For the last five years, a UK university has invited me in to talk to their LPC students about their CVs. I receive a copy of the CVs beforehand, assess them, and then base my talk upon each groups’ CVs when I go and talk.
Some years I find the standard to be very mixed – some students (although not many) spend a lot of time on their legal careers to date, concentrating on finding work experience, making sure they have lots to mention on their CV about team sports, languages, interests, and academic continuity. Others spend next to no time at all – missing grades off, entire years, and failing to realise the benefits of legal work experience and how important it actually is.
It is always very interesting to see that the benchmark used by a large number of firms holds very true – candidates with good academic grades tend to be those with more to offer – whether this is in the form of a decent amount of work experience, or from their approach to the cv itself and making it clear and easy to read. Those with lower level grades tend to be more muddled, with some firms being able to say that perhaps the CV becomes an example or extension of a candidate’s mindset.
One thing that cropped up which I thought it may be worth me discussing further is the standard advice given by careers advisers at universities regarding the importance of skills sections on CVs.
These are the bane of my life – even solicitors with 10 years PQE still write them down – an example would be “good interpersonal skills, able to communicate effectively and use transferable skills in a way to benefit the firm. Punctual, generous and with a good sense of humour.”
I have read CVs with pages of this stuff on them, and can never understand why anyone with any common sense would not realise that there is absolutely no point including any of it on the CV.
But no, according to some of the students at the university, their careers advisers at various universities during their LLB had said that this was the way you did your cv, and this was the sort of thing that firms wanted to see.
I must say that our approach (and that of other recruitment consultants I have met and spoken to) has always been that a CV should contain factual information only. I see many cvs prepared each week from some of the big agencies such as Badenoch & Clark and Michael Page, and they spend considerable time and effort on organising and structuring their CVs.
Every single one I have been sent over the years by candidates contains streams of factual information setting out numbers of files, caseloads, billing levels, types of law, any technical issues dealt with, anyone worked with on particular cases etc. I have never seen a prepared cv containing the sort of waffle I see on CVs regularly from graduates.
I am thinking of writing a letter to all the careers advisers in universities to ask them to consider this point, as i think it is so important – it can throw an employer off the scent and prevent them from seeing something really interesting.
So if you are writing a CV and reading this – don’t use bulletpointed lists or paragraphs of information about your skills set – I am not interested as an employer – I never read them – I could probably send a good one out myself saying that I have a good sense of humour, but this would be a complete lie!
For further details on CVs – we do actually sell a book called the “Complete Guide to Writing a Legal CV”, a DIY CV Writing Pack and CV Review & Preparation services – please visit our legal careers shop at www.ten-percent.co.uk/careersshop.
Author: Jonathan Fagan MIRP MAC Cert RP LLM Solicitor (non-practising) – Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment (www.ten-percent.co.uk) – save time, skip the legal job boards and register with us! Jonathan Fagan is a specialist legal recruitment consultant, author of the Complete Guide to Writing a Legal CV and the Guide to Interviews for Lawyers. He has recruited for law firms across the UK and overseas in all shapes and sizes. If you have any questions that we have not covered above, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org