As recruitment consultants we see tonnes of CVs from lawyers and solicitors every day of the week, and after 20 years of recruiting we know what makes a good CV and what makes a really bad one.
Let’s start with a really bad one. For law students making applications for entry jobs into the profession, a bad CV is one that has absolutely no legal experience on it, or at least no visible legal experience in a practical environment. Furthermore, it may contain lots of waffly nonsense about how nice and fantastic the person is without providing any evidence. If you do not have any practical legal work experience, this can never be put on a CV in a way that makes things better. You simply have to go and get practical legal experience in some shape or form.
For qualified lawyers, bad CVs are those that have no information about your work and exactly what you do on a day-to-day basis. These can be CVs from senior partners with 40 years PQE, but similarly from newly qualified solicitors. So many CVs we see contain very little information about the actual experience a candidate has that is specifically relevant to the role they are applying for.
So now we have dealt with bad CVs, what constitutes a good CV for legal jobs?
Firstly, all the information relating to your personal details is easily visible and accessible at the top of the first page of your CV for everyone to read. For example, your full name (yes, some people actually manage to leave this off), your email address, your mobile number, your landline number, your date of birth, your postal address, your nationality, and anything else you think relevant.
Secondly, your summary section, which comes next, actually contains information that the reader wants to see and needs to know. This section is where a good proportion of applicants seem to think it is a good excuse to write tonnes of waffly nonsense that is utterly irrelevant to the reader, who is very unlikely to be interested in virtually any of it. Most CVs do not contain the right information here, and so if you want to make your CV stand out compared with anyone else’s, this is the information that needs to be in your summary. As a recruiter or employer, I need to know that your job title is the same as the job you’re going for (e.g. corporate commercial solicitor), you have the requisite experience (e.g. five years PQE), you are looking for work in my area (e.g. looking for work in the London area), your salary (e.g. salary is £75,000 per annum), and your notice period (e.g. three months’ notice period).
This is the information we need to see, and pretty much anything else you write is not necessary. So many people see the summary as an excuse to write things like, “I am an outgoing, bubbly person with a hard-working commitment and attention to detail in everything I do. I am meticulous, well-organised, confident, with good communication skills.” This is absolute drivel, and because there is no evidence to back any of it up, it is all completely unnecessary and you do not need to include it on your CV. This information detracts away from the actual information that the reader does need to see, which is set out above.
Make sure your education is in reverse chronological order. Include all your education dating right the way back, and particularly pay attention to your degree classification, confirmation that you have completed the legal practice course, or whatever name the SRA have come up with next, and if possible your A-levels and grades. Whilst of course most of this is completely irrelevant to jobs you are applying for, unfortunately employers do not see this in the same way and look for academic consistency.
Don’t forget to include your date of admission to the role as a solicitor, as quite a few people leave this off their CVs.
Make sure your employment experience is in reverse chronological order, and ensure that you detail this section more than you do anything else on the CV. It is by far the most relevant part of the CV, and it is the section that gets jobs. If you write a good section outlining all your work and include it in detail that the reader can actually peruse easily (bullet point lists are fantastic for this), you stand so much more chance of success. As a recruiter, this is the first section on any CV I look at, and I quite often overlook just about everything else. If I cannot see relevant experience for a role within a few seconds, I move on to the next CV. This is why it is vital to pay lots of attention to this section in order to make sure you stand out.
When completing your work experience section, make sure you have read the job description (if there is one) very carefully, and ensure that the information you include in your work experience section tallies up with the experience the employer requires in their job description.
Of course, there are other sections to include on the CV such as activities and interests and your IT skills (don’t forget your case management system experience), but the sections above are the key areas to concentrate on when preparing your CV to make it stand out.
NB: avoid stylish fonts, your photograph or links to video CVs or presentations. Usually employers don’t have time for this until later on in the process. To get noticed in those first few seconds it is your work experience section and accessibility to your personal details that will make all the difference.