Legal Practice

Resume Musts: How to Structure a Killer Resume

So I’m about to talk about something controversial–are you ready? …resumes are an important, vital part of your job search and you need to know how to craft one that makes you a strong candidate for the job.

I know, I know, there are people on twitter and Linkedin who say they aren’t important. Hiring managers who claim they never look at them. That they are a relic of the past. But that’s not true. Or if it is good advice for someone, it’s not actually advice for you. We do not have the space to be unconventional in our job search. So you need to know how to draft a good resume.

First, why are they important? For me (having reviewed hundreds of them), they give an overview of the person’s abilities, experiences, and potential for the job opening. A resume can say so much and can be the tool that leads to an interview. In fact, I can look at a resume and get a good sense of whether the person would be a good fit. Most people who do hiring do use some metric, whether it’s a resume or cover letter, to make that determination. It also gives hints of the person’s writing/editing skills, judgement, and professional growth. Your goal with a resume should be to show your history and skills and why those experiences make you a good fit for that specific role.

These are my musts for a great resume:

One. Keep it to one page. If you’ve been practicing law for less than 10 years, your resume should be one page. This is a hill I will die on, for sure. Even if you had a career before law, keep it to one page. Let’s say you’re an attorney with three years experience looking to make a lateral move. You graduated law school in 2017, within three years, with internships each summer. Why then, would a hiring partner need to know you were a bank teller in 2014? I see a lot of folks who list paid work before school when it has little to do with being a lawyer. Additionally, even if it was lawyer-adjacent, if it was years ago surely the skills you gained there were sharpened by a more recent experience, so why even list it? Limit your experience to events that happened within the past five years (at most) unless it’s something that makes you especially stand out (military service, Fulbright, you used to be a doctor etc). This will help keep your resume short. Once you’re practicing, all the extraneous stuff from school (special scholarships, dean’s list, organizations) can come off as well. Few hiring managers will care that you were Phi Beta Kappa four years ago, but they will want to know the size of the settlements you helped bring in as a practicing attorney.

Two. Edit for each job. Yes, you can land a job with a general resume, but crafting a strategic resume not only makes you a stronger candidate, but makes it easier to point to your skills for -that specific position-when you negotiate your salary. When you list your job duties, don’t just provide a general job description of your role. Rather bullet point specific responsibilities with metrics that relate to the job description for the position you’re applying for. Feel free to remove older job experiences that don’t add value to this role. Not only does that help with length, but it also shows that you’re a good fit. You want someone to read the resume and think–omg, I have to interview this person because they seem like the perfect fit! A resume with general info and just a summary of work history is not going to do that. Of course, I don’t mean start from scratch for each job, but simply adding different job duties can make you seem like the better candidate (i.e. for an immigration job, I would list all the types of immigration cases I did as a staff attorney, but for an employment role, I would focus on litigation experience).

Three. Be as polished as possible. Don’t use artsy templates–the law profession is not there yet with things beyond a word doc. Make the word doc a PDF (please!!). Keep font at least a 10.5 (older readers will struggle if they print to review–which often happens if reviews are being done for a group of applicants). Get rid of old stuff like objectives. And highlight any language skills you have as much as you can.

 

A resume is just one component of landing the job–cover letters (yes, I’m a huge proponent of them!), the interview, and references can all make the difference between receiving an offer but usually the resume is the one thing they glance at first and you want it to pique people’s interest enough to set you on the top of the preferred candidate list.

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