I recently received a cover letter from a candidate that reminded me of one of my daughter’s favorite characters from Winnie the Pooh – Eeyore. After a few pleasantries, the letter proceeded to state that the candidate had a “very poor” first year of law school and that his GPA was “less than desirable”. I could almost hear the sad trombone sounds in the background as I read the letter.
It appears that this candidate was a regular reader of this blog. As you know, I often encourage attorneys to address potential issues head-on. Answering potential “red flags” up front (and of course making the case to the reader why you are a good fit for a position) is always recommended. It saves time and frustration down the road. But addressing difficult topics on the resume (gaps, poor GPAs, multiple moves, etc.) is NOT the same as being pessimistic.
Suppose for instance that the cover letter was “spun” a different way. If the candidate had acknowledged a rough start to school, but softened the message, the same information would be conveyed in a much more positive light. For example, he could have said that his academic performance in law school improved each semester and he received a 3.8 GPA in his last semester. Had he said that, it would have opened the door for a conversation (in the interview – because getting an interview is the goal of the cover letter) about how something changed and how his first year grades are not indicative of his current abilities.
To be clear, I am not advocating for anyone to make anything up or “spin” the cover letter beyond what is ethical. To the contrary, I am strongly encouraging attorneys to keep the cover letter positive.
Some other examples: Instead of highlighting that you aren’t admitted to a particular jurisdiction, say that you are eligible to waive in and have applied for admission (or are signed up for the bar exam, etc.). Instead of calling out that you had a brief stint at a firm and left because it was not a good fit, make sure you say what was a good fit (that you got great litigation experience or you had substantial client interaction). Make everything on your resume seem positive rather than negative.
By putting a better veneer on the cover letter, you are bound to get a better response from employers. No one wants to work with Eeyore, right?