largely, [Labarga] said, the commission will study how other states provide access to civil attorneys.”  (The Florida Times-Union)

November 28, 2014 – “The director of Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services says it has hired three Gladue workers in northern Ontario.  The specially-trained workers will prepare pre-sentence reports on the unique life experiences of aboriginal people who face charges.  Celina Reitberger said the workers will be based in Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay and Timmins.”  (CBC News)

November 28, 2014 – State Senator Jeremy Ring filed a bill  which would offer thousands of dollars a year to help prosecutors and public defenders pay off student loans.  Ring’s bill would help assistant state attorneys, assistant public defenders, assistant attorneys general and assistant statewide prosecutors make their loan payments. Prosecutors or public defenders who have had their jobs three to six years would get $3,000-a-year. The amount climbs to $5,000 for attorneys who have served six to 12 years.”  (Broward

December 3, 2014 – “Parents of seriously ill children often have to make a difficult choice between being present for their child during hospital visits and keeping their jobs. Hannah Lee is trying to change that. Lee is the ‘triage lawyer’ at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.”  “Lee is part of a Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO) partnership with the hospital that provides legal assistance in such situations to low-income families who don’t quite qualify for publicly funded counsel — a program that just got a $50,000 funding boost from the Atkinson Foundation and the Hindmarsh family. PBLO’s Medical-Legal Partnerships for Children is the recipient of the 2014 Ruth Atkinson Hindmarsh Award, named for the former foundation president and daughter of longtime Star publisher Joseph E. Atkinson. The annual award, presented Thursday, was established in 1998 to support the efforts of organizations dedicated to improving the lives of children.”  “The award funds will help the PBLO expand to a fifth location, McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton.”  (

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: On December 10, 1901, the first Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The ceremony came on the fifth anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite and other high explosives. In his will, Nobel directed that the bulk of his vast fortune be placed in a fund in which the interest would be “annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” Although Nobel offered no public reason for his creation of the prizes, it is widely believed that he did so out of moral regret over the increasingly lethal uses of his inventions in war.  Perhaps the most recognized are the winners of the Nobel Prize for Peace.  Notable winners have included Marie Curie, Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Nelson Mandela.  To read more, go to

Super Music Bonus!


Job’o’t’Week (Experienced Edition) — National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Invites Proposals for their Capital Defense Training Program

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

If you’re a criminal defender with significant experience with capital cases and you’re looking for a chance to have a systemic impact on your profession, the NACDL has a challenge for you. They’re currently accepting proposals from individuals with ideas about how to provide technical assistance to capital defense teams and state grantees and also coordinate at least two bring-your-own-case national training programs. The successful proposal will land its author an independent contractor position, based in Washington DC.

If you’re intrigued, the full post on PSJD has much more detail about what the organization is looking for. You’ll need to work fast, though–the deadline is 5pm E.S.T. on December 8th.


Job’o’t’Week (Entry-Level Edition) — Take a Third Swing at Getting a Major Union Fellowship

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

If you’re interested in labor or employment law, you probably already know that the AFL-CIO’s fellowship applications were due last month and the SEIU deadline passed this Monday. If you didn’t, you’ve missed out on two opportunities, but here comes one more: also on Monday, the National Educational Association posted notice that they are looking for three (3!) fellows to join their organization next year.

Check out the full post on PSJD.


You Need a Montage: Cover Letter Makeover Scene

Sam Halpert, 2014 – 2015 PSJD Fellow

So last week I confessed to you all that in my own job search, I’m figuratively far from a master. However I work a mere foot away from one. Christina Jackson, NALP’s Director of Public Service Initiatives and Fellowships, will be putting me through my paces for your benefit from now until next semester so you can see how PSJD’s 10-Step Program for keeping your job search warm over the holidays works in practice.

This week, I tackled the second half of Tip 1 (writing a cover letter). Specifically, I tried to express my interest in the Pro Bono Coordinator position I noticed last week on PSJD. I hate writing cover letters, but I felt a little more confident this time than I have in the past–mostly because I tried to keep in mind Christina’s advice from the resume makeover. I’ve repeated her first point from the first makeover post below; I tried to meet the goal she set out for us last week. In fact, all of last week’s advice carries over well; read the resume makeover post before continuing with this one.

* * *

Ready? Okay. I showed her the resulting cover letter, and it turns out I did alright. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have to rework significant portions of it, though. (Feel free to compare the letter before and after she critiqued it.) As with the resume makeover, I’ve summarized her strategy for each portion of the letter below, illustrating it where necessary with examples from my own efforts:

  1. YOUR GOAL (Redux): Speak the employer’s language. Your resume and cover letter are a one-two combination aimed to land you an interview. (To see the resume that would accompany this letter, check out the resume makeover post.) Between them, you need to fit as many of the position’s advertised responsibilities, duties, and qualifications as you can. Reorganize, rephrase, and rewrite your experiences so the employer sees you describe yourself in the terms they would use. Each cover letter will be different, but you may be able to recycle within categories of positions, based on the method of work you’d like to employ, the clients you’re seeking to serve, and the area of law you’d like to apply.In my first attempt,  I failed to fit in as much as I could:
Responsibilities: “Participate in program funding activities, including analyzing data and assisting with grant reporting.”




“I’ve also developed internal data analysis tools to increase my accountability for…performance.”
  1. THE SALUTATION: Always be personal, even if you have to dig for a name. The job post I was working from asked me to send a letter to a catch-all institutional email. I wrote “To Whom it May Concern”–a HUGE mistake. You may have to do some research, but you should always be able to put a name at the top of your cover letter. For me, it was pretty simple. The post included the title of the person the Coordinator reports to; I just had to go to the employer’s website and find out who holds that title. If you’re stumped identifying your supervisor, try to find the most senior person in the department you’d work for. If the organization is smaller, you can write to the Executive Director. If you have no other option, you can use a person’s title for the salutation. But whatever you do, don’t use “To Whom it May Concern.”
  2. PARAGRAPH ONE: (1) Who you are and (2) why you’re writing them. I did okay with the first part, where I tried to describe myself using key nouns and verbs from the job post (see item #1). I was too implicit with the second part, though. Employers want you to tell them what they do, even though they already know. They don’t need to learn their mission from you, but they do need to see that you understand what it is:
Description: “Pro Bono Net…us[es] innovative technology to increase legal assistance for low-income and vulnerable individuals.”


“Professionally, I am passionate about improving social outcomes for low-income and vulnerable individuals. Personally, I care about helping people better understand technology. I would love this job.”


“Professionally, I am passionate about improving social outcomes for low-income and vulnerable individuals. Personally, I care about helping people better understand technology. Pro Bono Net combines both my passions, deploying technology to help close the justice gap. I would love this job.”

(a) DO tie your specific skillset(s) to the employer’s job description. As with the resume makeover (see item #3), Provide concrete examples of the kinds of work you’ve done in your various experiences–but be careful of clients’ confidentiality. Try to make sure your cover letter augments the information in your resume. For instance, for one position my resume describes what I did; my cover letter describes why I did it:

Description: “Liaise with national, regional, and local stakeholders…”
Qualifications: “…ability to make technology understandable to people without technical skills.”


“Interviewed students… Met with teaching staff…”

Cover Letter:  

“[M]y work…required me to explain…technological solutions to two disparate groups…”

(b)  DON’T include extraneous information. (If you’re curious what that looks like, check out the entire third paragraph of my original attempt.)

  1. LAST PARAGRAPH: Close simply and directly.
    • Research the employer to hit the right tone. Don’t treat my example as a general rule for what kind of language is acceptable. I played pretty close to the line for informal language in this cover letter, but I think I can get away with it based on the tone of the employer’s website. (For instance: “Passionate about public interest law? Love using the web? Consider joining our team!”) If the organization you want to work for (or you) are more straight-laced, find more professional ways to say the same thing:
Desired Message: “I am interested in working for you.”


“I would love this job.”


“This position is directly in line with my career goals.”
    • Avoid overstating your enthusiasm for entry-level work. I’m an effusive guy. I got away with “love,” but Christina drew the line at “thrilled.” (Avoid superlatives as well.)
    • Never run over a single page. (Oops.)

I’m not quite ready to hit send yet. When you think you’re done, wait until the next day whenever you can and look at the letter with fresh eyes. I’ll let you know how this resume-cover letter combo turns out. In the meantime, I’ll be working on a list of contacts for informational meetings (the next montage post).

Wax on, wax off.