Ten Suggestions to Improve Your Resume

by Andrew Gurman

Attorneys with several years of experience often tell me that they have not updated their resumes since law school. Regularly revising your resume is helpful for several reasons: (1) newly acquired skills are fresh in your mind; (2) when an exciting job opportunity arises, an updated resume allows for immediate consideration; (3) your own law firm or company may need a resume for internal purposes or as part of a pitch to a potential client; or (4) a resume may be needed before events, such as making a presentation or receiving an award.

In the job context, a resume is critical in providing a potential employer with an introduction to an applicant’s background and style. As a promotional piece, it provides the opportunity to highlight achievements and relevant experience. Resumes vary greatly but have several common elements, such as including descriptions of educational and work experience, as well as publications, activities, awards, and bar membership. Here are ten recommendations for preparing or updating your resume:

  1. Review sample resumes. Using a superb model resume, particularly one in your practice area, can help you improve a resume from “B-” to “A” quality. Ask friends, law school career services offices, career counselors, and/or recruiters for them.
  2. Represent yourself honestly. The truth often comes out during the interview process or at some later point. Along these lines, explain all post-law school employment history. Do not leave gaps. Interviewers will ask about them. Failure to reveal that awful two-month stint at another firm before your current employment is not an innocent omission.
  3. Use bullet points. While a resume is acceptable without them, employers usually prefer bullet points as they attract a reader’s attention and help organize information in a user-friendly manner. If you do use them, include them in each section of the resume.
  4. Identify work experience specifically. For example, a litigator should describe the type of work s/he has done on particular cases. A transactional attorney should identify representative deals. If they are lengthy, cases/transactions should be included on an attached document.
  5. Describe pre-law school work experience. Such experience is especially helpful in applications for corporate counsel and non-legal positions.
  6. Tailor your resume for particular positions. For example, if a certain job primarily involves work concerning the Investment Company Act of 1940, emphasize experience in that area, if applicable.
  7. Check your resume carefully for grammatical, spelling, and formatting mistakes. Very few resumes are technically flawless. Ask your friends/family to review your resume for technical errors. A sloppy resume often ends an applicant’s candidacy.
  8. Include an interests section, at your discretion. Identifying interests at the bottom of a resume opens new avenues of conversation during an interview. But if there are space constraints or if you do not want to reveal your interests, then omit it.
  9. Prepare one page if possible, but multiple pages are typically fine. A one-page resume is ideal, but it is better to include relevant experience on multiple pages if one page is insufficient. Senior attorneys and attorneys with significant pre-law work experience often have multi-page resumes.
  10. Adopt PDF format for the final version and name the document in a professional manner. PDF format prevents alterations to the resume and looks much better on a computer monitor than a document in Word format; squiggly green and red lines blanketing a Word document make it unattractive and difficult to read. When naming the resume, use something like “Jane Doe Resume,” rather than “March 2015 Rough Draft Resume,” “draftresume unreviewed,” or “jhd21doc.”