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Career Advisor

Ten Steps to Creating an Effective Resume

Published in the August 23rd, 2011, Advisor

  1. Make your resume accessible. Less is more; maintaining white space and using a readable font size are important. The reader may not have the ability or patience to wade through small, dense text.
  2. Use a single page. To create the accessible document described above, a few of you — those with extensive pre-law school professional experience — may need a second page; but most law students need to work on boiling their resumes down to a single page.
  3. Be your own advocate. Think about the requirements for the job you want as you write your descriptions of your past experiences. For example, many entry-level attorney positions require extensive research and writing. If you have experience drafting contracts or briefs, don’t sell yourself short by noting that you “prepared documents”; that could mean that you simply copied and collated client bills.
  4. At the same time, be accurate. Don’t use an outdated class rank. Don’t exaggerate or misstate.
  5. Make the reader’s job easy. Don’t make the employer work to figure out which materials go together. Match the header on your resume to the header on your cover letter, reference list, and writing sample. If your resume has more than one page, use page numbers and put your name on the second page. And include details. For past employment, list the organization, its location, your position, and the dates you worked.
  6. Make your resume pretty. Use tabs to make similar information line up on the same vertical line. Put a single activity in a single bullet point on a single line instead of including several activities per line and having each one wrap to the next line.
  7. Use active verbs to describe your accomplishments, and use the correct verb tense. Use past tense verbs to describe past responsibilities and present tense verbs to describe current duties. Examples of active verbs in the past tense include wrote, researched, presented, collaborated, led, designed, and facilitated.
  8. Set yourself apart from the crowd in a positive way. Striking a balance between standing out and conforming can present a challenge. You can play with layout and language, but straying from the range of options recognized as acceptable in our profession is risky and is generally a bad idea, especially for entry-level legal jobs.
  9. Consider providing information beyond your educational and professional experiences. One effective way to set yourself apart from other applicants is to provide some information about your volunteer work or your other passions. What hobbies do you pursue in your free time? Sometimes employers use the Interests section on a resume to discern whether an applicant would fit in well at the organization, and some interviewers use the information to break the ice.
  10. Proofread your resume carefully. Then proofread it again. Print it out each time you review it; you will catch errors and inconsistencies on paper that you do not notice on your computer screen. Finally, ask a friend to review your polished resume. Readers often see weaknesses that a document’s author overlooks.

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