Your value as a candidate must be readily apparent from a cursory glance at your resume. In practice, most resumes receive only 20 to 30 seconds of scrutiny before the reader makes an initial yes or no decision. Therefore, you must clearly and efficiently communicate your value to the audience which includes not only the ultimate decision-maker at your target employer but also any possible screeners along the way.
Your credentials, skills, and accomplishments must stand out and not be buried in dense blocks of text. To further catch the eye, present your accomplishments as bullet points and spice them up with details and statistics such as dollar values, % estimates, and precise outcomes whenever possible. This transforms your résumé from a generic statement of experience into a fact-specific marketing tool.
Since the best predictor of future potential is past performance, don’t merely list the tasks you handled in past positions, state the results you achieved. Describe the kinds of legal issues and experiences you were involved in, the types of documents you wrote, your role and level of responsibility including team management, and the outcomes. Transactional attorneys can tout the number of deals closed and the size and complexity of those transactions. Litigators can state the number of cases and jurisdictions in which you’ve litigated, whether the matters were in federal or state court, whether you served as first- or second-chair, whether you tried the cases before the bench or to a jury, and your win record. You also can include the amount in controversy, the number of depositions taken and dispositive motions argued, the quantity of documents, and whether you created significant or novel strategies or defenses and their success.
Consider listing any specific contribution you made that led to a measurable result. Your achievements might include increasing revenues, growing a department or business unit, improving quality or efficiency, saving time or money, improving client service or satisfaction, or creating or implementing a new or more effective process or procedure. Include any leadership or management responsibilities you’ve had, including the number of people supervised and trained, and the nature of the team.
Curate the experiences and contributions you emphasize on each version of your resume, depending upon the position you seek. Carefully select relevant facts and express them in compelling terms which demonstrate your value to your specific audience in terms they can understand and appreciate.
When formatting your resume, separate your job descriptions from your accomplishments. In a traditional reverse chronological resume, state your job description in a short paragraph following the employer name, job title, and dates of employment for each position you’ve held, working backwards from your current position. Below each brief job description, list your accomplishments, set out as bullet points related to that job entry. In a hybrid resume, place your combined bullet point list of career accomplishments at the top of your resume, under the executive summary of your skills. Below that, list your job history in reverse chronological order with a one-to-two sentence job description for each position.
- Drafted and argued winning appellate brief to uphold judgment for Fortune 100 medical device manufacturer on a $10-million product liability claim.
- Second-chaired and won a defense verdict in 3-week bench trial in a professional liability case with $500,000 exposure.
- Managed more than 25 public and private securities offerings, totaling approximately $4.6 billion in debt and equity securities.
- Coordinated legal due diligence for corporate acquisitions in six Western states; handled mergers among subsidiaries; prepared resolutions and other corporate documents.
- Developed standard documents for company-wide commercial real estate lending program with an estimated $5-billion portfolio.
- Founded, managed, and grew Los Angeles office of national law firm from 10 to 75 lawyers in five years.
You never know when you might need to update or tailor your resume. Your firm might merge or change in a way that is less than ideal for you or your clients, a legal conflict might arise which requires you to either change firms or give up the client, or a recruiter might call unexpectedly with the possibility of your dream job. Therefore, constantly document your work experience in a Me File so the details of your accomplishments are at your fingertips when you need them. That way, you can provide a “can do” resume at a moment’s notice.