Once you home in on the jobs for which you would like to apply, it is time to start preparing your job search materials. A typical application includes a resume, cover letter, and writing sample. Some employers may also ask for a transcript and references or letters of recommendation. Employers will use your application materials as a basis for the interview.
By the end of your 2L summer, you should have completed the following to prepare materials for an entry-level public interest job search. See the entry-level job search timeline for additional action steps:
- Update your resume to include your 2L summer internship and any planned 3L clinical experiences, and tailor it to the types of jobs for which you plan to apply.
- Finalize your writing sample.
- Contact anyone you hope to use as a reference to get their permission and to confirm that the reference will be positive.
Keep the following in mind as you prepare application materials:
- It is extremely important to proofread your materials several times. Be sure to double-check spelling and grammar. Employers consistently tell us that a single typo may get your application thrown away.
- Make sure you have addressed your cover letter to the appropriate person or organization and be sure those accurate names carry through in the body of the letter.
- Take advantage of our resume and cover letter review services before you submit your application materials complete our resume and cover letter review request form, uploading your materials as Word Docs only. Be sure to submit your materials well in advance of any application deadline.
The Job Search Toolkit section of OPIA’s website includes specific tips on how to draft each section of your public interest resume and several sample resumes. OPIA and OCS have also recorded a joint resume video that walks you through how to construct your resume. In general, resumes should be limited to one page. The exception to this rule is resumes used for fellowship applications, which should include more detail about your relevant experiences and may exceed one page.
Cover letters are particularly important to public interest employers. Employers read them carefully and use them to discern whether applicants have done their research on the organization. We encourage you to spend a good amount of time on your letters and make sure you tailor each letter to speak to the mission and work of the organization to which it is addressed. The letter should give an employer a sense of who you are as a person, the experiences that have shaped you, and the values that matter to you. Our website includes tips and samples, so be sure to consult it before drafting your letters.
Some employers will ask for a writing sample, usually 5-10 pages in length. The best choice for a writing sample is usually one that was created in an internship or clinic so the employer can see a real-world example of your writing. Be sure to ask permission from your employer or clinical instructor before using your work as a writing sample, and make sure to redact all identifying information. If you do not have a writing sample from an internship or clinic, you can use a piece of writing from a class that represents well your analytical abilities and, ideally, has some relevance to the position for which you are applying.
Some employers will ask for references, typically at the interview stage. To format a list of references, please refer to our sample reference sheets. Be sure to state the context in which the reference knows you and your work. Generally, employers prefer professional references. You can use professors as well, but the balance should be towards those who have observed your work outside of the classroom. Professional references can include clinical faculty.
Interviews are a critical element of your job search. Your application materials will serve as a basis for your interview, so you should be prepared to talk about everything in your resume and cover letter. Interviews will typically go beyond just your application materials, and many employers will want to better understand how you would handle certain scenarios through hypothetical and/or behavioral questions. Some public defenders’ and prosecutors’ offices use interview techniques to test your instincts and skill level, including posing hypothetical questions about ethical issues and requests to perform the opening or closing statement of a criminal trial. Read our interview tips and sample questions and sign up for a mock interview with one of the OPIA advisors.