Get on Track: Your Resume

"Your resume must capture the interest of an employer in less than ten seconds."

As shallow as this statement sounds, it is true. All of your accomplishments, everything you have ever worked to achieve, need to be summed up in a concise, easy to read summary that can be scanned by decision makers very quickly. You need to make a compelling statement that will motivate the employer to pick up the phone and call you.

You need to remember that your resume is one of your most important marketing tools. Below are some suggestions to help you maximize your resume's impact:

  • Even if you have an existing resume, rewrite it and rethink it from the perspective of an employer.

We cannot understand how many legal professionals can put so much time into their job search, but put so little effort into their primary marketing tool. In order to write a resume effectively, it is essential that you do some self assessment. Succeeding in your resume preparation, and, ultimately, in your career, requires (1) knowing who you are, (2) knowing the skills you have, and (3) knowing where you are going.

We have reviewed thousands of resumes and the ones that are memorable - the ones that land people jobs - are the resumes that show a clear career direction. Even if you have an existing resume, it will be useful for you to do the following exercise.

1. If you were a potential employer reading your resume, what would you think about you?
2. What do you want the reader of your resume to think about you?
3. What does your resume say about your strengths?
4. What does your resume say about your weaknesses?
5. Does your resume convey what your greatest likes are?
6. Does your resume convey what skills you have developed?
7. Does your resume reflect a constantly increasing level of achievement or a declining level of achievement?

  • You should also speak with friends and coworkers to get their thoughts on what they believe to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses. When you are preparing any resume, "who you are" will be summed up in a document generally of one page and will be reviewed very quickly. You must make an instant impression.
  • Your resume is not a novel.

We are very clear with most attorneys with whom we speak that their resumes should never be longer than one page. This is difficult for many legal professionals to do, especially those professionals with extensive, unique experience. The fact is, however, that employers need to know specifics and will not spend a lot of time hunting through minutiae.

In the case of corporate attorneys who have been practicing more than a few years, it is generally useful to have an attachment to the resume that lists their significant transactions. Similarly, in the case of those seeking careers in academia, a multi-page curriculum vitae is acceptable, even necessary. However, attachments should be distinguished from the main resume. In the main resume, you will still need to maintain a clear and concise appearance and structure.

  • Clean, simple formatting and appearance makes the grade every time.

A resume always needs to be easy to read and its appearance is very significant. In order to make the best impression, a resume should be in an easy to read font that will enable an employer to easily scan it to learn about your skills and experience. You need to ensure that your resumes, cover letters and envelopes are all printed on the same stationery. Additionally, a white or off-white paper of good quality is a much better choice than a nice fuschia. It goes without saying that a resume should be completely error-free. You should always proofread your resume, and have colleagues proofread it to eliminate any typographic errors. One spelling error can make you look unprofessional and may cost you an interview.

  • Margins, tabs and other formatting must be consistent.
  • Emphasize the names of your current and past employers so that the person reviewing your resume will know at a glance where you have worked.
  • Below are some important considerations to keep in mind about the formatting of your resume:
  • Contact Information
    Never get cute with your contact information. It should be formatted to be simple to read. Basically, it should be laid out as follows:

Name
Address
City, State Zip
Telephone
Email

Preferably, your name should be in bold and a larger font so that it stands out. You should also use your private email address because you want to appear discrete.

  • Objective/Goals Section
    Never put this on a legal resume. This is only useful in non-legal job searches.
  • Education
    Unless you have been out of school longer than three or four years, you should put your education first on your resume. You generally want to list your most recent degree, followed by your undergraduate degree. If you are in law school and anticipating graduating within the next year or two, include your anticipated graduation date. Unless you are applying for positions in a very narrow geographic area where you grew up (e.g., Billings, South Dakota), you should not include your high school.
  • Honors and Activities
    Along with your education, you should always list your significant honors and activities on your resume. Most attorneys and legal professionals incorporate this into their educational sections, although a separate section is just as common. The honors section should list anything of importance such as Dean's List, cum laude, or magna cum laude. If you have received any unusual honors or distinctions, it is useful to include brief explanations.

In the activities section of your resume, you should indicate any student organizations, sports you may have participated in, offices you held, and local community organizations of which you were a member.

  • Experience
    Your resume should list all of your work experience in reverse chronological order. For those who are in law school, previous jobs following high school, during college, or after law school should all be listed. However, once you have been practicing for at least two or three years you should limit the identity of your previous employers to those that were law-related and/or post-law school.

The most important part of the experience section of your resume is the descriptions you use to describe each employment. Through the careful selection of words and phrases, you should paint a dynamic and exciting picture of your work. Do not exaggerate your experience or accomplishments, however, because you do not want to give potential employers the sense that you can do certain types of work for which they may be interested in hiring you. The descriptions should highlight the experience most relevant to your current search, so the bartending job you held after college would not be worth more than the briefest description. You need to be clear and concise and ensure that your prospective employer clearly understands your capabilities and the type of work you have done.

Final points to remember:

  • Directly below each employer's name, you should list what title you have held.
  • You should be clear about all of your employment and educational dates.
  • Do not include your computer skills. Incredibly, many attorneys list things like the fact that they know how to use Microsoft Word.
  • Experienced attorneys should list all admitted bars.
  • Do not include a section on your resume stating that "References will be Furnished on Request". Employers will request references when they are ready for them.
  • If you speak more than one language, it is a good idea to list these, along with your level of proficiency.
  • It is often a good idea to have an "interests" section on your resume because it can help the employer have a good understanding of who you are in more than just a professional context. It also provides useful topics for discussion in interview.