Writing a CV and applying for a legal job can be a very simple thing to do, but writing a CV for a legal job and getting it noticed by a potential employer is a different matter entirely. We see CVs everyday from former senior partners, solicitors who have just qualified, paralegals, secretaries and everybody else looking at legal jobs, but what particularly makes a CV stand out?
This is the one major bit of information on a CV that makes it stand out above all others. It is something that law graduates very often fail to appreciate and think, for example, that any legal experience they have is going to be of huge interest to anyone who’s a lawyer. The same applies to qualified solicitors who can be notorious at applying for a job they may or may not be suited for, but failing completely in their CV to give any evidence at all that they’ve actually done any of this type of work before.
So relevance is the one thing on your CV that can make you stand out above all others – but how do you get your CV to be relevant?
Firstly, you have to make sure that your CV fits to the job that you are applying for, and you have not simply sent a CV in without actually matching it up to the role. Read the job description carefully, and tried to mirror what is said in the job description either in the summary at the top of your CV or in your work experience if this is possible.
Obviously if your CV is not relevant at all then you cannot fudge it so that it fits, and this is another thing that sometimes lawyers fail to appreciate – you cannot just apply for a job because you think it would be a good fit for you when you do not have the necessary skills or experience to be considered.
This is a bugbear of ours and something we have constantly written advice articles on for many years. It does not matter who you are and at what level of experience you are at, but writing waffle on your CV simply switches off the reader.
By waffle we mean words such as: “developing”, “capabilities”, “persuasive techniques”, “good rapport”, “teamwork”, “good communication”, “outstanding achievements”, “hard worker”, “achiever”, “extraordinary” and so on and so on. I know that a lot of academic careers advisors have recommended things like this on CVs because they want to emphasise the fact that you are trying to sell yourself to an employer, but I get the feeling at times that none of them have ever been an employer looking at a CV with a view to employing someone.
Our opinion is that a CV should be factual, straight to the point and include evidence and information relevant to a role only, and nothing that is subjective or just plain waffle.
Go through your CV and take out anything that you cannot back up with evidence, and have a think about what you would class as essential and what you have just included to fill in some space.
Personal skills sections can be the worst for this, and also summaries at the tops of CVs or personal descriptions or similar. If you have been advised to include a summary at the top of your CV, make sure it is only factual. So for example, “a conveyancing solicitor with four years PQE used to dealing with leaseholder enfranchisement and new builds, looking for a role within 20 miles of Chelmsford, Essex. Salary levels £45k, notice period three months.”
Now contrast this with “a gregarious and outgoing individual capable of good teamwork, hard work and possessing a good sense of humour. Looking for conveyancing work and prepared to work hard.”
You can see that in the first example I have given you everything you need to know about the CV in less than three seconds of reading, whereas in the second example anyone reading the CV will need to go all the way through it to establish what you’re looking for, what your experience is, and probably also come back to ask you various questions having received your CV.
If you follow these two points alone, your CV will stand out a mile compared with some of the terrible CVs we read every day of the week. I haven’t got on to the CVs where experienced lawyers don’t bother to include anything other than their name and the fact that they’ve worked for 35 years, but that’s a different article…