Writing resumes can be tricky when you're applying for jobs at law firms and corporate legal departments. You might wonder how to order the different elements — or consider whether certain information should be included at all. And what about using design elements? Will they distinguish you or be inappropriate?
Never fear. The following 10 tips for writing resumes can help you land one of the legal positions you're persuing:
1. Keep it brief
Here's one of the best pieces of advice for writing resumes: Be concise. Hiring managers scan resumes quickly, and if you write one that's too wordy, you run the risk of burying the things that make you a good fit for the job. You don't have to keep the document to one page, but don't let it go on too long. In general, the best rule of thumb is to allow the breadth and depth of your experience to dictate the length.
2. Get right to the point
There's some debate in the legal world about whether you should include a summary of qualifications at the top of a resume. If you do decide to include one, make it as specific to the position as possible, and keep it short. If you choose to skip it, begin your resume with your bar admission, and then move into your education or experience. (See the next point for more on this.)
3. Decide whether to list education or experience first
This will depend on your years of professional experience. If you've worked as a lawyer or legal professional for more than three years, lead with your experience. Otherwise, start with your education. No matter where you start, use reverse chronological style: Most recent education or experience first.
4. Use action verbs
Avoid vague or wishy-washy verbs like "performed," "conducted" or "assisted with." Instead, use strong words that describe exactly what you did, like "researched," "analyzed," "solved" or "negotiated."
5. Tailor your resume to the position
Find out as much as you can about the job and the kinds of projects you'd be doing, and modify your resume to highlight the skills – writing, communication, negotiation, or research, for example – that would help you excel in those projects.
6. Make it easy to read
Steer clear of colors or graphics when you're writing resumes for legal employment. Also avoid using multiple fonts that might make your document hard to read. Simple black serif type (Cambria, Times New Roman and Garamond are good choices) on a clean white background is best.
7. Include other skills, if they're relevant
For example, make sure to mention any other languages you speak, along with your level of proficiency (fluent or conversational, for instance). If you can't carry on a conversation in the language, though, don't list it. Also list any sophisticated technical skills that make you stand out, such as experience with eDiscovery software or any applicable experience outside the law, like a background in computer science or computer forensics.
8. Consider how to list your publications
If you've published a small number of articles on law-related topics, include them on your resume, particularly if they're related to the firm's practice area. If your publishing history is extensive, though, compile a list of your articles in a separate document and include a note on your resume that states, "List of published works available upon request."
9. Think about including hobbies and interests
Some legal employers like to read about candidates' outside interests because those hobbies can serve as an ice-breaker in an interview. If you do include your interests, try to note activities that showcase your leadership skills, self-discipline or other positive qualities. Remember that the hobbies and interest you list should be work-appropriate, so use your best judgement when determining what makes the cut and what doesn't.
10. Proofread it
Someone else's grammatical and spelling errors might be funny, but not when you're writing resumes, and the mistakes are yours. Even one little error can torpedo your chances, so make sure to read your resume thoroughly before you send it out. If you can, print a copy and proofread it; it's much easier to spot changes on a piece of paper than on a computer screen. Even better, ask a friend to read it through. Many times they'll see things you didn't.