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Successful job hunting requires a set of skills which, once learnt, can be used repeatedly throughout your career. Writing a resume is an exercise in self-assessment and organization necessary for success at any level. Composing a persuasive and impressive cover letter is a good practice for all those times in the future when you will be required to present yourself or an idea in a letter. And the job interview is, of course, only the beginning of many such encounters. The current job seeker may become the future employer, the attorney interviewing (or being interviewed by) a prospective client, or once again a job seeker hoping to move on to a better position.
Preparing a Resume
A recent cartoon shows a portly gentleman seated in the office of a lawyer search consultant. The caption reads, "My resume, sir, is what you see sitting before you!"
Since most of us are unlikely to be hired simply on the basis of our compelling presence, it is generally useful to have a resume. The employer who will be evaluating your qualifications needs to have a resume. The resume tells the employer who is a likely candidate for the position and who is not.
In this respect the resume is a baited hook. It provides the prospective interviewer enough about the candidate to pique the interviewer's interest, leading the interviewer to think, "I would really like to meet this person."
The resume also provides a framework for the interview. A great deal of time can be wasted in a twenty minute interview if the employer knows nothing about the applicant beforehand and the applicant has to answer many tedious questions about grades, experience, and other basic qualifications. Under these circumstances, the applicant might become confused about names of employers, dates, or other details, and lose valuable time in which he or she could be asking questions about the firm or corporation. With a good resume, the employer can review the applicant's qualifications in advance and use the interview time to clear up important details and get some sense of what the applicant is like as a person. What follows is a step-by-step description of how to create an effective resume that will make employers want to meet you. Do not short change yourself by plugging your data into someone's boilerplate form.
Do Your Career Planning Homework
Your resume should help focus on your goals and objectives. While compiling your resume, you will be forced to evaluate your goals, your skills and abilities, and your limitations. You will also have to consider the job market: given your career and geographical preferences, what is available?
Do not make the mistake of thinking that all this self-analysis can wait until later. Your resume will have to be aimed at the kinds of employers you hope to work for if it is to be effective. Compiling a general resume and firing it off to hundreds of employers in the hope that one of them will respond is reminiscent of the famous line, "I shot an arrow into the air; it fell to earth I know not where!" You do not shoot an arrow into the air if you want to hit a target--you aim it. If you want to aim several different resumes at several different career targets, it is perfectly acceptable.
As you prepare your resume, ask yourself the following objective questions:
Who will you be interviewing? Who does the interviewer represent? What information will the employer want to know about you? What personal characteristics and aptitudes do you possess that would be most attractive to an employer? What accomplishments should you stress in applying for this kind of employment? The answers to these questions, as you perceive them, will determine in a large part the structure of your resume.
The second consideration is your subjective assessment of what you want. At this point, a certain amount of self-knowledge and a good deal of thought are needed, but the investment of time and energy will be well worth while if the result is an effective resume.
List Your Qualifications
When you have identified your employment objective(s), you are ready to take out a pencil and paper and start working on the resume itself. First, jot down a brief statement or statements of your objectives. Then record in outline form everything you think might be relevant to these objectives, including your educational back ground, work experience, and other relevant factors.
Start with the present (law school) and move backwards to college. Include all honors, activities, and publications, as well as your GPA.
Do not include high school experience unless your high school record contains something especially relevant. One student, for example, had attended the same prestigious private high school as a partner in the firm to which he was applying. While his other qualifications were excellent, you can be sure that mentioning his high school in his resume did not harm his chances.
Another student might have had some special achievement or honor in high school that would have direct bearing on the type of job she was seeking. But except in very unusual cases, it is not nec essary to go back to the year one to give the employer relevant information.
Next, summarize in outline form your entire work history, including names of employers, dates, and general statements of the most important duties for each job. Make a note of significant skills developed on each job. Again, list everything you can remember.
Edit or Expand Your List
Having listed the information usually included in resumes, you should now edit ruthlessly. If you are a second or third year student, or a graduate with some work experience, your task may be to cut irrelevant material from your list. Leave out undergraduate activities if they have little bearing on what you want to do. If you have had summer or part-time clerking experience, do not bother including the construction job you had in your junior year of college, or the summer you waited tables in a resort.
If you are a first year law student hoping for a summer or part- time clerkship, your problem may lie in not having enough on your resume to make much of an impression. In this case, expand your list.
Include college activities and important papers and projects. Include titles of law school courses taken or in progress to show that you have some familiarity with the work you will be doing. Describe work experiences that show you to be hard working and dependable. Add any references that would mean something to the employer.
Shape and Arrange Your Qualifications
Once you have a rough list of items to be included in your resume, it is time to shape and arrange those items in the pattern that will be most effective. In some ways it is very difficult to give general advice about writing a resume because each person's resume should be a unique representation of a unique individual. In order to present yourself as such a unique individual to prospective employers, your resume-your proxy-must stand out. Employers tend to view students as generic or fungible. You, on the other hand, must establish yourself as a gem, or at least diamond in the rough.
Academic honors provide immediate identifiers. There are, however, others. Look at your list again. What have you done or accomplished that distinguishes you from most of your classmates? Work those accomplishments into your resume in the appropriate sections.
The standard approach is to begin the resume with your name, address and telephone number(s). These should be prominently presented at the beginning of the resume to make it easy for employers to contact you.
If your current address is temporary, provide a permanent mailing address, such as that of a family member. If necessary rent a post office box. But use a good, easily accessible address. If at all possible, supply a telephone number where you can be reached easily so an employer can make an appointment for an interview quickly and conveniently. If there is someone who is willing and able to accept appointments for you, you are in luck. If you have access to a fax number, list it also.
If no other avenue is open, a telephone answering machine or even a professional answering service for a period of time may be the answer to your needs. An employer who is moved to action by your resume, should be able to pick up a phone and arrange an appointment immediately. An employee who cannot reach you at a time when interest is high may be less inclined to call back on another occasion.
Education is usually the first major category in your resume since it is often the area of greatest interest to employers. For experienced attorneys, work experience may be more important.
There are several ways of presenting your academic performance. You can include your grade point average (most employers expect to see it), or list the courses in which you did particularly well. Group courses according to area of concentration to show expertise, or chronologically to show improvement. Some students prefer to make grade and class standing information available only in the interview, but many employers assume that if your grades are not on your resume they are not very good. Check with your placement office to find out your law school's policy on grade representation. Activities and honors usually should be listed as well, but they can be included in a separate category to showcase them. List your college or university, the date and type of degree you received, and all pertinent honors and activities. Again, the way you arrange the material will influence the message you communicate about yourself. Try to be more selective about pre-legal than law school entries.
If you attended graduate schools or special programs, you will want to list those as well. Some older students who have attained several academic degrees may need to leave out or summarize some of their educational experiences in order to conserve space. The way you classify your academic record and activities will depend on how you can best highlight your strong points.
Experience is usually the next category. Note the use of the term experience rather than employment. Concentrate on legal work by listing these experiences first and in greater detail, with the present or most recent job listed first.
For relevant jobs you can include the name of your employer, dates of employment, and a brief description (using action verbs) of your most important responsibilities. If you were chairperson of a committee, helped with a political campaign, lobbied, or volunteered in some other capacity, you acquired valuable skills, and this information should be included, especially if your other work experience is limited. As for non-legal work experiences, try to focus on those aspects of the job that built skills that could be useful in your work as a lawyer. Chart 12 illustrates a matrix based upon experience.
Publications, if you have them, can appear in the context in which they were written (under education or experience) or, if there are several, can be listed in a category by themselves. Personal information if included at all, is usually best listed at the end of the resume. As the name implies, this information tells briefly who you are and what you are like.
It is unlikely that a single list could serve to describe all the possibilities to incorporate in this section. What you include here will depend on what sort of image of yourself you want to present.
Employers cannot legally ask you date of birth, marital status, whether you have children, or other similar personal information that might be used to discriminate against women or minorities. Whether you elect to make personal information known to employers is up to you. In some cases you may make an employer uncomtortable by raising such issues (e.g., marital status).
If you include personal information, you may want to list things like place of birth, nationality (if non-U.S.), special skills or languages, geographical preferences, hobbies or travel (if pertinent or especially interesting), and when you will be available for the job. Information about your health, height, and weight might be relevant if you were going to work on a construction project or entering a beauty contest, but not for most law-related jobs. Also irrelevant (and often negative in impact) are the name and/or occupation of your spouse, the names and ages of your children, your religious beliefs, political persuasion, and self-laudatory statements (e.g., "highly motivated").
Remember, anything that is likely to create a negative impact is best left out altogether. Say "single" instead of "divorced" if you feel you must reveal your marital status. You need not mention the ages (or even existence) of children, particularly if they are very young and you are a single parent. If you have a noticeable health problem or handicap, do not mention it in your resume, but be prepared to explain in your interview that your problem would in no way affect your work performance.
References may be included if you need to fill up the page or the names will be recognized by employers. Legal employers are not likely to ask for references if you do not list them, so the commonly used "References available upon request" may let employers know that you have references but fail to motivate evaluators to contact the references.
In lieu of using valuable space on your resume, prepare a separate reference sheet listing names and telephone numbers (as employers are much more likely to call references than to write to them). Three to five references, not relatives or counselors (such as ministers), is usually enough. Try to use at least one law professor and make sure your references know that you will be listing them.
Although the common practice is to the contrary, some students include professional preferences, areas in which they have particular interest and/or experience. Here is a good place to bring in special qualifications even if they are non-legal in nature. Beware of listing preferences if you have not decided to specialize in the areas you list, because doing so will probably typecast you. The same advice applies to inclusion of an "Objective" statement which is popular in many business resumes.
Lay It Out, Type It, Review It
Today almost all law students have access to PC's with powerful word processing programs. Some have access to graphically-oriented desktop publishing software. If you don't have a computer yourself, ask you can someone with a word processor to type the resume for you. Such technology not only permits easy editing, ready retrieval, and visual help in drafting, it also allows you to prepare different versions of your basic resume.
Single page resumes are definitely preferred by legal employers looking at law students. Remember that you can fit more on a page by using a smaller type size or scalable fonts, but do not select type so small that it is hard to read. Use an 8 1/2" X 11" format, not legal size. An oversized resume is unwieldy and gets dog-eared in the employer's briefcase and files.
Evaluate both the content and appearance of your first draft. It should be clearly organized and neat. Your name and heading should stand out and the text should be placed in pleasing proportions on the page. Make sure that you have clearly emphasized your strong points. Ask yourself, "Does this resume present my image that I want to communicate potential employers?" As you draft your resume, try to incorporate the skills you identified. As you describe your activities and experiences, utilize action verbs to convey a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes law students have difficulty communicating their skills in a resume format, and articulating their non-legal skills in a way that looks credible in a legal context.
Revise and improve your draft. Make effective use of white space, type sizes, and boldface or italics. Cut out unnecessary facts and direct the information specifically to the employers you want to reach. Have someone else objectively evaluate your resume; your placement officer, a fellow student, a professor, or an attorney. Remember that everyone has a different opinion about what will make the best resume. In truth, there is no perfect model. In the end, you must decide what pleases you.
Have It Printed
You are now ready to prepare a final draft of the resume for printing. Unless you are having your resume typeset, it will be reproduced from the version you produce. Whether you type it yourself, or have it typed by some else, be sure to use a laser quality printer so that the letters are crisp and dark and will reproduce well. Variety on the page is desirable; some items can be in bold or italic, for instance; but be sure that the main body is typed in an easily readable script. Desktop publishing programs increase the options available for layout and design of a resume. This software combined with a laser printer can give the appearance of typeset ting at a fraction of the cost.
Even if you do not have a desktop publishing system available, you can use transfer lettering (available at most campus book stores) to get larger letters for headings in lieu of typed headings. Painstaking care must be taken to transfer type neatly, but the result is attractive and cheaper than typesetting. For the ultimate in a professional looking resume, you can have your resume typeset. Most people feel that the improvement in appearance with typeset ting however, is not worth the high cost.
After the page is typed, proofread it very carefully for errors. Use the spell-checking feature of the word processor to make sure all words are spelled correctly. Your original must look exactly the way you want your resume to look. A good quality copy can only be reproduced from a good quality original.
The next step is to decide how to print your resume. You can run off quality originals with a laser printer which is the best and cheapest option; you can print one original and photocopy more on bond paper if you have a good copier; you can have your resumes printed at a "quick print" shop; or you can have the resume produced by a professional printing service.
Regardless of which method you use to have your resume reproduced, be sure to choose a good quality paper. There are usually a variety of textures and colors to choose from, but do not get carried away and choose a bright or intense color. White, cream, pale beige, or something similarly conservative, generally works best with legal resumes.
A resume is not only a blueprint for the interview, it is a marketing piece. Often, the employer will decide whether to grant you an interview on the basis of your resume. Therefore, getting your resume into the hands of the person who can decide to interview or hire you is just as important as producing a good resume. Chap ter 14 deals with cover letters. Remember, however, that frequently the resume is hand delivered or passed on to a lawyer who does not have the benefit of a cover letter. For this reason the resume should be able to stand on its own. At the very least, your resume should cause the employer to want to meet you in person.
Regardless of how your particular job search proceeds, keep in mind the most effective means of distributing your resume. Do not blanket the world. On the other hand, make sure that references, friends, business contacts and past employers who may be contacted get a copy.
Be considerate of other people's time. Coordinate mail, telephone, fax, and personal visits when appropriate to get your message across.
Resumes do not stay current forever. In fact, any resume older than three months is probably out-of-date. As a job seeker, you should regularly update your resume as your credentials evolve. You also may want to modify your resume to reflect changes in tactics or direction. If your resume has been prepared with a word processor and stored, making changes should not be difficult.
Remember to circulate the new version to everyone who has the old resume, including references, current employer, and potential employers who have it on file. This not only updates their information, but gently reminds them that you exist.
In addition to a personal resume many job applicants will need to produce a number of other documents as a part of the application process: transcripts, writing samples, application forms, and letters of reference. Not all employers will expect you to produce all of these documents, but you should be prepared to do so if necessary.
All law schools will distribute official transcripts when requested to do so by students. Federal law prohibits the institution from releasing such information without your permission. Thus, employers cannot obtain a transcript without your written authorization. Many corporations and government agencies routinely ask for transcripts, although few law firms do. As cases of resume fraud increase, however, this may change. Handing an unofficial copy to the interviewer is insufficient. Instead, you will be asked to sign a release before, during, or after the interview.
Some employers ask applicants for a sample of their writing. A substantial number of firms and most judges want to evaluate your research and writing skills directly, rather than indirectly through professors or references. Accordingly, you should always carry with you a copy of a writing sample to hand over if requested. Don't routinely send out a writing sample with every cover letter and resume.
Students sometimes ask: "What should I use for a writing sample?" Generally, the answer is to use your best work. If you are not sure, have someone else read the possibilities.
For most third and fourth year students their best work probably came after the first year of law school. For second year students this may not be the case. You should do everything you can to produce written work during law school, not only because of the importance of writing skills in law practice but also because of the relevance of writing samples to the evaluation process.
Take special note of the requirements for individual application forms, which in a sense are a variation of the resume. If you are planning to apply for a federal government positions, obtain Form 171 from your local post office because virtually every federal office requires this form to be filed to be eligible for consideration. Make one original and copy it for each separate application, but sign each form separately.
Many state and local governments also require a form. If you are seeking a state or local government position, inquire about this possibility before an interview or, if possible, even before submit ting your resume.
Letters of References
As a rule, legal employers are not impressed with reproduced letters of reference. Somehow, they know that you would not give them a letter that said, "I would never recommend Ms. Smith for a job!"
Even unsolicited letters sent directly by your references to employers may be viewed as annoyances. Your best strategy is to make the names, addresses, and phone numbers of your references available when asked, so that those employers who are interested can contact your references directly.
A Final Note
Remember who you are interviewing. Who does the interviewer represent? What will employers want to know about you? Your resume should facilitate the interview process, introducing personal characteristics and skills most attractive to an employer. It should highlight the accomplishments to be stressed in applying for a job. A certain amount of self-knowledge and a good deal of thought are needed to present the best possible picture, but if you manage to succeed in this effort it will be well worth your time.
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