Resumes and Cover Letters

A resume is a profile of your educational, experiential, and personal qualifications for the employment you are seeking. Usually, a potential employer's first introduction to you is through your resume - it has to communicate your most positive assets with respect to the job. Far from being a detailed biography of your life, a resume should be brief, concise, well-organized, accurate, and aesthetically pleasing. You should view it as one sample of your writing ability, and spend the time and effort necessary to create and organize it.

First - Organize

Before you begin writing a resume, there are several points you should consider:

  • Have you identified the positions you are seeking?
  • You will need to have a pretty good idea of the kinds of positions you are seeking because you will tailor your resume for them. At the very least, you will want to show a potential employer what distinguishes you as candidate to interview for the position. You will also want to ensure that the employer knows what job you are seeking, particularly in cases where you are seeking a job that is different from those you have had in the past. In the latter case, you will want to maximize transferable skills and experience and minimize the chance that a potential employer will be confused.
  • Will you need more than one version of your resume?
  • If you intend to seek positions in relatively different geographic areas or practice settings, you may want to develop several versions of your resume. You will then be able to present yourself in the best light for each situation.
  • For each position you are seeking, do you know what the employer is looking for?
  • Employers hire people whom they believe will perform best in the job and contribute to their objectives. Accordingly, you need to know the attributes used by employers in the practice setting or area in evaluating candidates so that your resume accentuates those in which you are strong. This knowledge also helps you write a clear and concise resume. Your knowledge of practice settings and areas in general will help you write your resume; your knowledge of a specific employer will help in the same way in writing your cover letter.
  • For each position, how will you demonstrate that you can perform well in the position and contribute to the employer's objectives?
  • Because you are asserting that you can perform well in the position you are seeking, you will need to support your assertion with evidence. You should begin thinking about some of the detail you will use in terms of accomplishments, skills, and knowledge. To the extent possible, you want to articulate your accomplishments in specific quantitative or qualitative terms.

Second - Draft

The resume should be easy to read and designed to emphasize your most important qualifications and experience. Coming out of law school with relatively little experience, it is best to keep your resume to one page in length. Individuals with greater work experience may consider using more than one page.

Although there is no single, absolute style for a legal resume, some generalizations can be made. It should be in outline format, but without the use of roman numerals or letters to divide the sections. Categories and headings can be distinguished through the use of spacing, underlining, bold print, and open space. It should be prepared in reverse chronological order - the most current items in each section listed first. It is best to put dates of employment on the right side of the page opposite the name of the employer or the job title, or immediately following the description of your duties. Dates can be listed in the left hand margin if they do not make the resume appear cluttered.

The resume should be printed on 8 ½ x 11 paper. White or off-white heavy bond paper is appropriate. Do not use any other color paper; it does not look professional and, since employers often photocopy resumes for internal circulation, other colors often do not copy cleanly. If your resume is two pages in length, be sure to put the most important information on the first page, put your name on both, and staple the sheets together.

Content

Heading

Put your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address at the top of your resume. You only need to list one phone number (make sure your outgoing message sounds professional). If you have a residence address other than your address while you are at school, you might list that address if it would be helpful to you, for example, it is in your home state and you are applying to employers there.

Education

Begin with your most recent post high school institution, giving the name of each institution you have attended, its location, the degree you received or anticipate/expect, and the year you received or anticipate receiving the degree. You can write out or abbreviate the name of the degree as long as you remain consistent throughout the Education section.

Grade point average or class rank should be included if they enhance your candidacy. If you do not include grade point average, many employers may conclude that your GPA is less than a 3.0. Many employers will automatically exclude candidates who do not list grades. If you feel that your grade point average will be an issue for an employer, you may choose to rely on impressive experience and leave grades off your resume. If you have a pattern of improving grades, consider showing that on your resume. For example, "Spring 2010 GPA: 3.6; Overall GPA: 3.2." If you have good grades in subjects of particular interest to the employer, consider showing them on your resume.

Your GPA or any grades that you put on your resume must be listed exactly as they appear on your transcript. YOU MAY NOT ROUND THEM OFF. Similarly, when using class rank, you may not guess or round the percentages in any way. When using class rank, make certain you use your own class ranking. (A minor exception is where the class rank for the current year has not yet been computed by the Registrar. Often, in that case, students will list "approximate class rank.")

Honors and activities are to be included with educational entries. You should always list information about your academic achievements, organization memberships, and any other information closely related to your education. Include journal membership, Law Review, Moot Court, or mock trials if you participated in them. Be sure to include transcript notations such as Distinguished Class Performance and Best Paper. If relevant, briefly describe research projects or theses. Latin honors can be italicized, but should not be capitalized. Use your discretion in listing activities, and list only those in which you have been actively involved.

If you have published anything, indicate the subject and citation. If you have an article that is awaiting publication, simply note "to be published in ______." If you have prepared a major paper, the topic can be included. Caption this section either Publications, Research, or Theses, whichever is appropriate.

Do not include your LSAT scores or high school education on your resume unless you attended high school in another country, or have some significant reason to mention that part of your education. If you wish to signal your high school in some way, you may consider listing it in the Skills and Interests section, for example, “Haverford School Alumni Association.”

Employment or Experience

The Employment or Experience section should indicate both legal and pre legal jobs, where appropriate, with the most recent appearing first. Some choose to separate them into "Legal Experience" and "Other Experience." It is also appropriate to include significant volunteer positions, particularly if they bolster your candidacy. Sections that include volunteer positions would be titled "Experience" rather than "Employment."

You may list either the employer or the job title first depending on which is more impressive, however, once you have selected a style, it must remain consistent throughout the resume. For each position, provide further information on the duties involved, your accomplishments, and skills developed. Accentuate the information that distinguishes you and shows how you will be able to perform the job well, perhaps better than any other candidate. Try to emphasize qualitative aspects of your experience, or try to quantify each accomplishment, skill, and knowledge area.

Skills, Interests, Activities, etc.

Including skills or interests or activities is optional, but provides an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other candidates, and employers generally like this section. Interests or political or civic involvement may be used to draw a more personal profile of yourself beyond the information typically presented in the Education and Experience sections. It also provides an opportunity for the employer to ask questions or engage you in a conversation about non-legal experiences.

Avoid making general statements such as "enjoy sports, reading and music." Distinguish yourself by listing your level of ability in any foreign languages, anything you may have published, any community activities, professional memberships, and other unusual experiences or accomplishments. Do not include statements concerning your health, age, marital or parental status, and the like.

The Office of Career Planning has compiled a booklet of sample resumes and cover letters. Feel free to drop by the office to pick one up. Most importantly, to have your draft resume reviewed by a career counselor, contact the Office of Career Planning.