Monday, July 18, 2016

The Networking Letter: Sibling of the Job-Seeking Cover Letter

As an adjunct to my posts (here and here) on law placement cover letters, I commend to you this blog post on networking letters, correspondence that seeks to establish a career or job-related connection--maybe even a longer-term relationship--rather than apply for a specific position.  Truth be told, in some form or another, four of the five tips in the post also apply to job-seeking cover letters.  The outlier?  Tip #2: "Don't ask for an interview or a job."

My take on the relevance of the other four tips for job placement cover letters is as follows:

  1. Respect your reader's time.  Always a good idea when you are asking for anything.  Do not demand.  Ask graciously.  But also be careful not to fall over yourself in being respectful.  It's just not attractive.  It's usually sufficient to use a pair of sentences like these after making an "ask" to show your respect:  "I know that you have a busy schedule.  Accordingly, if this request is unduly burdensome, please just let me know."
  2. Sell your strengths.  This is important and seems obvious.  But folks still miss this prompt!  Why would someone want to meet with a person they don't know well or at all unless the person was interesting to them in some respect?  As readers may recall, I recommend using the PAR method in sharing professional and personal strengths--using a short, pointed narrative, rather than merely describing knowledge, experience, or skills with adjectives and adverbs.
  3. Consider the timing of your letter.  I just had a request from a student on this very issue--when to get back in touch with folks he had positive connections with last year who asked him to "stay in touch" about his permanent job search.  These questions (as to timing) are highly contextual and can be tough to navigate.  I recommend consulting with multiple people to get their views about particularly sticky timing questions.  For example, with respect to my student, the timing of/participation of the firms in on-campus interviews plays a role.  So, I recommended that he also consult with folks in our Career Services office.
  4. Stick to it.  The advice the blog post author (Miriam Salpeter) gives here is dead-on right.  Key sentence: "You don't want to stalk the person, but it's okay to touch base a few times before you consider the door closed."  Again, I advise using advisors from various "walks" to help determine what crosses the line.  It's very important to those consultations that the letter writer keep accurate and complete records of contacts with the proposed letter recipient and others in the same workplace that can be shared with the consultants so that they can best advise. 

As another interview season is on the horizon (although interviewing never seems to stop these days, does it?), some of this advice may come in handy for folks soon.  I also recommend in this regard, btw, Haskell Murray's great post on resumes and interviews.  I cite to it in my initial cover letter post, but I want to note its value again here.

Thanks to Jim Levy for this post on the Legal Skills Prof Blog that alerted me to the networking letter piece.

Joan Heminway, Jobs | Permalink


Thanks for this, Joan. Lots of good points. On item two, I think you can mention some of your strengths, but I caution against overselling. Better, I think, is to note common ties with the recipient, such as a common alma mater or major or interest. Also, clearly explaining why you want to meet with that particular person is also obvious and important, but sometimes overlooked. Attorney Kyle Westaway explains here why he doesn't like when people ask to just "pick his brain" -- Being a good bit more specific is important.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Jul 18, 2016 8:57:48 AM

Nice points, all, Haskell. Thanks for raising them. I would especially endorse the idea of not over-selling oneself in either the networking letter or the job-seeking cover letter. And I also have advised many students to buy networking connections a cup of coffee (or something stronger--like Kyle, I am a bourbon drinker, as you may know!).

And I appreciate your encouragement to write on these kinds of things in this space. While they are not geared specifically to business lawyers or business law students, i do think the ideas are helpful to those in or contemplating a career in business law. You started me on this with your helpful and provocative resumes and interviews post, to which I link in y post. Many thanks.

Posted by: joanheminway | Jul 18, 2016 11:33:25 AM

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