It seems that there are few more dreaded tasks for junior associates than creating a résumé from scratch, or even updating an outdated version. However unpleasant, it is critical: a résumé is your 30-second “pitch” to a Partner that will make or break your chances to land that coveted interview. Given the ultra-competitive environment that is today’s lateral market, the importance of presenting a clean, effective résumé is paramount. Here are ten guiding principles and tips- they ought to save you some time and make your résumé stand out as truly interview-worthy…
1. Format according to your strengths. There is a bit of a split in thought here as many prefer to start off the résumé with the Education section. The decision lies in the basic tenet of résumé preparation: highlight your most impressive credentials and put your best foot forward. If your academic pedigree sets you apart, place the Education section first (i.e. attending a top ranked school, receiving honors such as Order of the Coif or Cum Laude, serving on the law review and/or simply having finished at the top of your class). If you are currently employed at a top-tier or particularly prestigious firm (especially one that is based in or has a very strong presence in the region), we suggest you lead with Work Experience.
2. Don’t make the reader dig for the gold. It is important not to bury your best, most substantive work deep in a muddled paragraph. Remember- you have a very short time to make a strong impression: don’t make the reader work for it. Are you a litigator? If so, lead with your deposition work or important legal memoranda; leave the document review assignments on the editing room floor. Corporate attorney? Scoot diligence to the rear and lead with the key instruments you have drafted and negotiated.
3. Include a few representative deals. Lead with a couple succinct sentences outlining your responsibilities for each position in the Work Experience section and then insert 2 or 3 bullet points outlining noteworthy deals or cases. Choose according to your particular experience: you may want to mention a very high profile matter in your given industry, a deal or case that you handled almost exclusively or, if you are looking to focus in a specialized sector, a directly applicable example.
4. List your GPA? We have found that a good rule of thumb is the 3.3 cutoff. If you finished above that marker, absolutely list your GPA. Otherwise, no need to draw attention to less than stellar grades. You should also consider your first-year performance. It is no secret that firms weigh your grade in contracts heavier than that four-person seminar you took during your third-year. If you performed very well during your first year, mention it, i.e. GPA- 3.3 (First Year GPA- 3.5).
5. Judicious succinctness and the myth of the one-page rule. If you are sitting at your computer asking yourself whether your résumé is too long and/or cluttered, the odds are that it probably is. Remember that a reviewing partner is not sitting down to read a treatise here but rather a concise and hopefully persuasive summary of your background. That partner will be searching for the four cornerstones of a legal résumé: where you currently are, what you do, where you went to school, and how you did. Those pieces of your background should be readily evident.
With that said, be mindful to include all important and truly relevant information – even if your résumé spills over into a second page. Do not arbitrarily delete potentially crucial information to abide by an outdated rule. Just make sure that a two-page résumé is formatted in an especially neat and tidy manner.
6. Fill in the gaps. Very often chronological gaps are viewed as red flags to partners. Remember to do address any lacunas on the résumé to present a clean timeline.
7. Bar admissions. Remember to always include a listing of the states in which you are admitted. This includes bar examinations that you have passed but for which you are still awaiting a formal interview and bar examinations for which you have registered to sit if you intend to relocate to a new geographical region. We prefer to list these under a separate heading.
8. Languages. Don’t forget to mention those languages in which you possess either fluency (written or spoken) or proficiency. This is especially important if you are considering openings in an international market or in a domestic market known to typically require demonstrable language skills (think: Miami and typical requirements/preferences for Spanish or Portuguese fluency).
9. Interesting tidbits. Some résumés include interesting points of facts in a section entitled Additional Information. These may serve as wonderful starting points for fluid, informal conversation during an interview. Examples include “Member of Olympic Rowing Team” or “Concert-level Pianist”. Please be careful when deciding whether to include this type of information on your résumé: include genuinely interesting and appropriate tidbits but err on the side of excluding borderline unprofessional matters.
10. Writing samples and deal sheets. The question often arises whether a junior associate ought to have a Writing Sample or Deal Sheet ready on hand. Although a junior Corporate associate will rarely need to provide a Deal Sheet, junior Litigation candidates ought to strive to provide a remarkable Writing Sample to make their candidacy stand out even when one is not explicitly required. Public filings are perfectly suitable Writing Samples, as are internal memos (as long as confidential information is redacted).