Legal Job Search: cover letter and resume tips

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Personally, I feel that a cover letter is more important that resume. First of all, you can change a cover letter. There is not much you can do to a resume except make cosmetic changes. You can’t go back and work an extra summer or add an internship that did not happen.

However, you can make substantive changes to your cover letter.

One common mistake and one tip about resumes:

Most people stop after a recitation of the duties of the job performed. Yes, that gives me some idea about your skills. However, it also screams, “I did the job I was given!” Well, I certainly hope so. That just says, “I wasn’t fired for being incompetent.” Again, I certainly hope not.

What I am getting at is a recitation of duties is setting the bar at about,  oh,  shin level.

I recommend splitting up the description into for every job in the “Experience” section into “Duties” (this is where your recitation goes) and “Noteworthy.” Here is where you add how you reorganized the office categorization process to reduce processing by 20%. Think 6 Million Dollar Man (is that too dated a reference?): how did you make things better, stronger, faster? Yes, I know you did the job. What did you accomplish that is noteworthy? Did you exceed expectations? Did you go beyond your duties?

Ok, cover letters. How do you pick out a cake? Imagine going into Whole Foods and going to bakery section. They have fruit topped cases, ones with multi-colored chocolate shavings. It’s like an amazing party right-there-on-the-cake! What kind of cake it is, is a consideration, but come-on, you’re picking the pretty one.

Your cover letter is the decoration on the cake. It’s that important in getting selected.

The resume, that’s the cake underneath. Now I’m going to mix up the metaphors. I am asked to review a quite a few resumes. Well, a resume is a tool like a screwdriver. You’re asking to me to tell you is it a good enough screwdriver? Well, I don’t know! What do you want to use it for? That’s where the cover letter comes in! A cover letter says what you to do with your screwdriver.

  • What kind of job do you want?
  • What do you like about the firm your are contacting?
  • Why you feel you could do for the firm?
  • What sets you apart?
  • What are your passions and goals and how those fit in with working at the firm.
Then you end with a “let’s meet!” Not literally, but I am sure you already know how to request either a call or a meeting with the office so you can shine in person.
Passions? Goals? I just want to be the perfect drone!

Yeah… that’s how a lot of interviews come across. Let me tell you, if you want a job. You have to be someone. You have to want things, you have to be interested in and passionate about things. Everyone is the hero of their own narrative. Yes, I know you are. But what you miss is that the person interviewing you for the firm is also the hero of his/her story too. Part of their story is are the heroic things their firm is going to do (while hopefully make a nice amount of money).

Pitfall: what they don’t want is someone who tells them, “personal injury is my passion, even when I was little I went up to the parks office after my brother scraped his knee on the playground and shouted ‘I’ll sue!’ ” Actually, that’s pretty good. Usually, though, sucking up is pretty transparent because it is inauthentic.

The person you are interviewing with is looking for heroes. Not necessarily another Superman. But you may be able to show them that they really need an Aquaman on their team. That takes passion and believing in things. You can’t just be the person who scrubs tanks at the aquarium.

So, cakes, screwdrivers and superheroes: stand out using your cover letter, tell the employer why you choose them and what you can do, and show them why you are a hero!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Waponi


Legal job search mistake: hiding behind your resume

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I was recently asked to review a new lawyer’s resume. I wrote back to the new attorney and offered to set up a meeting at my office to go over the resume and the lawyer’s cover letter. The timing of the meeting did not work out. However, instead of trying to reschedule, here is the response I got back:

Thank you for agreeing to review my resume. I am working full time for another week at a seasonal position, and then will be out of town for several weeks. Also I see that your office is on Colorado Springs, and I am in Denver. Despite these scheduling problems, I would still like to have your feedback on my resume. Is there a way we could review it electronically? For example, you could use the Word “track changes” feature to show your edits. Old fashioned paper and pen would be fine as well. Please let me know your thoughts.

I get the importance of making your current employment a priority. It shows loyalty which is a trait all employers want. And sure, I don’t expect you to change your travel plans. But, “send me your revisions”? I am not reviewing your resume to see if your spelling is correct or if you are using active verbs. Your law school career services office can do that.

I want to do a meeting to see if the resume, and even more importantly, your cover letter, conveys your strengths and individuality. Does it capture who you are and why you should be at the top of your prospective employers pile of applicants? Your resume is not is applying for a job, you are.

I consider trying to suss out what makes a person valuable and original to an employer, something worth showing up for. As someone out of law school for more than a decade, and who looks at resumes from an employer’s perspective, I can provide insight.

Also, I prefer to do an in person meeting because we can communicate faster and, hell, we can do revisions during the meeting. I like techie stuff as much as the next uber-geeky lawyer. However, I do not feel we can get as much done, or done as well, by swapping revisions.

Plus, you’re looking for a job and you don’t want to make another connection in the legal community? Really? Even you if you are only looking for work in the city you live in, you never know where a job lead, or introduction, will come from.

So, the next time you want help with your job search and someone wants to meet with you, JUMP AT THE CHANCE!

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

Creative Commons License photo credit: nasrulekram