A resume is an advertisement of what you have to offer. You are introducing an unknown product to a prospective consumer. You must portray yourself as an asset to the employer – an offer that can’t be refused. Have you ever bought something because the commercial was so enticing it aroused your curiosity? That is the effect you are trying to achieve with your resume. Its purpose is to stand out from all the others and get you an interview. It also serves as a reminder of you after the interview.
Avoid the trap of providing so much information on your resume that the employer can decide about you without an interview. A resume is a summary of your academic and experience credentials, not an autobiography.
Resumes are necessary when applying for law clerk as well as attorney positions. For this reason, you will want to compile one early in your law school career and update it as you establish additional credentials or acquire additional relevant experience.
There is no one ideal resume format. With many ways to write a resume, resume professionals even differ on what to include and what is aesthetically correct. This information is intended as a guide to help you develop your resume for legal and law-related careers. You should also consult additional sources such as web sites, books, lawyers, law professors, and employers when putting together your resume.
The resume is designed to summarize you and your attributes in a manner which the employer can easily and quickly absorb, to help you compete in the job market, and to convey your uniqueness in a way that will make the employer want to know more about you.
Approaches to resume writing
- Chronological – telling about yourself (education, employment history and relevant accomplishments) in the order in which these events occurred in your life
- Functional – Grouping relevant skills together as the focus. For example, list your entrepreneurial abilities or your demonstrated legal-related skills and competencies. This approach aids in eliminating redundant entries reported in similar positions with different employers
- Combination – A combination of the two above in a customized format
- The left-margin format features headings down the left margin, but the centered format features centered headings.
- Standard categories on the legal resume (select those most appropriate for your personal resume): personal information (required), admission to the bar, education, work history/experience, publications, activities, writing sample, and references.
- Use caps, bolding, underlining, spacing, white space and balance to establish eye appeal for your resume.
- Length: one or two pages. Most employers strongly prefer a one-page resume. If you can fit all relevant information on one page, leaving enough white space to make it readable, do so. However, use a two-page resume if the alternative would force you to reduce the print to an unreadable size, to cover the one page with information leaving little white space, or to eliminate information that an employer might consider relevant. Individuals with substantial work experience MIGHT need a two-page resume. In most cases, the Assistant Dean can assist you in editing to accomplish a succinct, descriptive, one-page document.
For your first draft, put yourself in the place of the employer and decide what you would look for. Write down everything you want to say about yourself, emphasizing the positive information and minimizing facts you think are negative. Weed out the least important facts. Remember, some prospective employers will receive hundreds of resumes, especially for summer clerkships and professional positions. They will scan these quickly to select very few people to interview. You may not have more than 30 seconds of these readers’ attention, so you must use it wisely and arrange your resume so that the relevant points can be absorbed within those 30 seconds.
Do not include false or misleading information or pad or exaggerate any of the content. If you list yourself as a law clerk for a firm when in fact you are a secretary, you endanger your credibility. When interviewers question you or your former employer about your specific responsibilities, they will learn the truth and you will then lose the possibility of a position.
This advice also refers to academic attributes such as the Dean’s List. If you have been on the Dean’s List only one semester, be sure to list it in that way on your resume rather than just using the general statement, “Dean’s List.” The latter will be interpreted as an achievement for each semester in school. Of course, GPA and class rank must be absolutely accurate. State your grade point average to the hundredth decimal point – don’t round it off.
Papers, printers, and copying
The resume is a prospective employer’s first impression of you. Since you are now marketing yourself as a professional, your resume should look professional.
Paper – since few resumes are now given in hard copy format (most prominent now at job fairs or upon request from an employer), consider sharing this cost with a friend.
- Use white, eggshell or light gray.
- Use good quality resume paper.
- Match your resume paper and your cover letter paper and envelope.
- Don’t use photocopy or white printer paper.
Printers – The Law School computer labs are both equipped with laser printers. Career Services in Room 116 also provides printing access. However, quick-copy prices are competitive. Professional printing is not costly if you format and type your resume yourself so that it is camera-ready for printing.
Copying – Test-market your resume before duplicating it. Ask others to read it (attorneys, if possible), and get feedback on the impression it makes. It is very helpful to have someone who does not know you well read it.
You are also advised to bring or email a draft of your resume to Dean Kinsey for review before uploading it to Symplicity. Of course, you are free to visit the office at any time, but you may want to make an appointment so you are assured of the time you need.
Be particular about the quality of your copying.
If you use a commercial printer for photocopying, ask to see two copies before you place an order for 25. Check the quality of the paper used, any marks on the resume from the copier, stray black edges, etc.
This is the first of many resumes which you will develop over the years. Establish good habits now. Save your resume to a jump drive. Place a hard copy of your resume in a file folder. Each time you update or revise your resume, save it to a jump drive and update your Symplicity account. Then you are always prepared to produce your resume quickly should the need arise.
Law is a conservative profession. If when given options you are unsure, err on the conservative side. Arkansas has a small legal community. Resist the temptation to “lift” a sample resume or cover letter and call it your own. You can be sure other people are doing the same thing and that your resume or cover letter will be seen by an employer as a “form.” It is much better to follow a format and create your own resume and cover letter infusing a part of yourself and your personality into it. Remember also that resumes are important, but that no one is ever hired on the strength of a resume alone.