Back to Basics, Drafting a CV

Even as the number of avenues available for a job search increases and our on-line presence continues to grow in importance, the role of the good old CV continues to be central. One day that could well change, but even the most sophisticated on-line portals still have some form of CV or pseudo-CV at their core.

In the conservative world of legal recruitment the CV is still the key that you must use to open doors, yet as consultants we continue to see such variety in the quality – and therefore effectiveness – of the CVs that come through to us. This is particularly worrying when your drafting ability will be one of the key skills a potential employer will want to rely on when hiring a lawyer. I have even had a client expressly tell me that they treat the CV as a drafting exercise. That is why we still find ourselves spending a lot of time teaching well-educated, articulate and intelligent candidates to suck eggs!

Here are some simple pointers:

1. Don’t make it too long. 2-3 pages should be enough even for a long career. In the US they consider a CV of more than a page too long so we are being generous! A trick for including a lot of information is to use examples of work you have been involved in rather than simply listing the skills you have used. The person reading it will likely be involved in that type of work themselves so they will not need a blow-by-blow account. They will know that to get from A to B with the matter you will implicitly have done X,Y and Z. For example:
I assisted the partner on a multi-million dollar breach of contract matter for an IT start-up and was specifically responsible for co-ordinating a large amount of witness evidence. The matter went to court and we won on every count.
2. No photos please. You will likely have one on your LinkedIn profile so they can see you on there if they are delving any deeper.
3. Include your education, but only back to high school. Even years later employers remain interested in your University achievements so, whether we like it or not, it needs to be there. If it isn’t they could well infer the worst anyway.
4. It is hard to include any personality – it is after all essentially a list of facts. However, you should include interests and achievements from outside work although it is best to steer clear of politics or religion. It is also OK to mention aspects of a matter or a role that you have particularly enjoyed or feel proud of, but make sure you don’t go marvellously overboard with fabulously awesome superlatives.
5. This final point will be controversial and there will be some who don’t agree, but I strongly feel that Objective Statements/ Personal Summaries/ Profiles and the like add little to an application. They tend to read as generic and unsubstantiated. Almost everyone is a hard-working, driven, team-player with good attention to detail who thrives on fresh challenges. Seldom do we come across anyone who is perhaps a little more honest – a hard-working lawyer who enjoys team work, but only with like-minded people. Likes interesting work but sometimes daydreams at the end of a long day and really wants their bosses job – If you must include something perhaps Career Highlights or Achievements might be more relevant and effective. These are tangible and give great pointers for questions at interview.

Of course there is more nuance for each individual’s CV and you must feel comfortable with every aspect of an application that is submitted. Think of it as a two page advert for why you are the right person for that dream job, with the added bonus that if it is a good enough advert you will need to answer in-depth questions on each aspect of it at interview. No pressure then.