Alumni Support – Resumes & Cover Letters
We are available to review your resume and cover letter and provide helpful suggestions. Simply email your resume and/or cover letter to one of our career counselors, and we will review it for you.
Please note that we will not review resumes and/or cover letters that are not updated. For help writing a resume or cover letter, see our sample alumni resumes and cover letters and accompanying handout.
You may also schedule an appointment to discuss your resume and/or cover letter by telephoning (603) 513-5182 or emailing Mary Anne Aspell.
Your resume is one of the most effective tools in your job search and is the best way to make a good first impression. It is not uncommon for employers to receive hundreds of resumes for one position alone.
Thus, your resume should be a brief, concise summary of your educational and professional experience. It should reflect you as an individual and serve as a tool to attract favorable attention, stimulate interest and generate positive action by employers. It is not intended to be a comprehensive description of you.
Sample resumes are available (PDF).
Resume Formatting Guidelines
Resume format is important. The average employer takes less than 30 seconds to screen a resume. If the resume is hard to read, too long or does not have enough white space, it may well get thrown out.
Keep it to one page
A general rule is one page for every 10 years of relevant experience. It’s okay to leave some mystery in the resume and not show everything as long as you do not have large unexplained gaps of time.
Use reverse chronological order
In your “Experience” category, list your most recent position first. This same rule follows in your “Education” category – list your most recent degree first.
Make it easy to see, easy to read
You want a layout that is user-friendly, not cluttered or disorganized. Use capital letters, bold and indentations to separate sections and guide the employer. If you are having trouble, draft several different layouts and try them out on your friends. See which one they find most pleasing and want to look at the longest.
For most text, somewhere between a 10- and 12-point font is appropriate. Your name should not be more than 2 points larger than your text.
Keep a left margin to 1 inch. If you list “education” and “experience” on the far left, they can be less than 1 inch away, but solid block descriptions should be 1 inch or more. Top and bottom should be a minimum of .75 inch.
Keep them simple and uniform. You want your credentials to stand out, not your word processing skills. As a rule, only have two or three different things going on, such as bold, bold italics and plain. Use UNDERLINE or ALL CAPITALS sparingly. Use italics for publications.
Use a professional-looking font
Fonts such as Times New Roman, Century Schoolbook and similar type styles all work well. If in doubt, read the employers’ material and adopt a similar font. Do NOT use color font.
Use a laser printer to make resumes
If you are in the Concord area, there are laser printers available for your use at no charge in the Career Services Student Resource Center.
Use light, neutral bond paper
8.5 x 11 white, ivory, beige and light gray bond paper are all acceptable. Remember, you don’t want to give the employer a reason to toss your resume. Use the same paper and envelopes for cover letters and lists of references. Do not include pictures or clip art on your resume.
Never use pronouns (e.g.,”I”). You do not need to use full sentences. Try to describe things in succinct phrases using action verbs. (See below for a list of action verbs.) Use present tense for current jobs and past tense for past jobs and avoid use of the passive voice.
Have someone else proofread your resume for typos, spelling mistakes or omissions
This is in addition to running spell check. If you cannot find someone to proofread, do the next best thing and read it out loud, every word, number, and punctuation mark.
Resume Content Guidelines
Now that the format is professional, clear and concise, you need to address content. The key is tailoring your resume for specific employers. This is your professional marketing piece. Don’t overstate or understate your qualifications. Your goal is to make the reader interested in learning more about you.
Make several versions of your resume
Tailor your resume for specific employers. For each employer, ask yourself how each entry is going to be viewed. As you do that, you will realize that no resume is ever in final form, and you will need to keep updating your resume during and after law school.
Your name - Center and use a slightly larger or bold-faced print.
Your address/es, phone number/s, and email address - If you use your Concord area address, center it under your name, along with your phone number. If you plan to relocate to another area where family members live, list both your Concord and your family address. Label one “school” and one “permanent.” This shows the employer that you consider New Jersey, California, or Minnesota your “permanent address” and indicates your ties to that specific area. If possible, use your UNH Law email address.
Omit the “Career Objective” or “Professional Goal”
You cannot do this justice in a line on your resume, so save it for a cover letter. Moreover it is not appropriate for a legal cover letter.
Omit any personal references such as marital and immigration status or religious affiliation
Include your bar admission(s) if applying to a legal position.
* List the names of the schools you have attended through college, as well as their locations by city and state. Include high school information only if it ties you in with a particular geographic area or if the school has a well-known national or regional reputation.
* For each school, list the degrees obtained and years of graduation. Be consistent: if you use “Juris Doctor,” don’t say “B.A.,” say “Bachelor of Arts.” If you received a Master of Intellectual Property, spell it out most employers won’t recognize MIP.
University of New Hampshire School of Law, Concord, NH
Candidate for Juris Doctor, May 2011
University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH
Bachelor of Arts, Psychology, May 2008
* If you received your degree with honors, you should list summa, magna, or cum laude in lower case italics after your degree and before your major.
Keene State College, Keene, NH
Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, Sociology, May 2008
* Only put your GPA on your resume if it was 3.0 or above. With respect to law school, only put your class rank if you were in the top third of your class.
* You may want to list honors, student activities, special skills and specialized concentrations under schools. Depending on the employers you are sending versions of your resume to, you may want to emphasize some and eliminate others.
Bates College, Lewiston, Maine
Bachelor of Arts in English, May 2008
Activities: Member, Bates Book Club, 2006-2008
Member, Bates Equestrian Team, 2005-2008
* “Experience” as a section name allows you to include any clinics, externships, and volunteer positions you may have participated in during or after law school without having to delineate paid or unpaid.
* List the places where you got your experience in reverse chronological order by listing the name, location (city and state) and dates you worked. Use dates effectively by sticking to months or seasons, e.g. “August 2005 - Present,” “Fall 2001” “Summers 2005 - 2007.”
New Hampshire Public Defender, Concord, NH
Investigator, Summer 2009
* Describe what you did using active, power verbs. “Researched, wrote briefs, assisted with trial preparation, in the areas of ______” is stronger, more positive, and cleaner than “Duties included ...” or “responsible for the preparation of.” A list of active verbs is included in this handout.
* Order. Think about the order in which you describe your positions and lead with your strong suit. If you researched, wrote memos, interviewed clients and presented evidence in court, you may want to lead with “Represented clients in all phases of their misdemeanor hearings, including conducting trials . . . .”
* Eliminate all unnecessary words. In general you can take out adverbs and adjectives, articles and numbers, e.g. “drafted pleadings on a variety of matters” becomes “drafted pleadings.” “Mediated small claims suits for ten parties” becomes “Mediated small claims suits.” Keep your prose simple and clean; remember that employers may use this as evidence of your writing ability.
* Be selective in the positions you list. Concentrate on showing the ones that you believe will be of interest and value to the reader. Doing lawn maintenance over the summers during college may not be that significant, but establishing, running and managing your own lawn care business shows initiative, entrepreneurial skill and hard work—all skills lawyers need to have.
* Include military experience. List branch, dates of service, and rank attained. Include citations or commendations. If you are in an active reserve unit, say so.
Licenses, special qualifications, activities and skills
* Foreign languages, memberships, public speaking, special training, license and certifications should almost always be included.
* Computer skills should only be highlighted if you have a specialized and unique skill. Most employers assume that as a law student you are familiar with Westlaw, Lexis Nexis and Microsoft Word applications.
* Community Activities or Volunteer Service can be included if there is room and/or they are noteworthy and/or relevant.
Include an “interests” section if you do not have other examples of significant unrelated activities already on your resume. Employers are drawn to resumes that reflect something different about the applicant. Students have gotten favorable responses to traveling, creative pursuits, athletics and interesting hobbies. Employers love to have something other than your legal credentials to talk to you about in an interview.
Include related courses only if you’re pursuing a particular field. If you include these, you should list them at the end of your resume in a smaller font or under the relative educational institution.
Omit the phrase “References available upon request.”
It is expected that you will furnish references upon request.
Cover Letter Writing
Cover letters, like resumes, are designed to get you an interview, not necessarily a job. Use your cover letter to highlight and make points from your resume and show why you should be interviewed.
Do not rehash your resume in your cover letter. Some employers use a cover letter to assess your writing and communication skills. Thus, it is critical that your cover letter be brief, concise, well written and without any errors.
Sample Cover Letters are available (PDF).
Cover Letter Formatting Guidelines
How the cover letter looks is as important as what is in it. If the letter does not convey a sense of precision and professionalism in appearance, it is unlikely that it will be read for content.
Stick to one page or shorter
Given how busy many employers are, they are not interested in reading long cover letters. Help them want to learn more about you by keeping your cover letter to three or four concise paragraphs.
Use a decent type size and font
As with resumes, you want to use a professional-looking font that is easy to read and preferably matches the one on your resume. Keep the type size between 10 and 12.
Only use plain type style in the body of letter
Indent each paragraph by 5 to 10 spaces. Studies of readers have shown that they are more likely to read copy when the paragraphs are indented.
Keep paragraphs relatively short: 9 lines or less
Paragraphs with a few sentences work better than those that go on at length. Remember, this is intended to whet the employer’s appetite, not tell them all.
Use laser printer on bond paper
As with resumes, paper and printing matter. Match the paper of your resume and use a laser printer for top quality results.
Always sign your name
Often this is overlooked. You are expected to sign each letter above your name. Do not forget it.
Follow business letter formats
Your address and phone number go at the top right or center, followed by the date. The employer’s name, organization and address go on the left side. This is followed by the salutation: “Dear Ms. Fortuna:” and your next few paragraphs. Your signature block should line up with your home address block.
Cover Letter Content Guidelines
Take the time to tailor your cover letters to the specific employer, and be as creative and succinct as possible.
Employer’s name, organization and address
You must have a contact. Sending letters to “To Whom It May Concern” is a sure way to end up in the trash. Always get the name of a contact, even if it means several phone calls. Be sure that the names and addresses are all accurate: any error allows the employer to consider you sloppy and careless, and, hence, not worthy of an interview.
Always use Ms. or Mr. in the salutation line
Even when you know someone, it is better to err on the side of formality. Never use a first name if you don’t know the person and always use Ms. or Mr. unless you have been told specifically to use Mrs. If the contact name is gender neutral like “Adrian,” “Taylor,” or “Pat” call to find out. We all take our names seriously, so get it right.
Introduce the most important information in the first paragraph
The goal here is to hook the reader and get them to want to read more. This is information such as names of anyone who referred you, your concentration in a particular legal specialty or how you came across this employer – former student, panel discussion, article.
Use the remaining paragraphs to supplement, not repeat, your resume
Argue from your resume, don’t repeat it. In the second paragraph, focus on one or two experiences most relevant to the position you are applying for. Talk about what you either learned from or enjoyed about the position. Try to allow some of your personality to show through – employers tend to get many covers letters that all sound the same. Make yourself stand out by sounding different, while maintaining a personal yet professional tone.
Show, don’t tell, the employer you are a good match
Forget ever saying that “I will be an asset” or “I am confident that I can significantly contribute.” You are trying to show your self-confidence, but to the employer it comes off as arrogant. Let the employer decide if you are going to be an asset, and most of them believe that no one without at least one to two years’ of practice experience is ever an asset. You can show your confidence, enthusiasm, energy and initiative by writing along the lines of: “I am eager to build on my business experience and legal education in working with your firm’s clients” or “I look forward to applying my skills to your organization’s legislative efforts.”
Use plain writing and perfect grammar
Short, pithy, accurate sentences convey meaning best. Eliminate unnecessary words. Use active verbs. Be precise about what you are saying. Avoid long adjectives and adverbs. Keep it simple. If you are unsure about grammar and punctuation, try one of the computerized grammar programs or ask someone to read for content.
Always have someone proofread for typos and errors
As noted with resumes, you just can't catch everything yourself. Have someone else read through your letters after you do the spell check.
Include information about follow up and enclosures in your last paragraph
When you are enclosing a resume, this is the place to say so. If you can follow-up, which is strongly advised, include a sentence explaining what steps you will take. Always thank the employer for considering you.