Much is written about what goes onto a winning résumé. Equally important, however, is what to leave off of your résumé. Because you have very limited space to make the maximum impact, don’t waste valuable real estate with unnecessary information.
- Objective. It’s assumed you’re applying for an attorney position, so you don’t need to craft an objective statement nor include “attorney at law” or “Esq.” at the top of your résumé. Moreover, most objective statements are so vague as to be meaningless, or so particular as to be obviously crafted for that particular position. Much preferred is a brief summary section at the top of your résumé highlighting your most relevant skills for the position for which you’re applying.
- Photo. You’re hired for your skills as an attorney, not for your looks. Many law firm websites include photos of the firm’s lawyers, and you can post a picture on your LinkedIn profile, so if prospective employers are really curious, they can look you up on the web. In fact, some potential employers dislike receiving résumés with photos because of potential claims of discrimination if the candidate is obviously within a protected class and is not extended the opportunity to interview.
- Personal pronouns. Your résumé is about you; thus, “I” and “my” are redundant. Likewise, using the third person, “Ms. Jones was responsible for . . .” sounds pompous. To maximize the amount of information presented in a limited amount of space, use incomplete sentences such as, “Handled business litigation from inception through settlement, trial, or appeal.”
- Excessive abbreviations and acronyms. Other than including abbreviations widely understood in the profession, such as JD, LLM, CA, NY, and ABA, or within your area of practice, you don’t want your résumé to read like alphabet soup. On the other hand, spelling out terms such as Juris Doctor or Master of Arts is unnecessarily formal and wastes space.
- High school. By the time you apply for an attorney position, high school is ancient history, even if you’re a junior associate. Of concern is what you accomplished since then. In fact, many argue that the college and law school you attended and your records of achievement at those levels also should become less important over time. In the competitive world of prestigious law firms, however, your academic credentials remain important throughout your career, especially since most law firms include that data in the attorney profiles on their websites and in various directories. But virtually none of them publicize or inquire about your high school record.
- Unrelated college or law school jobs. Similarly, listing your college and law school jobs is unnecessary unless they directly relate to your current career goals. Instead, state, “Financed X percent of college/law school expenses through concurrent employment” without listing particulars. The fact you waited tables or worked in retail has little or no impact on a legal career. Conversely, you do want to include relevant experience such as a technical or engineering background if you’re a patent lawyer, previous medical positions if you practice healthcare law or deal with malpractice lawsuits, and so forth.
- Unexceptional honors/unrelated activities. Long lists of honors and activities that don’t add to your credibility as a lawyer or demonstrate your leadership abilities or rainmaking potential are a waste of space. A particular pet peeve is referencing listings in “Who’s Who” publications that aren’t viewed as an indicator of one’s achievements. Take a discerning look at your college, law school, and professional activities and honors and include only those that are meaningful. Quality and relevance take precedence over quantity.
- Long job descriptions/full addresses. Both are space wasters. For each of your schools attended and previous jobs, just list the city, state, and country if not in the U.S. You needn’t include the name of your supervisor. Also, pare your job descriptions to the minimum that clearly communicates your abilities. If further elucidation is necessary, attach an addendum with representative cases or transactions.
- Outdated/unrelated skills. Don’t list your capabilities on outmoded technologies or skills that don’t relate to the job for which you’re applying. The former dates you and the latter may make a prospective employer wonder whether you really understand what’s required for the position you seek. Similarly, minimize skills you possess but don’t wish to use in your next job. For example, mention that a past position included some litigation work, but if you really concentrated on transactional practice, downplay the litigation expertise.
- Personal information. It’s illegal to for prospective employers to ask, so don’t use valuable résumé space volunteering this information. It is irrelevant whether or not you are married and have children, and their names and ages. Furthermore, your health (beyond your ability to perform the essential functions of the job for which you are applying), your date and place of birth, and your height and weight are none of their business.
- Salary. If asked to submit salary information along with a résumé, include it in the cover letter, not on your résumé. Do your homework to get a general idea of the potential compensation range before applying for any position. Don’t raise the issue on the first interview; only discuss it either when the interviewer introduces the subject or when an offer is being formulated.
- References. Employers usually ask for references only after one or two interviews when significant interest is established. It’s premature to include them with your résumé. Furthermore, don’t waste valuable space stating “references available upon request.” That’s assumed.
With judicious editing of your résumé, you’ll find that less is more.