While lawyers spend a good deal of their time preparing and presenting documents for their clients and the courts, one set of paperwork where there tends to be a lack of clear focus is the professional curriculum vitae.
In much the same way that the plumber’s taps leak, the builder’s house is in disrepair and the electrician’s wires are exposed, a good deal of even highly accomplished lawyers miss the point when applying for situations vacant.
Now, while the CVs that come across my desk aren’t typically dire, some do leave a lot to be desired. Probably the top shortcoming is there is an inability to focus on what is most important to the prospective employer. That, and the CVs contain excessive detail and minutiae which, quite frankly, is of no interest to anyone but the candidate themselves.
Too much information can smokescreen a good candidate; we have seen CVs that go into great detail about medical procedures (including one hysterectomy), cover the impressive qualifications of various family members, and include key personal dates like wedding anniversaries and children’s birthdays.
I even had one in Australia which shared a picture of a dashing chap leaning on a Rolls Royce outside a stately home. Showy! But it turned out those baubles weren’t his.
Whether a top lawyer or in any other profession for that matter, it is essential to respond to the position advertised, provide the information which is requested and, above that, only additional information that is relevant. The qualifications of family members, no matter how impressive, do not fall into that category, by any stretch of the imagination.
Instead, for lawyers, include insight into current skills and areas of focus – too often, I get CVs that are multiple pages long, but only have two or three lines devoted to explaining the individual’s current work.
Provide examples of matters you have worked on, the level of responsibility and autonomy you had on those files. With sensitive matters, avoid disclosing confidential information. Use appendixes if necessary (to avoid an excessively long CV).
Spend more time on that, and less time on the hysterectomy, and your chance of landing that plum position just went up several notches – but simultaneously, keep it short and sweet. No more than three or four pages.
Other consistently useful information is the level of client contact and type of clients you act for; experience in training and mentoring junior staff; and involvement in marketing/business development.
What about creativity? As a lawyer, creativity is often at least some part of your work, once the interning and clerking aspect of your training is over. But don’t let that creativity carry through to your CV. Particularly for senior positions, a gaudy document that features excessive graphics, colours and pictures (including of Rolls Royces) should be avoided.
Law carries a certain gravitas and so should your CV, which should be approached with the same rigour as you would apply to any other professional document. Law is very conservative.
If the US election has taught us anything at all, it is that having strong political views can stir up equally strong reactions in others. The world is such that your views may be shared by the senior partners…or indeed, may not.
Rather keep it to yourself, unless you are applying for a position with a political party of course. But even in that case, it is arguably best to keep schtum, particularly if your hero is General Rommel. The Desert Fox is, at the very least, a controversial figure, but one candidate shared with us his admiration for the Nazi commander.
There are other ‘standard’ lessons, too, which for lawyers really should be obvious. Like being truthful; we’ve had a candidate who claimed to speak Korean, a ruse that rapidly unravelled when the interviewing partner chose to conduct the face to face in that language. Awkward.
It’s worth investing some time on your CV; if any of these issues seem oddly familiar, now’s your chance to iron out the issues. Despite all the words written about its demise in this digital age it is still the first step towards that next great job.