What’s the first thing you do when you’re ready for the job hunt? Furiously search your hard drive for the last version of your resume.
Ideally, you would update your resume periodically, but it’s generally not something you think about when things at work are going well. So, when you are ready to dust it off and polish it until it shines, check out our tips for making your resume something that works for you and not against you.
Margins and font
No, you can’t sneak in more information by reducing your margins to 0.5” and choosing a 9-pt font. When a recruiter or hiring partner picks up a resume that looks like a novel crammed onto a single page they’re not thinking, “Wow, how did they get that into one page!” or perhaps “Wow, look at everything this person has done!” They’re squinting their eyes and they may just move along to the next candidate.
Stick with standard 1” margins all around and at least 11-pt font. You also want to use a font that’s easy to read. Some suggestions: Times New Roman and Arial.
Odds are that if you have a margin or font problem it stems from your desire to include everything you’ve ever worked on at every firm and company at which you’ve worked. While experienced lateral attorneys (four or more years of experience) can have two-page resumes, keep in mind you’re still only getting 4-17 seconds from the person reviewing it.
Your email address
Typically, you won’t want to use your current law firm email address on your resume and will instead opt for a personal account. However, that personal account still needs to look professional. It shouldn’t be something even vaguely resembling this: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re going to use a personal email account, use or create one that is some version of your name, such as email@example.com. You are still presenting yourself as a professional, even if you’re using a personal email address.
Do not insert your headshot or any graphic elements into your resume. There’s a good reason not to add a picture of yourself: it makes firms nervous. Hiring decisions can’t be made based on factors such as age, race and gender, and providing a photo opens up the employer to discrimination claims. So, they’d prefer not to know any of the above.
As for other graphical elements, they take up valuable real estate on your resume. You’re not applying to be a graphic designer, so use that space to show them why you’re the right person for the job by highlighting your academic and career accomplishments instead.
Use bullet points
As you type those career accomplishments, it is often effective to use bullet points. There are still resumes out there that use a paragraph-style to present accomplishments for each job, but remember what we said about the amount of time you get from a recruiter or hiring partner: 4 to 17 seconds. It’s much easier to skim a resume with bullet points, so make it easy on them. It also makes it far more likely that your accomplishments will jump out at them instead of being buried in a lengthy paragraph.
Chronological order of experience
Start with your most recent job and work your way back. Your future employer is going to be the most interested in what you’ve done recently.
By the time you’re an experienced attorney, you should have enough experience that most of your pre-law jobs are irrelevant. Don’t include jobs that date back to high school just to show how long you’ve been part of the workforce. Instead, trim any jobs prior to law school that aren’t relevant. If you’re a chemical patent attorney and you worked as a chemical engineer before attending law school, by all means include that experience. What they don’t need to know is that you were a receptionist at a landscaping company or a hostess at a restaurant.
Integrate key words
You’ll want to create one base resume and then tweak it to fit each job. Yes, it sounds like a lot of work. However, it’s worth it. Look at the job description, or speak with whomever is referring you to the position, and identify important key words. Let’s say your previous experience crosses a broad section of real estate and land use work. However, the job description specifically asks for someone with experience representing HOAs. You’ll want to go more in-depth on your HOA experience for this resume, including key words that are specific to HOA work.
In the example above, don’t exaggerate your HOA experience because you know that’s what they’re looking for. Highlight the experience you do have and then highlight other relevant experience and accomplishments and use your cover letter to draw the connection and show how those skills translate over to HOA work.
Bottom line – Always be completely truthful. The legal world is small. It won’t take long for you to be found out if you’ve fibbed on your resume, and that reputation will follow you around for a long time to come.
Proofread and spellcheck
Don’t simply rely on Microsoft Word to tell you when you’ve made a mistake; it won’t catch that “for” that should have been “form.” Instead, ask a few colleagues, friends or family members to give it a once-over. It can be difficult to catch your own mistakes, so be sure your eyes aren’t the only ones that have seen it.
Update your resume regularly
As we said, in an ideal world you would update your resume regularly. Each time you have a major accomplishment, add it to your resume. These things can be difficult to remember when you’re trying to update your resume months, or even years, later. You also don’t want to miss any opportunities because it takes you days or weeks to get your resume ready for a position – someone else might just swoop in and grab it.
Another trick: keep your LinkedIn profile updated along with your resume. Recruiters and hiring partners might be on there looking for someone just like you.