Q: What are stage-specific mistakes lawyers make in their resumes?
A: If you went to a top law school and worked in a name-brand job after graduation, it may not matter what your resume looks like. But the majority of lawyers don’t have that pedigree, and instead have to sell themselves better on paper. Yet, common missteps hold them back at every stage.
Newer lawyers tend to take a too-regimented approach to their resumes by continuing to adhere to the advice they got on campus as students, and thus have undifferentiated looking (and thus less impactful). resumes. If you have more to say about your background, maybe by including a prior career or valuable pre-trial jobs, a resume can be two pages. It needn’t start with education at the top. GPAs don’t have to be reported to the third decimal point. In other words, junior lawyers can and should move beyond the “law school look” resume.
Mid-level lawyers who have had one or more legal jobs still tend to write a job-by-job resume, equating professional experience with law school internships and building in repetition of tasks, job to job. Instead, use headings to snapshot your career components and expertise, such as Litigation Experience, Corporate Background, Law Firm Roles, In-House Managerial Experience. Distinguish the Roles In Law School with a subheading and avoid chopping them into months-long identifiers, such as by indicating an externship was during the Spring Semester 2011 rather than Jan.-May, 2011. You can even combine descriptions of similar jobs, then name the employers…and leave out descriptions of work during law school which is either self-explanatory or irrelevant at this point in time. All in all, don’t distract the readers by making them plod through your resume to figure out your career.
More seasoned lawyers need to make sure their value is evident on their resumes. Staying with renditions of jobs and tasks is no longer enough; a focus on outcomes is key, as is highlighting leadership at work and in the larger community. What you can contribute on a number of levels is what is persuasive at this point in your career. And don’t think that including well-named interests or involvements is only for less experienced lawyers’ resumes. If you run in charity races or engage in social media, you convey a continuing vitality and up-to-date skills that will impress prospective employers and enrich your interviews. A resume is no hum-drum formality; it is a forum to be used wisely at every stage.