Resume writing: Helpful hints

Incredibly talented lawyers who write flawless agreements and briefs get stuck on the basics of resume writing every day.  This is no surprise.  As a lawyer, you weren’t taught how to write a resume.  Although your first thought may be that it shouldn’t be difficult, once you get started, your next thought may well be that it is not as easy as it seems. 

So, in the hopes of making resume writing easier for everyone, here are my favorite resume pointers.  Some are answers to common questions.  Others note mistakes that happen much more frequently than you would expect.  The rest are suggestions I give on a regular basis.

Streamline.  Your resume can be longer than one page but it is not a disclosure document- it is a marketing tool.  Highlight what is important and valuable to your story.  Do not list the same skills under each position.  If you have had similar responsibilities, go into detail for your most recent role and then give a brief summary for prior positions.  Also, take a look at your activities under education.  Once you start working, other than law review or unique achievements, activities can be eliminated unless directly relevant to the position you are seeking.

Do not omit your graduation dates or any of your work history.  Omissions lead the mind to wander…what year did he graduate?  What was she doing during the gap?  Before you know it, the person who is supposed to focus on your resume is doing an online search for your missing information and you know what happens next…a Facebook check, a review of the latest news, etc.  You actually did the opposite of what you intended.  You removed the attention of your audience from the information on your resume.  Good luck getting it back. 

An objective or summary is usually not necessary.  If, for example, you are trying to transition to a new practice area, an objective is helpful.  If the information is clearly in the body of your resume, you do not need an objective or summary.  It is redundant.   Don’t be redundant.

Be prepared in an interview to discuss anything you include on your resume.   It is all fair game. 

Do not lie.  Do not cover up gaps inaccurately.  Do not exaggerate experience.  (Don’t undersell but don’t make things up either.)  Do not let anyone tell you it is acceptable to stretch the truth.  It is not.  (Also worth mentioning…the odds are excellent that you will be caught.)

Lose the “I’ and “my”.

Prior positions should be in past tense.

Do not submit a resume that includes mistakes.  Check for typos, run-ons and poor grammar.  Then, double check.  After that, triple check.  Have someone else check.  Don’t look at it for a few days and come back to it.  I cannot repeat this enough…do not submit a resume that includes mistakes.

Use a font size that is comfortable to read.  If you think it is too small, it is.

Make it visually interesting.  A little variation between bold, italics and traditional print creates a nice presentation.  Also, vary your language.  Do not start multiple bullets or sentences with the same word.

Your audience is not reading.  They are glancing.  Give your document a 5-10 second look.  The highlights of your career (education, employers, type of experience) should jump off the page. 

Keep your resume updated.

Trust yourself.  If someone gives you a suggestion and you don’t agree with it, do not substitute another person’s judgment for your own.  This is your resume. 

Questions?  Want more tips or a resume review?   Call or e-mail to schedule an appointment. 


Amy Goldstein is the founder of Grayson Allen, Inc., a New York based attorney search and career consulting firm.  She has been providing career advice and recruiting attorneys for in-house and law firm positions since 2000.