When you're looking for a new legal position, the quality of your resume can make or break your job search. Follow these 10 tips from recruiters to produce a winning legal resume that will help you stand out.
Make a Good First Impression
When you receive up to 700 resumes a week, as does Hudson Legal placement director Penny Burke, you must make quick decisions on which ones warrant further review. "First impressions are paramount," including the resume's format, design, font and organization, Burke says.
Stacey Beck, recruitment director for the staffing firm’s Philadelphia office, agrees that first impressions count, adding that experienced job seekers can be eliminated if they show poor judgment on their resumes. "I review an average of 25 resumes daily, and I can tell within several seconds whether I'm going to interview the candidate or not," she explains.
Keep It Simple
Candidates often use flowery fonts, boldface, boxes, lines, colors and other embellishments to stand out. This is not recommended.
"Keep it simple and professional -- nothing flashy, no pictures or graphics and no unusual fonts," advises Maureen D. Brady, division manager of Hudson Legal’s Permanent Placement Division within Legal Solutions in Manhattan. "Maybe those strategies work in the marketing or advertising arena, but not in the legal field.”
Brevity is essential. Brady, who specializes in placing paralegals, law firm administrators and clerks, says those candidates should keep their resumes to one page.
Ed Shioyazono, senior director of Direct-Hire Staffing in Hudson Legal's Los Angeles office, specializes in placing attorneys. He says a two-page resume is OK if you can’t make your information fit on one page.
Use an Addendum
Burke suggests using a resume addendum if you have extensive experience. "Add an addendum containing trial highlights, business deal accomplishments or other noteworthy achievements," she says. "It looks more professional to attach an addendum than to have a three-page resume."
"The legal field is all about accuracy," says Shioyazono. One typo can be enough to disqualify an otherwise strong applicant, he adds.
Burke says spelling and grammatical errors will ruin a paralegal's chances. She advises job seekers not to rely on spell-check, as this method won't catch blunders like cover letters that begin "Deer Ms. Burke."
Highlight Your Accomplishments
Candidates need to show how they meet employer's specific needs. "People tend to be too general on their resumes," Shioyazono says. "If you're a real estate attorney, don't just say, 'Involved in purchase and sale.' Instead, highlight the depth and breadth of your skill set and achievements. It's better to say, 'Documented all due diligence and closed transactions for $400-thousand industrial real estate deal.'"
Your resume is not your life story. "I don't care that you play chess or have a family," says Beck.
Shioyazono advises legal professionals not to go back more than 10 years on their resumes. "It's unnecessary to go into detail about experience that has nothing to do with your career goal," he says.
However, don't be too hasty in omitting all pre-legal experience. "For example, if you were a real estate paralegal or worked in a bank before you went to law school, include this information,” Shioyazono says. “I would interview someone with this background for a real estate attorney job before someone who's fresh out of law school without this relevant experience.”
Strategically Organize Your Resume
"If you're a new graduate, don't place your experience first,” advises Burke. “Lead with your strongest selling points."
You can create multiple resume versions if you have more than one career goal or specialty area. "If you have two different types of positions in mind, don't try to pack everything into a single document," Burke says.
If you’ve been on a steady career track, highlight this continuity in your resume. Shioyazono says the absence of job-hopping is even more important than being a perfect match to an employer's list of desired qualifications. "Having job stability says 'I'm not a flight risk,'" he explains.
If your employer changed names because of a merger or acquisition, make it clear you didn't change jobs. According to Beck, "lots of people appear to be job-hopping when in fact they're not.”
"Don't exaggerate your position title or responsibilities," cautions Burke. "I've interviewed people who overstated their experience, making claims like, 'Handled 10-plus jury trials,' when in fact they just observed these proceedings."
The same goes for lying about degrees or fabricating employment dates to eliminate gaps. Says Brady, "there's a good chance you'll get caught, if not during the interview process, then after placement."