"For legal jobs, the resume is paramount," said Rebecca Unzicker, a professional resume writer. Unzicker works for Legal Authority, a company that helps attorneys directly market themselves to the hiring directors at law firms.
"In some job fields, networking often leads to an opportunity; but you still need a strong resume," she said. "For legal jobs, we have found that targeted marketing of your resume leads to the best results and the most opportunities. Therefore, your resume is your foot in the door. It has to say everything about your value as an employee, and it has to say it quickly and concisely."
If you're stumped as to how to improve your resume and cover letter, there are plenty of simple solutions that can help.
First, when crafting your cover letter, be honest. Don't lie or exaggerate your accomplishments and/or experience. Starting out your career with dishonesty is never a good thing. Stick to the facts, but display them in a way that complements your strengths.
Also, be brief. It's a good idea to limit your cover letter to three or four paragraphs. This will give you plenty of room to introduce yourself without boring your reader. The last thing you want is for an employer to set your cover letter aside simply because it's too long.
Finally, in regard to your cover letter, make it personal. Find the name of the person who will be receiving the letter, and address it to him or her. Including this personal touch may not seem like much, but it goes a long way; and this information is usually easy to find by researching the firm online.
Now, when it comes to your resume, it's important to remember to keep it to one page. Because the average time an employer looks at a resume is 20 seconds, your resume should pack the biggest punch using the smallest amount of information. Therefore, only include the accomplishments and prior experience that you feel directly corresponds with the position you are applying for.
"As a job searcher, you want your resume to catch the employer's attention without setting you apart too much. You do not want to convey a dramatic personality or a tendency to be a prima donna," Unzicker said. "You need to communicate your skills and accomplishments in a way that they can easily and quickly be seen by the reader so that the reader immediately knows that you meet their criteria."
When asked about the sections that are the most problematic for people when putting together their resumes, Unzicker listed two main areas.
"One, believe it or not, is errors in spelling and grammar," she said. "The other is that candidates seem to either want every significant thing they have ever done listed on their resume or they generalize too much, resulting in very vague descriptions."
In order to solve these problems, Unzicker has some helpful tips.
"For the first issue, proofread, proofread, proofread," she said. "And have a second set of objective eyes look at the document, preferably someone schooled in writing and editing. The type of writing done in legal motions and documents is definitely not appropriate for resumes. For the second issue, a candidate needs to know what skills are important to legal employers and focus their job accomplishments to show that they have mastered those skills. Be specific about achievements. Quantify where possible. Leave out those things that are irrelevant to the practice of law; but stress transferable skills, such as leadership, researching, writing, interviewing. And give specific examples of successes in these areas."
Examples of things that may be clogging up your resume include information about your high school, honors that are not of particular importance, salary information, jobs that are unrelated to the position you are applying for, and references. In today's marketplace, employers will ask for references if they want them. You should not include them on your resume.
Also, honesty is just as important in your resume as it is in your cover letter. Everything that you put down in your resume should be true. Don't lie. However, it is perfectly fine to put a positive spin on your prior experiences so that each one represents you most favorably.
For example, if you have gaps in your employment history, it is better to give an explanation that displays your strengths than to leave the employer wondering and guessing at what you might have been up to during that time. When it comes to listing your past experience, it's always better to be honest. Entering false information on your resume may get you a job, but it can also tarnish your reputation for years to come.
In summary, when preparing your cover letter and resume, always keep in mind that this is your first and only chance to make a good impression. If an employer doesn't like your cover letter or resume, you will not get an interview. Don't disregard or underestimate the power of a great cover letter and resume. Take the time to prepare them properly. You won't regret it.