Promoting your professional skills via a legal resume entails much more than following the legal employment tips found on your law school’s website. Getting the best results when posting a law resume on LinkedIn or Simply Hired, or when applying for legal jobs at large firms or corporations, requires following specific practices that often aren't intuitive and that even top candidates can have a hard time grasping.
Here are three techniques to help you get more resume views via job boards, on LinkedIn, and at larger law firms or companies that capture resumes in applicant tracking systems (ATS).
1. Add keywords throughout.
If your legal resume doesn’t use the correct keywords — repeatedly — few people will see it. Resumes get viewed based on how many times relevant keywords appear. For example, if a law firm searches a job board for attorneys in the New York City area, even if there are thousands of potential candidates, the firm may see only the top 50 to 100. (This also happens when employers search their own ATS for law resumes.) The legal resumes that get viewed are the ones with the most keywords. Many people fail to add enough keywords to their resumes — so if you wrote your own, it pays to review the frequency and placement of keywords before posting the resume.
Critical keywords for law resumes include titles and elements of legal jobs. Words like “leadership” or “communication skills” won’t help you be seen. (Also, just about everyone claims these qualities. It’s better to illustrate that you have these traits with specific examples.) Instead, repeat common words from postings of law job openings.
Reiterate job titles, such as attorney, associate, litigator and paralegal. If you haven’t held these titles, try working them into job descriptions: “Worked with senior attorney/associate on projects including ...”
Also repeat words describing job elements, including “legal research,” “legal writing” and “case law.” Use these in your resume’s headline, opening section, job descriptions and wherever they’ll fit without sounding awkward, stilted or clumsily redundant.
It's also a good idea to use several terms related to the kind of legal job you want. Every employer uses different words, even for the same types of law jobs. So, to cover your bases, you need to include every similar description you can. For instance, if you’re looking for litigation-area legal employment, potential employers will certainly search on “litigation,” so this word should be repeated 5 to 10 times. But you will also want to squeeze in other terms employers are likely to add: “defense,” “depositions,” “settlements,” “negotiation,” “research,” “investigation” and so forth.
To further boost keyword hits while highlighting your legal employment qualifications, add an opening summary. It’s another opportunity to reiterate major keywords and simultaneously tailor your legal resume to particular jobs.
A strong keyword-rich opener for an entry-level attorney job description could look like this: “Promoted from legal intern to summer associate and worked with associates/attorneys on litigation preparation/litigation support.”
3. List strengths.
Include areas of legal employment experience or training, emphasizing strengths and including concisely worded examples. This is a perfect way to repeat keywords and another opportunity to showcase your most relevant strengths for specific law jobs. Succinct lists are fine, but don’t put them in a table. Most ATS systems, which are used by corporations and many large law firms, can’t read tables.
Even if you have a strong legal resume, it still may not get noticed by the search engines so integral to the legal hiring process today. By deftly incorporating keywords as you follow these three tips to help optimize your legal resume, you will substantially increase the number of times you’re seen by resume reviewers — which can only boost your chances of being hired.
Have more tips on optimizing legal resumes or winning legal employment? Share them in the comments below.