The beginning of a new year is a great time to make sure your resume is up to date with all of your accomplishments and responsibilities from the past year (or years if it’s been a while since you dusted off your resume). When opportunities come knocking, you want to be ready!
In our line of work, we see a LOT of resumes and also get a lot of questions about how to construct the perfect resume, so here are our top 5 tips for submitting a resume that will separate you as a leading candidate for any role.
#1 – Be sure your resume is free of errors.
This tip should go without saying, but many resumes that are submitted to potential employers contain mistakes. Even if a hiring manager sees just one typo, that may be enough to disqualify you as law firms have zero tolerance for mistakes on resumes. Don’t rely on yourself to catch every mistake, because even with an eagle eye, you’re likely to miss a typo or two on your own document. Be sure to have a second pair of eyes review your resume before you submit it for any role.
#2 – Tailor your resume for each potential role.
This tip is crucial and often overlooked in the rush to apply for a great role. One resume should not fit all opportunities, so you should focus on tailoring your experience to each potential role. To help you do this efficiently, keep one long “master” version of your resume that lists everything you’ve done in each job, which can then easily be tailored and whittled down for an individual opportunity.
If you’re applying for an RFP-heavy role, for example, don’t waste three bullets on event planning experience, and don’t bury your RFP bullet(s) in the middle or towards the end of your experience. The most recent, on-point experience that is directly relevant to the role you’re applying for is absolutely key, and shows the firm that you have thought critically about your experience as it relates to their role.
The HR team and hiring manager will be looking for certain key words as they screen resumes (you can find the key words in the job description) so they can quickly see how well your experience lines up with the role. Make it easy for them to see you as a strong fit for the job by mirroring their key words, and putting the most relevant experience right up front.
#3 – Don’t be afraid to go over one page.
We sometimes see resumes with tiny font sizes because people are still trying to adhere to the old one-page rule for resumes. Go ahead and make your font bigger and easier to read, because the one page rule has gone by the wayside. Having said that, you still don’t want to overdo it, so try to keep it to two pages.
Piggybacking on #1 above, more important than length, is relevance. For each role listed on your resume, focus on the most relevant experience to the job you’re currently applying for, and then quickly cover any additional notable experience. Cut anything else that doesn’t fall into the “relevant” or “notable” buckets. This will help you to keep your resume detailed enough to show that you’re a great candidate, but won’t waste resume real estate on irrelevant information.
This advice is particularly important for someone looking to change role types or career paths. For example, we talk to a lot of lawyers looking to transition into legal marketing. Often, they will have impressive resumes listing a lot of detail on their legal work, but few bullets (if any) on relevant marketing experience. This candidate would be better positioned if they quickly summarized each legal role, while highlighting in more detail any specific experience they have with marketing activities (helping to draft RFP responses, competitive intelligence research, authoring thought leadership, etc.).
#4 – Use a clean template.
Hiring managers review resumes very quickly. You only have a few seconds to make your initial impression. You want the format to assist the reader so they can quickly and easily understand your career path and experience. A bad template (or no template) can make it harder for someone to get through your experience, and puts a hurdle between you and the job you want. Again, when asking someone to review your resume, ask them if it is easy to follow the timeline, or if they had any questions in terms of the movement from one role to another, or one section of the resume to another.
If you’re not using a template, find one you like (Word contains templates and you can find more on Google) and work from that. Use formatting and spacing effectively and make sure each section and header is clearly separated. Also be sure that your formatting choices are consistent throughout the resume.
#5 – Proceed with caution when using design elements.
We’ve begun to see more and more resumes with varying degrees of design elements worked into them. Here are our tips on some of the most common things we’re seeing:
Color – If you are applying to a conservative firm, we’d recommend that you use color sparingly. If you are applying to a more innovative, smaller firm, then a bit more color might be OK, but still be relatively conservative in how you use it.
Photos – Photos are still something we see rarely, and while we’ve seen some very effective examples of resumes using photos, it should be done in a polished way, or not done at all. What can be effective is providing a link to your LinkedIn profile, so someone could easily follow that to see your photo. Whether or not you link to your profile, make sure your LinkedIn profile matches your resume (especially in terms of titles and tenure in each role) so as not to raise questions about discrepancies.
Infographics – We’re beginning to see candidates using infographics on their resumes. Some are very powerful because they are clean and simple, and some are more distracting than helpful. Unless you are applying for a graphics-related role, or to a very innovative firm, we would recommend staying away from these formats for now—but check back with us in a couple of years!
Font – Choose a font that is professional and clean (Times New Roman, Calibri, Arial, etc.). The font should not be hard to read and shouldn’t “make a statement”. The font should just help to project a polished and sophisticated persona.
If you have resume questions, we’d love to hear them, and of course, never hesitate to reach out to the JJES team if you’d like a second pair of eyes on your resume. Here’s to being ready when a great opportunity arises!
Annie Berger is a Recruiting & Project Manager with J. Johnson Executive Search, Inc. (JJES) who specializes in placing marketing and business development talent into law firms across the U.S. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.