Q: It’s been over ten years since I’ve updated my resume and I’m hoping to start a new legal job search soon. Do you have any advice for retooling my traditional resume to make it stand out from the competition I’ll soon be facing?
For starters, ask if yourself if your resume can pass the 60-second scan test? Could a potential employer quickly scan it and gain enough insights about your professional background to take a second glance? If not, these tips can help revise your resume so you can gain a competitive edge in today’s legal job market.
Legal Resume Essentials
Your resume needs to convey your background and abilities in a succinct manner:
- Include your name and contact information (personal address, email and phone number) at the top of the resume.
- Next, include a brief career summary (basically a written version of your elevator pitch) highlighting your key skills and experience.
- List your current title, company, start date and a summary of responsibilities that relate to the position to which you’re applying. Be sure to cite career highlights — specific actions taken and the positive impact of your work, including any quantifiable measurements. Be sure to highlight advanced skills, such as technical proficiency or eDiscovery experience.
- Next, note previous work experience, also citing positions, titles, companies, start/end dates, a summary of your key duties, highlighting specific achievements, and any industry sector or practice area expertise that corresponds with the position you’re applying for.
- Finally, include information about your education — college and post-graduate degrees — in reverse chronological order as well as any specialized certifications or relevant professional education you’ve gained or law articles you’ve published.
Keep it Short and Customized
While the information you include in your resume should point to what sets you apart from other candidates, how you convey it is also important. Since hiring managers will review your resume quickly, it’s important to keep it short and be concise. Some pointers:
- A simple, clean format — black type on a neutral background — is best. Bullet points, headings and bold words will help hiring managers scan and quickly identify critical details. Flashy graphics, images and complicated layouts are distracting and detract from the message you’re trying to convey, so avoid using them.
- Be sure to customize your resume for each and every job application by focusing on your experience, skills and achievements that align with the specific requirements of the job opening. This helps demonstrate that you are uniquely qualified for the position.
- To streamline the hiring process, many employers use resume screening software so be sure to include keywords in your resume that match the skills and qualifications listed in the job description.
- Just one typo can take a candidate out of the running so it’s important to proofread your resume thoroughly before submitting. Ask a trusted friend or family member to review for typos to ensure your resume is error-free.
Legal Resume “Don’ts”
Legal candidates often ask me if there’s any information they should avoid including on their resumes. I’m always quick to respond with the following:
- While “career objective” statements were standard protocol years ago, it’s no longer deemed required information, so, you don’t need to include it. Employers who review your resume want to know what you can offer their organization, not how they can help you achieve your professional goals.
- Legal hiring managers will ask for references if they’re interested so no need to list “references are available upon request.”
- Avoid listing your previous salary or current pay. The best time to discuss your salary expectations is later in the interview process, typically during the final interview phase.
- Along the same lines, don’t cite on your resume why you left previous jobs. Just be prepared with an answer if you are asked it during an interview.
Use your legal resume strategically – – to advertise your unique professional capabilities and expertise – – underscoring how your skills, experience and knowledge set you apart from other applicants and why you are an ideal candidate for the job.
Re-booting your resume is a valuable exercise that can help you land the position you’re pursuing in today’s dynamic job market.
Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a premier legal staffing and consulting solutions firm with locations in major North American and international markets. She holds a J.D. from Capital University Law School and a B.A. from Ohio State University and has more than 15 years’ experience in legal staffing, training, leadership, and consulting matters.