Legal Job Search: How to Get Your Resume Noticed by Hiring Managers

I’m often asked by job seekers about the best way to find a job in today’s competitive legal hiring environment. My initial response is to ask them two “pre-requisite” questions:

1) Have you identified what’s absolutely most important to you in a legal job? And then:

2) Are you mentally prepared to commit to a new role in your legal career?

Inevitably, our discussion then turns to the challenges faced by legal job candidates to literally get their “foot in the door” for a face-to-face interview with potential employers. There’s no question, it can be difficult to get noticed by hiring managers. I read an interesting article recently about the statistics surrounding the “hiring funnel” – it estimated that on average, some 1,000 people will see an online job opening; while 20 percent will start the process, only about 100 actually submit an application. The article continues:

“... 75 of those 100 resumes will be screened out ...; 25 resumes will be seen by the hiring manager, four to six will be invited for an interview, one to three of them will be invited back for a final interview. One will be offered that job.”

If you’re searching for a new position in the legal profession, you need to distinguish yourself from the hundreds if not thousands of other candidates vying for law positions. A well-written resume remains one of the most valuable ways to get noticed and maximize your chances of securing an interview -- and the job.

Seven Tips for Creating a Winning Resume

Here are seven tips for writing a resume that works:

1) Tailor your resume to the job opening. Customize your resume for each and every position to which you apply. That’s probably the single, most important factor that most job applicants overlook. The resume should communicate in a clear, concise manner exactly how your experience in the legal profession, your achievements and the skills you possess directly relate to the legal job opening at hand.

2) Use phrases or words from the job description in your resume. As applicable, integrate key words regarding experience and capabilities noted in the job posting in your resume to boost your chances of landing an interview. Due to the high volume of resumes a single legal job opening may generate, many organizations now use a computer-aided screening process – resume parsing – to identify qualified candidates.

3) Stay clear of creative graphics, pictures, colors, and fancy typefaces. That’s not how to get noticed in a positive light. Plus, resumes that are overly formatted or contain graphics, charts or pictures can be rejected if a parsing technology is used during the screening process.

4) Format your work experience chronologically. Research our company conducted indicates that close to eight in 10 Fortune 1,000 executives prefer resumes with work history noted in reverse chronological order. Include specific dates (months and years) to indicate the duration of each position or assignment.

5) Describe your experience and skills in the active voice. Start your sentences or bullets with action rather than passive verbs. For example, instead of writing, “my last assignment provided me with six years’ contracts experience” – say, “researched and produced licensing contracts for six years.” Also, avoid vague terms such as “familiar with” or “experienced with” that can cast doubt on your actual depth of knowledge.

6) Emphasize results achieved, not just job functions. In addition to listing prior positions and responsibilities, emphasize specific, quantifiable contributions you made in prior assignments.

7) Proofread. There’s no excuse for a resume marred by typos, misspellings or grammatical mistakes (not to mention the negative impression it will leave on reviewers). Proofread your resume out loud, word for word, to detect errors. Run it through the computer’s spell-check function. Ask someone else to review your resume for errors.

Once you’ve put together your resume, prepare a succinct cover note that focuses on a few highlights that clearly describe why you’re an ideal candidate for the job. Keep it brief, equivalent to a 30-second elevator pitch -- because that’s about as much time the reviewer will spend to determine if they’re interested in learning more about you through your resume.

Take the time and energy to ensure your resume clearly outlines why you could be an ideal match for the position. Use your resume to get you noticed. You won’t get a second chance to make that first impression.