Lateral Attorney Report
Making the Most of Your Resume
By Julie Lehrman
Is your resume sending a negative message? I can’t tell you how many sloppy, disorganized resumes I see on a regular basis, and what a poor impression such a resume leaves on your reader. I’ve seen resumes in which each new job is simply added, as acquired, without editing down previous jobs, even when they are no longer relevant. I’ve seen resumes that pack an enormous volume of words into a small space, and are consequently difficult to read. I’ve seen resumes that are splattered with big, impressive words and business-y phrases that tell me nothing about the person’s skill set. All of these mistakes will send your resume immediately to the trash bin.
Update Your Resume.
Although I do not slavishly adhere to the one-page resume principle, I think that most of the time, one page is probably all a person needs. People run into trouble when they avoid thinking about what actually needs to be on the page, and what doesn’t.
A resume reader wants to know what you can do, and it is your job to tell her. Period. The reader (in many cases, me) does not want to know what you did three jobs ago, when you were a junior associate doing basic document review or junior due diligence. I do not want to know in which law school organizations you participated nominally. Therefore, each time you update your resume, you should be adding skill sets relate directly to jobs you might be applying for, and deleting items that no longer matter, or are too junior for the work you do now. Did you dabble in different practice groups as a first-year? Remove those that are not current. Did you do a pro bono project in an area that is irrelevant to jobs you are seeking now? Remove it. Also, summer associate positions, internships, and research assistant positions may be condensed to one line or even a simple title the more senior you get.
If you are a sixth-year associate, you will want to emphasize the high-level skills that are relevant to someone seeking a sixth-year associate, and include very little else. Include items that show that you have supervised junior associates, have had extensive client contact, assume primary document drafting responsibility, operate with very little supervision, and are capable of running with the ball; items that show that you are trusted, independent, and know your way around your area of the law.
If you are more junior, your resume should convey that you have been trusted with progressively greater responsibility, like primary document drafting, court arguments and depositions, handling matters by yourself, and supervising others (even paralegals or contract attorneys).
Be Clear About Your Skills.
A resume reader needs to be able to look over your resume, and, in roughly 5-10 seconds, be able to know what you can do. Readers do not have time to read each word, and trust, me, they won’t. Clarity is paramount. Do not think of your resume as a document to be read; think of it instead as a document to be glanced at.
Your resume is not the place to be overinclusive. People have a tendency to want to include everything they have ever done. Please, please don’t do this. Instead, make your resume as visually simple as you can. I love bullet points, and I despise paragraphs. Do not make your reader work. Give her all the information she needs using as few words as possible. You can describe a large project that shaped your skill set. For example: “I supervised thirty junior associates on a two-year, $300M due diligence project involving a merger of Fortune 50 clients.” Or, rather than list each representative matter, you might condense your experience into a descriptive bullet point. For example: “I have taken the lead on dozens of depositions in state and federal court matters,” or “I have drafted 20+ patent applications involving LED lighting and similar electrical arts-related products.” Focus on your role in the project rather than the project itself, again, keeping in mind that the reader wants to know what you are capable of doing, not what the firm or its partners did, or how big or fancy the client was.
Lay Off The Business Speak.
Keep it simple. Don’t try to impress your reader with businesslike phrases like, “added value” or “provided excellent client service.” These are meaningless phrases and are nothing more than your subjective opinion. Please, just include the facts. I remain a fan of the reverse chronological resume in which you bullet point relevant skills and/or projects, stating examples of matters you have handled and the specific tasks you performed. If you have drafted specific agreements on a regular basis, say so. For example: “regularly drafted agreements related to borrower’s collateral, such as guaranty/security agreements, mortgages, and control agreements.” This tells me that you are capable of walking into my firm and performing these tasks by yourself.
I highly discourage those wordy header paragraphs at the top of attorney resumes that say things like, “Proactive, go-getter attorney with deep management experience and excellent people skills seeks top law firm to help me grow my practice.” Again, this is your subjective opinion, which does not interest me, your reader. I also discourage a general listing of matters you have handled over your 20-year career, because, too often, your reader will be confused as to when you handled these matters, and whether you are still able to handle comparable matters. Be specific about what you handled, what your role was, and in what time frame you handled these matters.
In a nutshell, your resume must, above all, be a clear, visually uncluttered, easily glance-able document. You may literally only have 5-10 seconds to impress a reader who may or may not be giving your resume her full attention, and if she can’t quickly tell what you can do, she will simply click on the next email in the queue. Clarity and simplicity are the keys to an excellent resume.