How to stand out and get your legal resume noticed

Having reviewed many legal CV’s throughout my career, I’ve come to understand what legal employers look for when deciding to interview. The truth is, your resume can make or break your chances of scoring that job interview, regardless of your experience.

Want to get your resume noticed and improve your chances of success? Here’s how…

                                                                                       legal resume, resume help, resume format, stand out, get noticed

Getting started
I’ve been asked by legal candidates whether they should pay a professional to prepare their resume for them.  In my experience, what needs to go in a specialist legal resume and what legal employers look for is unique to our industry and you can do a far better job putting your CV together yourself. If you are writing a resume from scratch and need some guidance getting started, download a free template online, or use the existing template of a friend or colleague.

Professional Summary
In my view, it’s not necessary to include a professional summary in a legal resume, but if you do decide to include one, keep it brief and to the point.  Limit it to one paragraph and a couple of sentences, or use bullet points.  Focus on highlighting your core skills and experience, rather than listing off personal qualities such as “highly motivated” or “hardworking”.

Admission Dates
This is one of the first points legal employers look for to understand the level of your experience.  Make sure they can find this information at a glance by including it at the top of your resume, not buried somewhere at the bottom.  Include the exact dates of your admission in each particular jurisdiction. This is particularly important if you have overseas or interstate experience.

Education
Include your education summary at the start of your resume, right below your admission dates.  List your most recent qualification first, including where you studied, date of completion and any majors.  Be sure to note any academic achievements that will set you apart, such as awards or graduating with honours.

Employment History
List your most recent position first, including your dates of employment, employer and position title.  For each position, provide a short summary of your employer, typical clients and areas of law that you practice in.  Briefly outline who you report to, any direct reports you have and summarise your main responsibilities, but keep it concise.  This short summary will be followed by examples of matters that you have worked on.

Note the practice group or department that you worked in alongside your position title.  If you were promoted, list your most recent position first and clearly note the date of your promotion to show how long you’ve been operating at that level.  Graduates should list their graduate rotations (practice group and length of each rotation), with their current role or team they settled in included first.

Employment Dates
Be sure to include the exact dates of your employment – month and year – for all positions.  Simply listing the years is not accurate enough.  2015 – 2016 could mean January 2015 – December 2016, or November 2015 – January 2016 and there is a big difference between a few months or years! Be accurate.

Using work examples
This is by far the most important section of your resume. Legal employers want to be able to quickly ascertain the depth of your legal experience and what you do in your role.  It’s therefore crucial to include examples of specific matters that you have worked on, described in detail. The bulk of your resume should be dedicated to this section.

Include a range of examples that demonstrate the breadth of your experience, including the typical types of matters that you work on or variety of clients that you act for.  If you work across multiple practice areas, use separate headings for each practice area with at least 3-5 examples under each. For each example, summarise the nature of the client and matter, your personal role and the outcome.  Keep it to a couple of sentences and list each example in bullet point form.

Confidential information
For confidential matters, briefly outline the nature of the client and matter in generic terms, being careful not to disclose any identifying information.  For example, you worked on a capital raising for a mid-cap mining company, or an unfair dismissal for an education services provider.  If in doubt, don’t include it.

What do you do?
This is the key point from your resume that all employers are looking to understand.  If you do this well, it can be the difference between securing an interview – or not.

When using examples, rather than simply providing a deal list or list of cases that you have been involved with, take this one step further by clearly outlining your personal role and responsibilities on the matter.  As a 2nd or 3rd year lawyer, it’s unlikely you’ve run a Federal Court litigation or major acquisition on your own, so for each matter, run through the process that you worked through and your personal role on the matter.

For example, were you doing discrete pieces of research and preparing submissions, or were you running the file day to day, briefing and assisting counsel throughout all stages of the matter.  Whatever you did on the matter, make sure your role is outlined in detail.

Gaps on your resume
If you took some time out between roles to travel or have a short career break, make sure you address it.  It’s always more professional to take ownership and give a brief (and reasonable) explanation, rather than leaving obvious gaps on your resume and hoping an employer doesn’t notice.

Contact Details
Make sure your contact information is easy to find and include your mobile number, email address and link to your professional LinkedIn profile.  Provide a personal email address, not your work one and if you don’t have a professional sounding personal email address, set up a new gmail or hotmail address in your name.  Also, leave off your residential address at this stage.  That’s all that is needed for an employer to contact you regarding your job application.

Final tips
Avoid elaborate formatting, colour and graphics.  Use a clear structure, traditional font style and text size that is simple and easy to read.  A photo is unnecessary and shouldn’t be included on your resume.  Limit it to your LinkedIn profile and if you are directing employers there by including a link in your resume, make sure your LinkedIn profile picture is professional.

Do check your spelling and grammar carefully and get a trusted friend to proof read your resume before sending it out.  Also, make sure your contact information is up to date and accurate so employers have no issues getting in touch with you for an interview!

As part of our service, Profile Legal provides feedback and guidance to legal candidates on their resume format and content. Contact us today for assistance with finalising your legal resume.

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