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How to Craft a Resume That Recruiters Will Love

Mar 5, 2012, 09:40 am CDT

Comments

First, the question that never seems to get answered: what do I do if my GPA is below a 3.0? Am I to resign myself to never getting a job?

The market is tough, even with another graduate degree, I can’t find a job. I’ve been trying to volunteer to make my gaps due to unemployment less of a gap.

Second, what can we do? They won’t hire you at retail stores and you can’t get in to firms; likewise, competition for public interest jobs is so high it’s nearly impossible to catch a break.

By Young Lawyer on 2012 03 05, 11:00 am CDT

As a lawyer-placer I really enjoyed reading this.  Dozens of lawyer resume are email to me every week.  Job-seekers should take note of the Joe and Valerie’s discussion of Summary section vs. Objective section.  And I do like seeing an Interests section on resumes.  Good review on GPA, employment gaps, and resume length.  My shock is witnessing poor resume formatting and document naming.  What I receive via email far too often are resumes, from experienced lawyers, as attached documents, having the document name of “resume.doc” (or .pdf).  Is there a better indicator of a candidate’s (lack of) document management skills?  At the law firm, would they name a document letter.doc?  If that wasn’t so sad, it would be laughable.  Another “winning” tactic I see is the two-page resume (in and of itself, fine by me), having just seven or eight words on page two.  Margins and font sizes can be adjusted.  I could go on…

By Curtis Linder on 2012 03 05, 12:30 pm CDT

Responding to comment by “young lawyer”  : 

Another way to look at the GPA “3.0” rule is to look at class rank, instead.  Each law school grades on its own curve.  More easily compared might be the candidate’s class ranking.  My recommendation is to include your class standing, rather than numerical GPA, if it is top third or better.  If your grades were below both of these cut-offs, leave it off.  In that case, make sure you highlight other accomplishments or activities that differentiate you from the crowd (which all candidates should do, anyway). 

Also, target your application to those firms that hire lawyers from your school and with your kind of background and record.  Check out the firm’s website for the lawyers profiles and aim for firms that do not show a preponderance of Coif, law review, and other academic honors.  Look also for lawyers who attended your undergraduate alma mater or participated in the same organizations.  You may not be hired by BigLaw where academics are more of a non-negotiable prerequisite, but the majority of lawyers in the legal marketplace work in other environments, anyway. 

In the meantime, keep doing volunteer or contract work, and list those skills on your resume.  Also attend MCLE and professional activities where you can network with other lawyers, and follow up with a “it was nice to meet you and here is my resume in case you hear of anything . . .” email or note afterwards.

By Valerie Fontaine on 2012 03 05, 4:33 pm CDT

@ Young Lawyer: “First, the question that never seems to get answered: what do I do if my GPA is below a 3.0? Am I to resign myself to never getting a job?”

You just have to make peace with the fact that there are essentially two legal professions. 

The profession that the authors are discussing consists of the “elites” who are all about law school rank and GPA to the exclusion of all else.  There are people make law review and in their subsequent 35 years of practice accomplish nothing other than an “of counsel” (permanent non-partnership track staff) gig with the firm that they had a 2L associateship with.  Many others will spend the bulk of their careers lateralling back and forth among firms and titles that are substantially the same as those that they got their offer from after 2L.  The elites have to concern themselves with people who put an inordinate amount of focus on their resume file name or their GPA from 25 years ago.

The rest of us in the “other” profession actually build careers.  We continue to build skills, explore interests, take calculated risks, and generally grow after graduation from law school.  We can end up anywhere; in politics, grassroots organizations and non-profits, litigating multi million-dollar cases, working for corporations, etc.  Our career paths may be less clear-cut, and require more research, organization, networking and overall footwork, but the rewards can arguably be worth it.

Law schools teach us to revere the careers of the first group.  But the latter group is what inspires people to actually aspire to the practice law in the first place.

By Esq. on 2012 03 05, 5:57 pm CDT

Be sure to prominently mention that your immortal soul is already tastefully gift-wrapped.

By B. McLeod on 2012 03 05, 6:30 pm CDT

A “resume that recuiters will love” has your name, contact information and, in large bold letters:

                                “Will Work For Food!”

The rest is decoration.

By Andythelawyer on 2012 03 05, 7:29 pm CDT

Recruiters are for the clueless firms who don’t know who is able, and for the aimless candidates who don’t know where they want to be.  So, they are necessary.  Because there are so many.

By B. McLeod on 2012 03 06, 1:39 am CDT

When I was doing law school recruitment for a Wall Street firms some eons ago, I rather liked the hobbies/interests section - provided it was truly interesting or eye-catching. The point is to throw in a conversational hook that helps you touch on non-work-related topics just a bit in the interview. Just a bit. This shows you are a well-rounded, interesting person, and can work wonders on some interviewers. ‘Hobbies/interests’ to avoid are (i) those that are so vague that they do not constitute a hobby or interest (‘Reading’, ‘Travel’); (ii) those that are strictly work-related (‘Interests: Tax Law’). That screams that the person has no broader interests, which is a major turn-off for interviewers (or should be, in my view). Kind of reminds me of the (perhaps apocryphal) legend that Justice Ruth Ginsburg spends summer vacation reading tax law journals.

By Smith on 2012 03 09, 4:35 am CDT

@4 - Somebody should give you a medal. It’s sad seeing scores of law students jockeying for the biglaw sham “career”.

Good riddance.

By RealLawyer on 2012 03 09, 9:14 am CDT

When I ran the recruiting for my firm’s clerkship (articling) program, some years ago, and we would have 300+ applicants for 4 jobs, I tended to look only at the folks with A and B averages (we did not use GPA in Canada at the time - maybe we still don’t, I don’t know) - but I always skimmed the others looking for something that would tell me why I should be interested anyway. Sometimes I found something unusual or imaginative or entrepreneurial that would get them an interview.

Once you’ve got the interview, the resume has done most of its work. But again the outside interest may take the conversation off the beaten path and make the candidate appeal in a way that the standard academic stuff would not. There may be a minimal risk of the reaction like that mentioned in the interview - ‘oh, you’re one of those vandals…’ - but that’s not likely, especially if you’re a bit careful in what you include.

I think Esq at #4 has a serious case of sour grapes. No doubt there are well-connected slackers in Big Law (and elsewhere) but there are also well-rounded high achievers that the rest of us can admire without feeling like failures ourselves. And it is certainly true that there is lots of interesting, constructive and rewarding work to be done outside Big Law. Many of us prefer it there.

By John G on 2012 03 09, 9:48 am CDT

Hint for the wise applicant:  Put your name, mailing address, telephone number, and e-mail address on EVERY page of your resume and ANY associated documents.  As a recruiting cooridinator (managing by fire control), I may misplace parts of the application.  I may find your list of references, but not your resume.  If I’m looking for you, I’m interested in you.  Don’t make it harder for me to find how to call, write, or e-mail you.

Hint for law students accepting offers for clerkships:  Know how to write a personal letter.  Put your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address on the letter somewhere.  Use an inside address (to the recipient), use a salutation, and use a complimentary close.

And SIGN THE LETTER!  Don’t send me a typed letter accepting the offer with no signature.  You’re in law school.  You’re supposed to know that something without a signature only represents a “draft,” not an official binding letter.

A real letter of acceptance shows class.  Don’t accept by merely by e-mail message.  There’s nothing wrong with sending an e-mail message and following up with a formal letter.  This is EXACTLY the way that REAL LAWYERS handle things—because they want to make sure they communicate, not trusting communication to chance.

By John Hightower on 2012 03 09, 9:50 am CDT

This article was useless.  Thanks to Esq for a more practical opinion.  In my experience, the fact that I’m not actively chasing Big Law, and worse yet, want to have a small practice of my own, is highly frowned upon by my law profs.  It seems like legal education is lacking for people like me, who didn’t make it to the top third of their class, and who are just place holders for those people who did make law review. 

I’m not going to sit quietly and accept ‘study harder’ as career advice.  We, the other two thirds, outnumber the top of the class.  Are we not worthy of career advice?  Do we really need some magical, entrepreneurial resume builder to catch some recruiter’s interest, only to wind up in the shredder regardless? 

Law school is a professional school, people.  How about some advice for ALL parts of the profession?

By 2L on 2012 03 09, 10:25 am CDT

Working in a what’s generally considered to be a prestigeous public agency that gets a lot of well-credentialed resumes, we have found that candidates who include non-legal “interests” sections on their resumes can positively differentiate themselves from the hoards of other fungible Tier 1 law school graduate applicants we see.  If you have a hobby or do volunteer work that shows passion and long-term commitment, you’ll stand out.  Hiked the Appalachian Trail?  Mentor in the Big Brothers/Sisters program?  Play in a band?  Run marathons?  Became an Eagle Scout?  All of those count for more than resume-stuffers that, for example, simply make clear either you or your current employer have paid your ABA and assorted voluntary bar association dues. 

Then again, unlike BigLaw firms, we assume we’re hiring for the long term and do, in fact, care more about your work-life balance than whether your professional CV will impress clients.

By KG1 on 2012 03 09, 11:09 am CDT

I thought the post was helpful.  I am looking for in-house positions after years in Big Law litigation.

After little luck, I paid for a resume rewrite and I have to say, it sure seemed odd/silly what I received.  It was laden with hyphenated adjectives, superlatives and feel good descriptions that I feel could describe anyone.  I trimmed out much of the fluff but left some thinking that maybe that is what recruiters are looking for.  I also wonder if I am too straightforward; maybe I should yeast it up a bit with phrases like “solutions-focused” and “self-starter”—both of which are included in my “new and improved” resume?

The new resume also has a “core competencies” section, which I understand to be helpful for clearing the initial search term hurdle.  Can you shed any light on the search term system, how it operates, etc.?  I realize something has to be done when you’re receiving hundreds or thousands of resumes, but there are times that I find it hard to believe I didn’t make it into the second round (especially when the response was a day later or less) and wonder if I am hindering my chances because of some technical glitch.  Any input would be appreciated.

Thanks.

By VC on 2012 03 09, 12:16 pm CDT

Okay, so having stuck with this article through to the end for no real reason other than curiousity…what IS the saying about best lawyers being in the bottom 10 percent of the class?  Or is THAT the whole saying?  Because I don’t know about that.  The best ones not being in the TOP 10 percent, I can see.  The occasional guy that makes millions in a single case being in the bottom 10, I can even see.  All the “best” lawyers being in the bottom 10…no, I don’t see that.

By a friend on 2012 03 09, 12:39 pm CDT

responding to VC at #14:  There is a difference between executive resumes and lawyer resumes - and most professional resume writers create executive resumes.  Those resumes are easy to spot and, usually, are not the best presentation of a lawyer’s skills.  Overblown and vague terms waste valuable resume space.  Legal legal employers and recruiters want straightforward statements of what you can do, both the specific tasks and the areas of law you handle.  Cut the “yeast”, as you call it, but do not undersell yourself.  Your competencies should be clearly stated, either in a summary or in your job description(s).  While some large organizations may use computer keyword scanning, most legal recruiters and prospective employers still use humans to review resumes.

By Valerie Fontaine on 2012 03 09, 1:38 pm CDT

What are your resume recommendations for a retired Sr Officer/GC of a NYSE Co who would like to again become active either part time or full time in a corp environment?

By Lawrence Chesler on 2012 03 09, 2:21 pm CDT

@ #10: “I think Esq at #4 has a serious case of sour grapes. No doubt there are well-connected slackers in Big Law (and elsewhere) but there are also well-rounded high achievers that the rest of us can admire without feeling like failures ourselves. And it is certainly true that there is lots of interesting, constructive and rewarding work to be done outside Big Law. Many of us prefer it there. “

Things probably are different in Canada. In American law schools, students are brainwashed into believing that BigLaw is the only worthwhile career prospect despite the actual interests, personalities, talents etc. of the individual students.  The schools by and large refuse to provide any career counseling or other assistance for anyone other than BigLaw candidates.

My specific response was to a law student afraid (because of the law school “career counselors”) that she’d have to resign herself to never finding a job because her GPA is below 3.0.  (Realistically, depending on the school’s grading curve, 50% or more of the class has a GPA below 3.0.)  I simply sought to convey that there is indeed life outside of Big Law.  I truly wish that the schools would do the same. 

@ #15: “what IS the saying about best lawyers being in the bottom 10 percent of the class?  Or is THAT the whole saying?  Because I don’t know about that.  The best ones not being in the TOP 10 percent, I can see.”

It reminds me that when you first start law school you’re told to “think outside the box.”  But the curve system rewards those who stay very far inside of the box, and the vaunted Big Law firms, that pride themselves on hiring the “best and brightest” are about as far in the box as you can get.

By Esq. on 2012 03 09, 5:30 pm CDT

Great conversation!

Like my friend, Curtis, I do not object to a 2 page resume from some candidates.  I have seen dozens of resumes from law students that could never be reduced to one page.  Perhaps the candidate is attending law school later in life or she attends at night.  Sometimes, a candidate has vast volunteer and work experience that lends itself exactly to her chosen practice area. 

Also, I could not agree more about the truth.  Everyone gets the truth, whether it is your employment status or gaps in work experience.

Thanks all!

By Nancy Glazer on 2012 03 09, 5:40 pm CDT

Excellent article, and nice followups by Ms Fontaine to some of the comments. Lately, I have had two occasions to request production of lawyers’ resumes, including that of a purported “expert” on attorneys’ fees.
  In both cases, the opponents have refused to produce lawyers’ resumes, claiming that the lawyers “did not have them”; the rules do not require production of a document that “does not exist.”  They produced “web bios” (that is, their online advertising blurbs) instead.
  The story I was given was that these lawyers had been employed for a more-or-less long time, and therefore did not need resumes. I wonder what Mr Ankus and Ms Fontaine would say to that, as recruiters (not as adjudicators of civil discovery disputes)? 
  I myself, long self-employed, always have a current resume (which, I was happy to see, largely complies with these recruiters’ suggestions), and I do often e-mail it (as “Myname CV 2012.pdf) to folks I have met at a Bar event, along with a “nice to meet you” note, and have obtained great work from those contacts.  (I also hand out my business card like candy, and have even, for a networking event, put a sticker on the back of the cards which listed a specific skill I wanted to convey (such as “State / federal litigation. First chair, 20+ jury trials” (not the actual words I used))

By Miami Esq on 2012 03 09, 7:18 pm CDT

I fudn ths very inteesting.  Even if you like your present position. It’s a good idea to retool your resume every 3-5 years.  Expeience may folllow public law trends and your own experinces can have a much diffeent range of expertise than that reported in a resume you prepared that got you your present position.

By Kahleen L. Briggs on 2012 03 10, 5:15 pm CDT

Didn’t make any sense to me. On one hand, they recommend getting rid of rudiments like marital status. On the other, they recommend leaving ancient thing like GPA on. I think, our dear experts should make up their minds first, and then be interviewed.

Also, when I hear the word “presumption” from a person positioning themselves as an expert, to me it says clear and loud “death of the progress, death of an expert”. Close-mildness and extensive knowledge are simply incompatible.

Coming back to the GPA issue - my own experience, as well as experience of many other lawyers I know demonstrates that grades have nothing to do with how good a lawyer is as a lawyer. I’ve seen people with highest GPAs screw up cases like nobody else. Take for example a famous 2009 IP case where Harvard professor screwed the case better than ever - simply because he didn’t care to prepare for it.

In my own example, I barely passed labor law exam (I got a “D-” for it) and later have become a distinguished employment and labor migration expert with clients from Fortune 500 list. So much for GPA.

I did hope to hear some valuable advice here, but I guess no luck. Thank you for at least attaching a transcript, so I didn’t have to waste 30 min. of my time listening.

By Anna Gray on 2012 03 10, 8:13 pm CDT

In the typical corporate finance transaction, let’s say for $100 million, the base legal fee will be 0.125% ($125,000) for what is usually 100+ hours of work. The investment banker running the book on the deal will charge around 7% ($7 million) for what is one day of calls and a 3-4 day road show, about 50 hours of work. A lot of these deals are for start-up founders to cash out their work and investments.

1. Lawyer, 4 years undergrad + 3 years law, GPA supposedly important = $125k
2. Banker, 4 years undergrad + 2 year MBA (optional), GPA meaningless = $7 million
3. Businessperson, college dropout (no GPA) = $92.875 million

Please tell me why GPA is important again?!?

By Kenneth Gray on 2012 03 10, 8:36 pm CDT

“Another way to look at the GPA “3.0” rule is to look at class rank, instead.  Each law school grades on its own curve.  More easily compared might be the candidate’s class ranking.  My recommendation is to include your class standing, rather than numerical GPA, if it is top third or better.  If your grades were below both of these cut-offs, leave it off.  In that case, make sure you highlight other accomplishments or activities that differentiate you from the crowd (which all candidates should do, anyway).”

Odds are if you have a low GPA, you weren’t in the top third of your class. Perhaps if your school had an exceptionally harsh curve, but as your GPA drops so goes your class rank. And in the same light, the further your are down the grading scale, the few other accomplishments you’ll have. The student in the bottom quarter of his class wasn’t on Law Review and wasn’t winning moot court competitions.

I had a decent GPA and some other cool stuff on my resume (ABA Journal Blawg 100!), but what advice is there for people who don’t stand out in any way?

By BL1Y on 2012 03 11, 12:43 am CDT

Putting in your GPA or class standing is on a par with stating your LSAT score.  It’s like saying, “here’s what I did back in the day when it seemed I had a promising career.”

By B. McLeod on 2012 03 11, 12:49 am CDT

One comment re GPA.  My school, for whatever reason, had adopted a policy where the top score, i.e., a 4.0 anywhere else, was a 3.2.  So, I don’t show GPA and instead emphasize class rank, order of the coif, magna cum laude.  Otherwise they would think my pitiful 3.1 too low to warrant consideration.

By T. Raymond on 2012 03 12, 6:45 am CDT

Thank you BL1Y for stating what I was thinking.

By Young Lawyer on 2012 03 12, 11:15 am CDT

@ #25: I have actually seen attorney job postings that ask for LSAT scores as well.  At some point disclosure really does reach the level of ridiculous and irrelevant.

By Esq. on 2012 03 13, 3:22 pm CDT

Very Interesting article and discussion. I guess I’ve beat the odds. I worked by day, attending law school at night as a single mother & did a lot of community service. I have had opportunities in my career that my counterparts, with excellent GPAs, didn’t get. I guess I’ve had to beat the odds all my life so I don’t wait for people to define me by a number only. I appreciate these great tips!

@ Kenneth Gray, I’m starting to ask myselg the same question….thought I have a 3.6 in my LLM in International & Business Trade Law program

By Michelle on 2012 03 13, 8:21 pm CDT

I need some advise. I am married to soldier and as a result, we are constantly moving. Every time I decided to take the bar, right before I submit the application, he gets orders to leave. This has been a constant cycle. When I think we are somewhat settled,  I submitted my application for the bar exam, my husband receives orders to move. I ended up taking that state bar since I already paid the money and passed. We are now in another State. I am now an attorney with no post bar experience. My resume is filled with paralegal and law clerk experience. It also shows that I do not stay a job for no longer than a year throughout the US.  Applying for federal jobs requires experience post bar, which I do not have. It is very frustrating! What do I do?

By Dahlia on 2012 03 30, 12:32 pm CDT

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