How NOT to get a job in a law firm.

I just received a resume and cover letter from a young attorney seeking employment in my firm.  I honestly don’t notice things like spelling errors because I can’t spell myself, but I’m sure the letter and resume were flawless technically.  I didn’t even read it that closely because the cover letter was addressed “Dear Sir or Madam:”

Here’s my response to the job seeker.  Yes, I addressed it to him personally, but I’ll keep that private for his sake.

[NAME],

I recently received your resume & cover letter.  While I’m not hiring right now, I thought I’d give you some feedback that might help in your approach.

1.  Take the three minutes or so that it requires to research each firm to at least get a name to address your letter to someone.  I don’t like being called “Dear Sir or Madam.”  Especially when it would only take about 30 seconds to find my name online.  This shows that you did NO research into my firm to see if you might be a fit for what we do.  You are trying to push the match onto me.  I don’t need you to make more work for me. I only hire people who make my life easier.

2.  Your cover letter was all about you, and frankly, none of your experience has anything to do with my firm’s work.  Again, if you had taken just a few minutes to search online, you would have found out what we do.  Then you could make a decision.  You could either write a cover letter that tells me how you’ll make my life easier, or you could save a stamp.

You have an interesting background – especially the National Outdoor Leadership School training.  In Colorado, leading with that might be more effective than leading some of the legal experience you’ve had that really doesn’t translate to the local legal market.

I wish you the best in your job search.

Sincerely,

Kevin E. Houchin, Esq.






11 Responses to “How NOT to get a job in a law firm.”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kevin Houchin. Kevin Houchin said: New blog post: How NOT to get a job in a law firm. http://houchinlaw.com/?p=613 [...]

  2. Kevin
    I thought a college class on resumes, cover letters and interviewing. Your commments are right on target.

    With the internet, there is no excuse for not knowing the name of the principal of a company and what they do.

    He got some valuable, free advice from you.

  3. Patricia says:

    I’m rather put off by your massive ego. Correct me if I am wrong, but nobody wants to work in a small or solo firm and if they are applying to work with your firm, it’s because they ran out of all possible and plausible reputable options. Likely, they saved their efforts for real positions with potential and then sent blanket cover letters to all of the no-names such as you who are self proclaimed experts who place themselves on a higher-than-worthy pedestal.

    I see that you sought to personally degrade this person, which is too bad because it’s as if you either forgot or never had to experience what it’s like to be a peon with no connections in the world. I’m guessing that since you are a privileged individual who comes from a privileged family, you probably simply do not know what it is like to truly struggle in life or have to over-extend yourself just to turn up short or with nothing at all. Either you do not know what it is like to be in his shoes, or you do. If you do not know what it is like then you have no right to knock him down a level because you do not speak from similar circumstance. If you do know what it is like, then you should take sympathy on him and realize that your ability to have a career is a lucky combination of roads being paved and being in the right place at the right time. Not everyone is so lucky merely because they did not have all of the breaks you did or the combination of right turns. How can you say you know the “key” to success or what right turns to take when it’s more evident that all of the turns you have made were simply chance and guessing, which just happened to work out for you.

    I would argue than an inability to spell is a MUCH MORE flawed disposition than not addressing your target gender so I wonder what right you even think you have to compare your less –than-humble self, to this person. You ought to really lend yourself to actual help, not disguised insults claiming to be help…Or better yet, simply better yourself because I hate to tell you the amount of logical fallacies you are guilty of in your rant.

    For a man that claims to be all about family and not spending needless time on work, you sure spent an excess of wasted time to reach out to this soul in a way that is not only not helpful but rude. That does not speak to your strengths, and it is people like you that really hold talented individuals back. In the process of weeding out candidates for employment, employers really miss the mark when they try to judge the match the person could be for the firm by relying on technical hiccups in their application methods.

    I cannot tell you how often I have seen human resources filter out individuals with tremendous talent and leadership skills because their test scores, interviewing poise, outfit, resume font, accent or speech, age, or other superficial assessments did not please the “holier than thou” recruitment person. It is such backwards progress to look at these superficial things and to hire someone who looks overly proper, has great grammar, seems more mature, meets a quota, has a certain posture, or is a master con-artist with swift words and/or tactics, instead of digging deeper for something that is actually going to apply to the job or the employer’s goals thus guaranteed future success. It is bad business really to focus on the non-relevant criteria such as you have because it will cost you money in the long-run. Hiring the wrong person because they said the “right” things means you will spend more money finding the right person and compensation the wrong…Which all could be avoiding by digging deeper as I said.

  4. Thanks for the heart-felt and thoughtful response Patricia. You make some good points of course.

    There’s a bunch more discussion about this – both supporting and vilifying me at:

    http://abovethelaw.com/2010/04/trying-to-go-to-a-small-firm-be-prepared-for-a-harsh-rejection/

    I stand by the idea that doing a little research on the person/firm to whom you are sending a cover-letter and resume is a MUST in a tough job market.

  5. I completely agree with Kevin’s response. Every year friends of mine reach out to me for job seeking assistance, resume critique and interviewing tips. They do this because i’ll give them straight advice just as Kevin did. Not everyone will adopt Kevin’s suggested practices. BUT, if you want to stand out among someone of equal education/experience/value on paper, you ABSOLUTELY have to do everything you can do give yourself that edge or you’ll be the person that gets turned down.

    About 10 years ago I was one of two people chosen for an interview out of 500+ for a webmaster position. Why? Zero spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes on my resume. The same can and does apply to personalization and tailoring to the job for which you’ve chosen to apply. I agree with the first comment that this person got some free real world advice.

  6. Actually, I think Kevin should be given some credit for taking the time to try to explain his position to a job hunter who did not bother to do his or her homework. Most such cover letters go into the round file and Kevin took the time to explain why so that, hopefully, the job hunter will know and do better next time.

    Now, what would have been really curious (and persistent) would be if the job-hunter responded with a huge apology to Kevin and a “thank you for taking the time.” From what I know of Kevin, he would have taken a second look and, frankly, if I were him, I would have done so too.

    THAT would be an exceptional applicant — someone who can acknowledge their mistake, overcome his or her embarrassment, apologize, move on and not be afraid of a second round of rejection.

  7. His response: “You’re right. It wouldn’t be a fit.”

    My response to that: “Fair enough. Good luck with your search.”

  8. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kevin Houchin, Douglas Reiser. Douglas Reiser said: very fair, Kevin. reasonable & helpful RT @kevinhouchin: My “massive ego” takes another hit. Check out comment: http://tinyurl.com/2awmjar [...]

  9. Carole Guffanti Notley says:

    Good for you, Kevin!
    I sent out a slew of cover letters in the past week, and I have NEVER considered “Dear Sir or Madam” as a salutation. I am of the mind that a cover letter is your first chance to make an impression, and my personal favorite salutation is “Good Morning!” In my humble opinion, it evokes a sense of my outgoing personality and creates a tone.
    Half the time, I don’t get so much as a form letter from prospective employers acknowledging receipt of my resume, let alone a “thanks, but no thanks” letter. The fact that you took the time to respond (albeit not with an offer) and to offer guidance should have been appreciated. Your comments were valid and, I do believe, thoughtful.

  10. Rebecca says:

    I absolutely agree with Patricia on this one and believe that you have used the wrong criteria to exclude this candidate. Did you factor in the possibility that he may be catering for the possibility that the person reviewing his application was a ‘gate keeper’ in the firm and not the principal? I am surprised that you don’t care about spelling mistakes as I suspect many of your clients and peers would.

  11. [...] Respecting the cover letter, I highly recommend that you pay attention to Kevin Houchin’s advice at http://houchinlaw.com/2010/04/14/how-not-to-get-a-job-in-a-law-firm/. [...]

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