Once you identify jobs for which you would like to apply, it is time to start preparing your application 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.
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. Double-check spelling and grammar.
- Make sure you have addressed your cover letter to the appropriate person or organization, and carry through the correct organization or office name in the body of the letter.
- Take advantage of our resume and cover letter review service before you submit applications. Be sure to submit your materials for review well in advance of any application deadline.
The resume section of OPIA’s website includes specific tips on how to draft each section of your public interest resume, as well as several sample resumes. In general, resumes should be limited to one page. However, resumes used for fellowship applications should include more detail about your relevant experiences and may exceed one page.
Cover letters are particularly important to public interest employers. We encourage you to spend a good amount of time on your letters and to tailor each letter to the mission and work of the organization. Your letter should give the employer a sense of the experiences that have shaped you and the values that matter to you and should demonstrate that you have thoughtfully considered how your interest, skills, and experiences could fit into their work. Our website includes tips and samples to help you formulate drafts.
Some employers will ask for a writing sample, usually 5-10 pages in length. Often, the best choice for a writing sample is one created in an internship or clinic, so the employer can see a recent, 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 redact all identifying information. If you do not have a writing sample from an internship or clinic, you could use a sample from a class that demonstrates your analytical abilities and, ideally, has some relevance to the position for which you are applying.
Some employers will ask for references, typically after an interview and before the offer. Our sample reference sheet is one example of how you might list references alongside the context in which they know you and your work. Generally, employers prefer professional references (which could include clinical faculty). Unless an employer specifies otherwise, you can use academic references (non-clinical faculty) as well, but balance your list towards individuals who have observed your work outside of a traditional classroom setting.
Interviews are a critical element of your job search. As your application materials will serve as a basis for your interview, be prepared to talk about anything in your resume, cover letter, and writing sample. Interviews can also go beyond just your application materials; many employers will want to better understand how you would handle certain scenarios through behavioral and/or hypothetical questions. Some public defenders’ and prosecutors’ offices use interview techniques to test your instincts and skill level, including by posing hypothetical questions about ethical issues and or requesting that you prepare and perform the opening or closing statement of a criminal trial. Read our interview tips and sample questions and sign up for an appointment to do a mock interview with an OPIA adviser.