As a legal market headhunter, I receive hundreds of resumes every week from lawyers all over the world. I don’t have the luxury of investing 30 minutes, or even 10 minutes, to read and digest every resume. In fact, there are many resumes, because of the way they’re constructed, which get only seconds of my attention and then are discarded.
Since a resume has to capture my attention pretty quickly, a lawyer can greatly increase his or her chances of getting into my company’s database (and thus access to our clients and their jobs) by following some resume basics in format, content and computer compatibility.
Format is crucial
Entry and junior associates should place education information prior to employment details. More senior level attorneys and partners, in most cases, should list employment details first. An exception might be when specialized education (such as an LLM in tax) is critical to a special practice or particular job opening. Recruiters have a critical need and preference for resumes in chronological order. An outplacement professional or employment consultant may tell you otherwise (they tend to favor functional resumes) — recruiters want to see resumes in a date and employer order (last employment first).
There is little time in a recruiter’s day to sort out the functional resume. Functional resumes are also suspect. Using that form means to me that you are trying to hide something. Most typically it’s that you are trying to mask more experience than the client has asked for in applying for a particular position, or there’s an unexplained gap in employment. Most disliked are resumes received by a recruiter with no dates — no year of graduation from law school or undergraduate year. Like it or not, dates are a key factor in understanding your background. And since most of our databases require such dates, the likelihood is that your resume will never make its way into that database. My philosophy is: "If we’re starting off with a relationship that’s not honest, I don’t want to participate." If you’re a 20-year lawyer looking for work or a new admittee with no experience, get it out there and let me know it — honestly.
Resumes should be no more than two pages. My rule of thumb: Less than 10 years of practice should be on a one-page resume. More than 10 years of practice and you can expand carefully to 1 ½ or 2 pages. I throw six-and seven-page resumes away, often unread. The most common mistake lawyers commit as they gain legal experience and "time in grade" on resumes is that they just keep adding and adding, rather than weeding out what isn’t appropriate any longer. If you feel you have significant transactional experiences or litigation accomplishments that would outgrow this preferred resume length, create a second document, title it appropriately as "representative litigation accomplishments" or "representative transactions" and provide it to me as a separate document.
Use accomplishment statements appropriately
The second basic is the use of accomplishment statements in helping me see you as a potential "value" to my client law firms or corporate legal departments. As indicated above, if these are many, they should be in a separate document or expressed in your cover letter or e-mail to me. Yes, I need to see you in terms of a possible placement commission. I earn my fee by providing superior candidates to that of my competition, so your resume, or an additional, separate document, should tell me why I would devote my time to your career advancement.
Your accomplishment statements should be brief, focused and quantifiable. You can expand and give more detail during an interview. Lawyers have difficulty writing accomplishment statements, because they work in teams, want to give credit to others and feel writing such statements looks as if they were the sole person responsible for the $500,000 jury verdict. It’s perfectly acceptable to write an accomplishment statement as: "As director of a team including 2 paralegals and 3 associates, I was able to obtain a judgment for …." Accomplishment statements are most convincing when connected to the clients’ results: Money saved (i.e., "the plaintiff requested $1,000,000 in his complaint but the result was a $0 defense verdict"), new client acquisition, costs saved, time saved, mentoring which resulted in decreased turn over, or revenues earned.
These points, which can be written as brief bullet statements, give me the ammunition to approach my client employers on your behalf. Later, I may provide them in print, with your permission, directly to my client.
Are the key words included?
The third basic I’m seeking in your resume are key words. These are important for my immediate grasp of your background and experiences and for entry into my database. They also help me locate your materials again for future job openings. Resumes and job openings in a recruiter’s database may be matched almost entirely by search for these key words. I can mentally recall the profiles of a great many of our candidates, but certainly not all, so I greatly rely upon my database and its key word entry.
Read job openings on websites and printed job advertising to more readily identify key word examples. Spot the most frequently used key words in 10 or more ads and incorporate those words into your own resume, if applicable. Think carefully about the most important and marketable experiences in your practice experiences. Obviously, you don’t want to indicate you have environmental experience if you don’t, for example.
if it can’t be read, we won’t read it
Most resumes today are transmitted by e-mail, both to recruiters and to employers’ websites. When you are ready to e-mail your resume, it’s best to send it as either a Word or Word Perfect attachment, as well as in a plain text format in the body of an e-mail. In the case of a recruiter, this allows us to read your information in the quickest manner. Check the website of the recruiter or employer to see if there are specific requests for sending the resume and comply. Again, recruiters see hundreds of resumes and you want to make sure yours is easy to access.
Phone time of recruiters is generally spent contacting employers or prospective candidates we have first pre-screened. Unsolicited calls may not be immediately accepted, so don’t expect an immediate phone interview when you call a headhunter cold. The recruiter may or may not have time available when you call "unannounced" to fully get to know you. Many of us have phone screeners at certain times so we can devote portions of our day to the taking of search information and certain portions to responding to e-mails or taking references, for instance. If you have sent an e-mail introducing yourself and your resume is of attention to the recruiter, you will more than likely get a call and a dedicated amount of the headhunter’s time. Make sure your cover e-mail contains some personal information about you (your geographic preferences and any timing issues would be examples) and incorporates your resume in the body of the e-mail. Most of us want a full copy of your resume as an attachment as well. You cannot imagine how many resumes I get which contain nothing in the body of the e-mail, not even a "hello." It’s usually the same e-mail submission that comes from an unprofessional e-mail address such as: email@example.com.
I spend very little time reading resumes addressed to "dear recruiter" and not addressed to me personally, nor do I read resumes which I surmise (by the list of many addresses shown on the message header) have been mass mailed to a dozen recruiters. How rude to show me the 11 other competing "dear recruiters" to whom you’ve decided to send your resume!
The headhunter can be a solid resource to your career advancement. We tend to be aware of a goodly number of opportunities in the hidden market — those positions that are never found on a website or in an advertisement or those future openings a firm or corporation may be "just beginning to think about." Recruiters will know informal details and history about a client that can get you in the door and contribute to your success in an interview there.
We know when a corporation may have a requisition or budget approval so that we can present your resume to the right person at the most prime time. We are skilled writers and orators about your talents and effective at packaging your strengths. Most importantly for you, the candidate, we act as the liaison between you and the employer, getting feedback or inquiring about the state of your candidacy (thus removing you from the prospect of having to call and pester the employer) and assisting in final salary and benefit negotiations.
Getting your best resume to the attention of a connected recruiter is the first step in the process of career acceleration. Make it count.
Linda Green Pierce is President of Northwest Legal Search, Inc., a lawyer consulting and placement firm established in Portland in 1987. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her web site at www.nwlegalsearch.com