By Mike Gotham, Director of Recruiting & Retention, Perkins Coie LLP, and
Shelley Levine, Senior Attorney Recruiting Manager, Perkins Coie LLP
Your resume is an important document in many ways. It is a prospective employer’s first impression of you, and first impressions are important. With some effort, your resume can be much more than a list of your schools and jobs. It can highlight for a prospective employer your skills and experience that are most important to that employer. Also, since interviewers typically review a candidate’s resume immediately prior to the interview, your resume can tee up the topics and questions your interviewer will ask you. Finally, if you prepare your resume correctly the first time, it will be easy to update it (and update it quickly) whenever necessary.
Are you giving your resume the time and attention it deserves? The following are suggestions that will help you craft a resume that will address the skills and experiences important to prospective employers—skills and experiences that are too often left off resumes.
1. Academic Achievement
Your resume is in large part a presentation of your overall academic achievement; even more so than your transcript which reflects only a list of classes and grades. If you have a sterling academic record, congratulations!—this part of your resume will be easy to draft.
On the other hand, if you do not have the highest grades—and even if you do—you should highlight other elements of your academic record. Most importantly, you should highlight your research and writing experience—including such experience during your undergraduate years. For example, you can list your senior thesis or other significant research and writing work. Depending on the topic and the space available on your resume, you might even include a sentence explaining the topic of your thesis. When writing the descriptions of your previous work experience, be sure to emphasize any writing or analytical experience.
2. Communication Skills
As a lawyer, you must have excellent communication skills, whether you are drafting a brief, writing a letter or arguing a motion in court. Your resume is an example of your written communication skills—it’s essentially a writing sample—for a prospective employer. It is an opportunity to demonstrate that you can write effectively for your audience by focusing on the experience and skills most important to an employer—and that you can do it in a clear and compelling way. The descriptions of your previous work experience, for example, should be concise, relevant and informative. Your resume should be consistent with the standard format for law student and lawyer resumes, and it should be uncluttered and easy to read. And, of course, there should be absolutely no typos or other errors.
3. Work Ethic
Your resume is also an opportunity to illustrate your work ethic and your work management skills. For example, if you worked part-time while you were an undergraduate, you should make that clear on your resume. You might include your part-time work in your work experience section. If you decide not to include the details of your part-time work in your work experience section, you should consider including some information about it in your academic section. You might simply include a bullet point: “Worked 20 - 25 hours weekly while attending school full-time.” You shouldn’t necessarily omit work experience that you don’t feel is “professional.” A past job may not be “professional” but it can illustrate a history of hard work and can emphasize your ability to juggle competing priorities. It can also show that you won’t hesitate to roll up your sleeves and get even the most mundane tasks done when necessary.
4. Team Work
The practice of law is often a team effort. You should include on your resume examples of your experience working and collaborating with others. Include in the summaries of your work experience examples of processes or projects where you were part of a team and your role on the team. Your undergraduate experience can be rich with examples of teamwork, whether it was as part of sports team, a school organization, or a major group project for a significant class. In many instances listing a team or organization on your resume might be sufficient to illustrate this experience. However, if space allows, you might include a brief narrative about the nature of your role and contributions as a member of the group.
Your leadership roles may be suggested by the titles and positions listed on your resumes. You might list that you were an officer of a student organization, or you might have held a position in a previous job where you supervised others. As already emphasized in the sections above, it’s important that you include information about your leadership roles in these organizations. What did the organization accomplish while you were the leader? What did you accomplish? If you have experience supervising others, provide details—even if you supervised just one person. Keep in mind that even as a new attorney you might supervise a legal practice assistant, a paralegal or other administrative staff.
Your resume is much more than a chronology of schools attended and jobs worked. Or at least, it can be much more if written with a good deal of thought and intention. It can be your initial piece of advocacy on your path to securing a job. When you write your resume, consider yourself to be your client—and your client deserves your best possible work.
This is a sponsored blog post from Perkins Coie LLP. You can view the firm's Vault profile here.
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