Did you know that employers spend less than 10 seconds looking at a resume? That’s not a lot of time to make a great first impression. To get recognized as a desirable candidate, your resume needs to be concise, easy to digest, and eye-pleasing. This is especially true when you’re going through OCI and callbacks, where law firms are reviewing materials submitted by tons of applicants. Here are some tips for creating a standout legal resume.
Keep it simple.
In some industries, it’s okay to have a flashy, colorful resume. The legal industry, however, is still very traditional—which means your resume should be too. You should use a standard font like Calibri, Times New Roman, or Arial, in size 10-12, with normal page margins. A header with your contact information followed by clean, clear subsections is all you need, and you can use simple bolding and italics to set apart different items like job titles and dates. Your resume should be organized around a few main “buckets”: education, professional experience, licenses/certifications, and skills. But there is flexibility when it comes to exact order and organization. If you have a lot of legal experience, for example, you might create a “Legal Experience” section rather than a more generic professional experience section. If you have a lot of volunteer experience, you may break it out as a separate section; whereas, if you have less, you may include it within your professional experience. How you organize your resume is ultimately up to you, your background, and your skills—as long as there is logic behind it.
Try to limit your resume to one page unless you have extensive experience. If your resume is trickling onto a second page because you’re still listing your high school job at the ice cream shop, it’s time to do some cleanup. Once you’ve reached law school, you don’t need to keep anything on your resume that happened before undergrad, and even your college experiences should be included thoughtfully. If you’re not sure whether to include something, think about whether the experience demonstrates relevant professional skills, such as critical thinking, writing, or project management, or shows strong interest or experience in the legal profession.
Use short, specific descriptions.
Each job or volunteer experience on your resume should include a description of your main responsibilities and accomplishments, but it’s important to keep these items short and sweet. Don’t write paragraphs—use bullet points and short sentences, and be sure to use a mix of action words. You should also be as specific as you can. For example, don’t just say you “drafted a motion” as a summer intern. What type of motion? For what kind of case? Was what the ultimate outcome—did you win the motion? Adding these details—concisely—will give employers a much better sense of your experience and expertise.
Grammar, spelling, punctuation—make it all perfect.
Your resume needs to be perfect. For one thing, a typo provides an employer with an easy way to eliminate your resume from the pile. You are also entering a profession that requires attention to detail, and your employer won’t have much faith if you can’t demonstrate mastery of your own resume. Review your resume multiple times, and then do it again. To catch as much as possible, focus on a different component each time you review. For example, first read through for punctuation, then focus on spelling, and so on. And don’t stop there. Send your resume to a variety of people to review: a career counselor, a trusted classmate, family members—whoever is willing. Fresh eyes will catch errors you have been glossing over—and that an employer will notice right away.
Consider including an interests section.
Personal interests can make for fantastic talking points during interviews, both to break the ice and to set yourself apart as a memorable candidate (especially during OCI when firms meet with dozens of candidates in a day). This section should go at the bottom of your resume, formatted as a simple list. Be sure to carefully consider what you put in this section: While you should certainly use it to express your personality, keep it professional. Remember that the legal industry is very traditional, so while hobbies like baking and guitar-playing are great, you might want to reconsider sharing that you’re a tattoo artist in your spare time. If you’re not sure whether you should include this section, or whether your interests are appropriate to include, talk to Career Services for market-, firm-, and/or school-specific guidance.
If you find yourself with some down time this holiday season, you just might consider picking up a book for fun. After all, lawyers don’t often get the chance to read “just because”—the legal lifestyle of poring through dense materials all day, every day doesn’t exactly leave much time or energy for extra reading.