If there isn’t a named contact person in the employer’s listing in the Public Interest Organization Database in HELIOS, how do I address the letter?
Always cross-check the information in Helios with information on the employer’s own web site. If there is no named contact person in either place, you can address your letter to “Dear Hiring Coordinator”, “Dear Hiring Committee”, or “Dear Summer Internship Coordinator”. Also, if there are current HLS students who previously worked for the employer, you can contact them to ask if they are aware of a specific contact person. If you are given a contact name by a fellow student, though, do what you can to verify that that person still works at the organization.
If I am potentially interested in splitting the summer, should I mention it in my cover letter?
In general, OPIA does not recommend splitting your 1L summer unless you have a very compelling reason to do so. That said, if your interest in splitting is “potential,” in that you are still exploring the idea and the options available for splitting, then we do not recommend mentioning it in your cover letter. The better timing for raising the issue of splitting is once you have received the offer. In the meantime, you can research the employer’s willingness to split in other ways, such as checking the student evaluations in Helios and speaking to a student who worked there previously. Splitting can be complicated; it is a great topic to bring to an OPIA adviser. Walk-in hours, which occur daily (check the OPIA schedule!), can work well for these types of questions.
If I know I will need to split the summer (i.e., have already accepted another position for at least half the summer), should I mention this in my cover letter?
Yes. This is exactly the situation where you should be explicit about splitting. You have already accepted another position, so in fairness to the employer to whom you are writing you need to be transparent and direct. It is helpful to the employer if you can specify when you will be available, and for how many weeks, in light of the position you have already accepted.
My family lives in the city where I will be applying for jobs; should I specifically mention this in my letter?
Yes! Most employers would be interested to know that you have a family connection to the city where they live and work. It is a terrific thing to mention in your first paragraph (after your substantive reasons) as one of the reasons that the job appeals to you.
I will be visiting the city where I am applying for jobs; should I mention this and/or try to set up an appointment/interview? How do I raise this?
Yes. This is a terrific strategy to start the ball rolling for a potential in-person interview. In the last paragraph of your cover letter you can say something like: “I will be in Philadelphia from December 21 – January 3, and would welcome the opportunity to meet in person.” Be aware, though, that many employers do not have the bandwidth to conduct in-person interviews, so don’t be offended if you’re not taken up on your offer.
If an employer doesn’t specifically have a position posted, can I still apply to it for a summer internship?
Yes! Organizations in Helios are potential employers. You will notice that some organizations opt to list explicit instructions for applying – always very helpful information. Many employers, however, will not list a specific job but are still planning to hire summer interns and very eager to receive applications from interested HLS students.
My work or past academic experience is not substantively relevant to the employer to which I’m applying. How can I write a good cover letter based on the experience I do have?
This is true for many 1Ls. First, you should address up front why you are interested in this new area of endeavor. Be authentic about the source of your interest. In addition, although your past work or educational experience may not be directly related to the employers to which you are currently applying, you can still make a good case that the skills and insights you developed in previous settings will be beneficial to the position you are now seeking. Think about your prior experience in terms of skills and exposure to various problems that needed solving. What did you learn from that? What were you able to accomplish? Did you hone your skills of detail-orientation? Collaboration? Managing multiple deadlines? Communication skills? Ability to work with populations different from yourself? These and many other skills may be assets in a wide variety of legal settings. Look at your resume: next to each entry, make a list of the skills and knowledge that it took for you to do each job well. This strategy for “decoding” your resume can work whether your prior experience was in paid employment, volunteer work, or campus leadership activities. OPIA advisers can help you with this process.
Where can I find more suggestions/samples for public interest cover Letters?