Once you home in on the jobs for which you’d like to apply, it is important to start preparing your job search materials. The typical application will include a resume, cover letter, and writing sample. Some employers will also ask for a personal statement, transcript, and references or letters of recommendation. If selected for an interview, most employers will use your application materials as a basis for the interview. It is extremely important to proofread your materials several times. Be sure to double-check spelling and grammar, 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. Employers consistently tell us that a single typo may get your application thrown away.
OPIA and OCS have created a joint resume video that walks you through how to construct your resume. In addition, the Job Search Toolkit section of OPIA’s website includes specific tips on each discrete part of your public interest resume and a number of sample resumes. In general, resumes should be limited to one page. Employers often read a high volume of resumes and consistently report that they prefer one page. The exception to this rule is resumes used for fellowship applications. Fellowship resumes should include more detail about your relevant experiences and are expected to exceed one page.
Cover letters are very important to public interest employers. Employers read them carefully and often use them to discern whether applicants have done their homework on the organization. Employers will know if you submit a form letter with only the name of the organization switched out. We encourage you to spend a good amount of time on your letters, and make sure you specifically target each letter 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.
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. Our turn-around time is 7-10 business days, so be sure to submit your materials well in advance of any application deadline.
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 as long as you believe it represents well your analytical abilities and, ideally, has some relevance to the position for which you are applying. We encourage you to work on finalizing a writing sample by the end of your 2L summer.
Some employers will ask for references. Typically, this request will happen 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 speaking, employers want at least some professional references– not just academic references. You can use professors as well, but the balance should be towards professional references. Professional references can include clinical faculty who have observed your work outside of the classroom. Contact anyone you hope to use as a reference to get their permission, and to confirm that the reference will be positive.
Interviews are a critical element of your job search. Your application materials will often 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 defender and prosecutors’ offices use particular types of interview techniques to test your instincts and skill level, including detailed hypothetical questions about ethical issues and requests to perform the opening or closing statement of a hypothetical criminal trial. Read through our interview tips and sample questions and sign up for a mock interview with one of the OPIA advisors.