Mind the Gap: 3 Tips for Handling Unemployment on Your Legal Resume

By Robert Half on November 4, 2014 at 5:00pm

Q: I’m applying for a new position and worried about a gap between jobs in my legal resume. I’m afraid potential employers won’t give me a second look because I’ve not held a legal position in many months. What can I do to improve my chances of landing a job?

A: While your skills and experience aren’t rendered null and void simply because you had a period of voluntary or involuntary unemployment, gaps in work history can negatively affect your chances of getting hired. But don’t worry too much: You can successfully handle a break in your legal resume. Here’s how:

1. Address the elephant in the legal resume

Yes, hiring managers will notice the employment gap, so you might as well acknowledge that right away in your cover letter. Do so succinctly and confidently. Briefly mention the lull, but follow up with all the ways you qualify for the position. Be honest but don’t overshare, which could cast your application in a negative light. The legal resume or cover letter is not the place for explaining why you were laid off, fired or chose to quit. You’ll have plenty of time to explain the details in an interview — but only if the hiring manager asks first.

Keep in mind that legal hiring managers are human, too. Many of them understand that a mommy or daddy track temporarily takes some parents in a different direction. They probably have an elderly parent or ill family member who needs extra care. And they realize that the great recession resulted in layoffs. If you come across as forthcoming yet positive in your application, you’ll increase your chances of getting an interview.

2. Highlight the skills you developed and honed in the interim

Even though you weren’t working professionally during the gap, you weren’t twiddling your thumbs, either. Think about the new skills you picked up and the ones you honed. If you did volunteer work, try to align that with your professional expertise. Classes count, too; mention the continuing legal education (CLE) courses that you took while unemployed. Now is the time to start preparing to re-enter the legal job market. The key is to show that you have been active and engaged in the legal world, even though you weren’t receiving a salary.

3. Switch up the format

You can draw attention away from the gap by using a hybrid resume. This format combines the skills-based qualifications of a functional resume with the easy-to-follow structure of a chronological resume.

First, attract potential employers’ interest with a brief profile of yourself. In the next section, highlight your skills, experience and the results you’ve achieved, underscoring your potential value to the firm or legal department. Follow this functional section of your resume with a reverse chronological breakdown of your positions. The key is to bring your capabilities and expertise to light before revealing your employment timeline. By changing up the format, you control how you market yourself to law firms and legal departments.

Caveat : Hiring managers are not all the same. While some employers will automatically toss out a legal resume with a functional or hybrid format, others will not. Since you don’t know how each potential employer will react to your resume, all you can do is apply to plenty of openings, diligently customize your application to each job posting, and stay current with the latest legal trends and technology.

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