Writing a resume isn’t what it used to be. Twenty years ago, a professional resume entailed a careful selection of action verbs describing your experience, professional weight paper, and about 50-100 copies for mass mailing to potential employers. Today, your resume must be a living document that you can adjust for each and every position. Here are some basic tips for preparing a resume that can put you at the top of the interview list:
1. The basics still apply
Remember that law firms and legal departments are fairly conservative, so you’ll want to use a font that looks professional. You should also be sure that the font size makes the text easy to read. No typos or grammatical errors! Have someone else read your resume to look for words that spell check can miss (“form” vs. “from”) and read each entry to ensure that you have correct subject/verb and tense agreement. As a last check, read the words on the page in reverse order. We often see what we expect in things we’ve written, rather than what’s really on the page.
2. Do your research
When you apply for a job, learn as much as you can about the company and the duties of that specific position. If you are responding to an ad, carefully review the job description and requirements. Ads will often contain key words that you will want to include with your submission. If you are applying to a firm or corporation, you should, at a minimum, do an internet search to find out as much as you can about the types of work they do. Finally, reach out to your network of friends and professional contacts to see if anyone knows more specific information about the organization where you will be applying. An interviewing candidate who has comprehensively researched the potential new employer will come across as confident and prepared.
3. Remember that you are selling yourself
Your resume is your personal marketing piece and should prominently list traits for the specific position for which you are applying. The entire resume must be professional and relevant, and the first third of the page should entice the reader to want to find out more about you. For instance, if you have a general objective at the top of your resume, ask yourself whether it will capture the attention of a person reading 200 submissions. A cumulative list of your strongest skills for the position may serve you better. Also, if you have been out of school for more than five years you should lead with the experiences that make you a strong candidate for the position, rather than your education.
4. Your resume should speak to the position you are pursuing
Each resume you send out should be customized to highlight your most relevant experiences. Candidates should prepare a “master” resume where they list everything they have done at each position—from the simplest to the most complex. If you have worked in various practice areas, break down your tasks by practice area. When it comes time to prepare a resume for submission, you simply need to select the most pertinent points for the particular position for which you are applying. Remember to prioritize your most relevant experiences at the top of the list, and you will increase the chances of being called for an interview. Be sure to save each resume sent, identified with the name of the company and the name of the position(s) for which you submitted the resume. At the interview you should have copies of the exact resume you submitted.
A vibrant, targeted resume is a powerful asset. Combined with incisive research on a potential employer and your own self confidence in your ability, you will have a strong arsenal of tools to help land your next position.