Resume Do's and Don'ts
Your resume is your opportunity to make a good first impression – or a disastrous one. Don't blow it. Legal recruiters look at scores of resumes every week. Most decide within seconds whether an applicant merits an interview.
That decision is based on the resume's look and feel – its design, organization and readability. If yours is sloppy or unprofessional, it's going straight to the trash regardless of your credentials. Following these ten legal resume tips can improve your chances for landing an interview.
1. Keep it simple
That means no pictures, graphics or Technicolor displays. Pick a single type font that is readable and professional looking, and use it throughout. Keep bolding, underlining and italics to a minimum. Bells and whistles are not what employers are looking for in the legal world.
2. Keep it short
Use one page if possible, particularly for paralegals, administrators and clerks; two pages if you're an attorney; three or more pages – never.
3. Include an addendum
If you are an attorney with years of experience and you can't pack it all into one or two pages, use an addendum to call attention to trial highlights, business deals in which you participated and other noteworthy achievements.
4. Proofread carefully
You may be just the person a firm is looking for, but one typo or grammatical error in your resume can doom your chances. And remember: spell-checking is not proofreading.
5. Call attention to specific accomplishments
For example, if you are a real estate attorney, don't make a generic statement such as "Involved in purchase and sale." Instead, say something like "Documented all due diligence and closed transactions for $500,000 commercial real estate deal."
6. Keep to the point
Your resume is not a memoir, so omit the personal details and stick to the matter at hand: your career goal and relevant experiences. It’s not necessary to ignore your entire pre-legal history, however. For example, if you had real estate or banking experience before going to law school, include it, particularly if it pertains to the position for which you’re applying.
7. Organize strategically
If you are a new graduate, highlight your educational achievements. If you have been working for several years, lead with the relevant employment history, starting with your most recent assignment. Create several versions of your resume, tailoring each one to specific career goals, interests or specialty areas.
8. Emphasize stability
Employers like stability, so if you have been on a steady career track with one or two firms, emphasize that in your resume. If your employer changed names because of a merger or acquisition, point that out to avoid the impression that you changed jobs. In many cases, continuity of employment counts for even more than matching the job description.
9. Be honest
Don't inflate your previous titles, responsibilities or accomplishments. Don't make up employment dates, even if you're worried about gaps in your employment history. And do not under any circumstances lie about degrees or awards. You may get away with it during the interview process, but it will almost certainly catch up with you after you start the job.
10. Keywords are key
In the world of online job posting and candidate screening it’s important that you remember to include key words – highly-searched and position-specific terms – in your resume. Not only will this increase your odds of catching a recruiter’s eye, but applicant tracking software is often a factor and the right keywords will help flag your resume for review. If you are applying to a specific job listing, customize your resume by taking phrases directly from the posting. If you are adding your resume to a website database in the hopes of a future opportunity, be sure to include buzzwords that reflect industry trends. Just remember not to exaggerate your experience or pad your resume to the point that becomes too long or wordy.