Five Tips to Stand Out (in a good way) in Your Job Applications

Jennifer Perrigo, Assistant Dean, Career Services at Boston College Law School

Applicants often ask what they can do to make their application “stand out” from what they perceive to be a pile of applicants for entry level positions. Having had the privilege of sitting at the intersection of law school graduation and the legal job market and talking to countless employers, I have a few tips.

Speed: Being among the first to apply to a job posting or rumored lead. Doing so shows that you are enthusiastic about the opportunity and are highly motivated to get to work. Many jobs are filled on a rolling basis, so if you wait until close to the deadline to apply, it may already have been filled or the employer well into the interview process. Further, a fast (6-12 hours) reply to an employer’s inquiry for follow up information or request to schedule an interview will show your enthusiasm. It may also be perceived as symbolic of your ability to provide strong client service and/or responsiveness to requests from supervisors on the job. You might still be recovering from the experience of taking the bar- maybe even enjoying a much needed road trip or time away. Even if this is the case, check your email.

Quality: Speed, of course, should not come at the expense of submitting quality materials. Your application materials are samples of your written work product, among other things. Proofread your application materials carefully. You learned this in law school after many admonitions from your Career Office, however, there are a few sneaky ways that undermine the quality of your application. For example, a very subtle difference in point size or font that you forgot to change after cutting and pasting text to adapt your cover letter to the employer. Using the salutation, ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ or similar phrase shows that you didn’t take the time to look up or call the office to find out the hiring contact.

Remember that it’s not about you: Sentences in your cover letter, introductory email or interview answer that end with “….will allow me to…” should be used sparingly. For example, “A position at XYZ law firm will allow me to hone my litigation skills and gain valuable courtroom experience.” Instead, try to rephrase this in a way that shows how you will contribute to the work/clients/mission of the firm or organization. “I have a strong interest in litigation and believe that my work experience prior to law school and law school coursework related to intellectual property law will allow me to make a strong contribution to your firm.”

Know the Business: Most legal employers have a focus on either a particular type of law, industry or client. For example, a small firm that represents clients in the construction industry, a firm that not only specializes in employment law but that represents universities, an in-house legal department of a pharmaceutical company, a unit within an organization that focuses on housing, a particular client demographic or even region of the Commonwealth. Make it a point in your application materials to show any non legal experience, specialized knowledge, language skills or other ways that you are uniquely situated to serve their clients well.

Create a connection: Nothing draws attention to your application more than a referral from a trusted professional contact. When a former colleague’s name appears in the subject line or first few sentences of an introductory email or cover letter, I will always respond. The legal profession, no matter one’s area of expertise, is strengthened by strong professional relationships. Invoking the name of a trusted friend or colleague with the suggestion that you apply will immediately be noticed and all goodwill between those contacts – even if only for a moment- will be projected onto you. The Hiring Attorney will also likely feel the need to read your materials, make sure they respond and/or provide you with an interview out of professional courtesy to the referring attorney. 

The last tip is one of the BBA’s greatest benefits- a way to create a professional network to support you in your practice and throughout your career. On behalf of the Committee for New Lawyer Employment and other BBA members, we are here to support you as you search for your first legal job. Please join us for our future programs to learn more. If you are interested, you can sign up here to participate in our Law School Graduate Mentoring program as a mentee, and here to participate as a mentor.