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Your career advisor wants you to submit the strongest application materials possible, so help us help you. As we approach winter break and another season of recruiting for summer internships and post-graduate hiring, we have compiled a list of the most common mistakes we see on cover letters and resumes.

Tracked Changes

  • Your career advisor will add comments, edits and formatting changes to your resume and cover letters in Tracked Changes, so send your drafts to us as Word documents. Learning to review and accept Tracked Changes is important in saving you time and in understanding what revisions you may need to make to future drafts. You should learn to navigate Tracked Changes, not only to work efficiently with your career advisor, but also because your future employer may use it to edit documents during your internship. Click here for a short tutorial.

Fonts and Formatting

  • Whichever font you choose should be used consistently in your application materials, so that your resume and cover letter match.
  • While Times New Roman is standard, you also can use serif fonts such as Garamond, Book Antiqua or Cambria, or you can use sans serif fonts such as Calibri or Arial. Choose a font that is readable in bold and in italics.
  • Format your resume and cover letter so they fit comfortably on one page. Edit the documents if your font size is too small (i.e., less than 11 points in Times). Make sure there is enough white space in the margins and between items to make it inviting for the reader. Your career advisor is paid to read your application materials, but potential employers will not take the time to digest a dense document.

Word Choice

  • Use action verbs to describe your experience in your resume. Avoid variations of “work”, “assist”, or “help” which are generic and vague.
  • Use action verbs to describe your experience in your cover letter. Avoid phrases such as “I have been able to…”, “I had the chance to….”, “I had the opportunity to…”, “I was tasked with…”, or “I was responsible for…”.
    Occasionally it is appropriate to show humility and deference (e.g., I had the opportunity to observe Supreme Court Justices), but most of the time those phrases are filler that take up valuable space and dilute the impact of your experience.
  • Hyphenate if two words are functioning together as an adjective before the noun they are describing. For example, first-year student or high-volume practice.
  • Be cautious using the word “love” in your cover letter or other words that convey casualness instead of professionalism. For example, say that you would “welcome” or “look forward” the opportunity to interview.

Names

  • Do not start your cover letter by introducing yourself. (e.g., Dear X, my name is___.”)
  • Your greeting should use Mr. or Ms. or Judge and the last name only. Do not use the employer’s first name unless you know them well.
  • Do not refer to a woman as Mrs. in a professional setting. You always should use Ms. (unless she is a Judge or has another appropriate honorific) and unless you are told otherwise. You probably will not know if a woman is married, unmarried, divorced, widowed or is using her maiden or married surname professionally.
  • We are in a formal profession. Use your middle initial on your resume and in your typed signature at the bottom of your cover letter.
  • When you are referring to an employer in the body of a cover letter, you do not need to use the firm’s business entity. For example, you do not need to say “I am interested in a summer internship with Smith & Jones, PC.” Also, if the employer has a long name, check their website to see how they abbreviate or shorten their name and do the same in subsequent references in the body of your cover letter.

Commas

  • In a cover letter, use a comma before the conjunction in a compound sentence. For example: I am a first-year law student, and I am applying for a job.
  • In an address block, put a comma between the city and state, but not before the zip code. Richmond, VA 23226 NOT Richmond VA, 23226 nor Richmond, VA, 23226.
  • In an address block, put a comma between the street address and the apartment or suite. 28 Westhampton Way, Suite 103 or 28 Westhampton Way, Apartment 103.
  • If your sentence begins with more than one clause or phrase, put a comma before the rest of the sentence. For example: As a law student with experience in business, I am applying for a job.
  • Do not put a comma between month and year. For example: May 2019 NOT May, 2019.

Abbreviations

  • In address blocks in cover letters, if you abbreviate the state in your address, then abbreviate the employer’s state (or spell out both, but be consistent).
  • In address blocks, if you abbreviate street (St. or Dr.), apartment (Apt.), or direction (E.), then put a period after the abbreviation.
  • In a cover letter, once you have used an employer’s corporate entity designation (e.g., LLP, PC) in the address block, you do not need to use it in the body of the letter.

Capitalizations

  • Do not capitalize Latin honors in college. For example: Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, in History.
  • Do not capitalize seasons. For example: spring semester, spring 2018. An exception is on a resume when listing the date of an experience.
  • Do not capitalize legal practice areas. “I am interested in tax and business law” NOT “Tax and Business law.”
  • Email addresses should be in lower case.

Spacing

  • When writing out a phone number, put a space after the area code in parentheses. For example: (804) 289-8638. NOT (804)289-8638 or (804)- 289-8638.

Apostrophes

  • Do not use contractions.
  • Use s’ to indicate a plural possessive. For example: preparing clients’ documents.
  • A Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office contains two possessives.

Dates

  • On your resume, list the date ranges using en dashes, not hypens or em dashes. For example: September 2016 – April 2017 NOT September 2016-April 2017.
  • On your resume, list your graduation (or anticipated graduation) month and year for each degree, not the date range of your attendance, unless you did not finish that degree (i.e., transferred).
  • On your cover letter, add the current date a few lines under your address and a few lines above the addressee’s address. It should be spelled out as January 1, 2022 NOT 1/1/22.

Languages

  • Use Native, Fluent, Proficient, Basic to describe your competency in another language.

Typos

  • If a hiring attorney is reviewing a large number of applications, and all the candidates look pretty good on paper, what is the easiest way for the employer to cull down the stack? Resumes or cover letters with typos get tossed.
  • The same goes for a cover letter not addressed to the correct employer. That guidance sounds obvious, but when you’re moving quickly (often at the 11th hour before a deadline), it is easy to mismatch the application or forget to update the employer’s address when revising a cover letter.

 

For more information about resumes and cover letters, visit the Application Resources page of the CDO website: https://law.richmond.edu/career/portal/application.html. The Resume & Cover Letter Workshop and other on-demand videos are available at https://law.richmond.edu/career/portal/on_demand.html#applicationmaterials. You can also access previous CDO blogs with advice about application materials at https://blog.richmond.edu/richmondlawcdo/category/application-materials/

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