CV tips for jobs in the legal sector
26th February 2018
Having a perfected and professional CV is a fantastic way to get your foot in the door in any industry, but this is even more true in the legal sector. Your CV is often your first chance to make an impression in a competitive market, and it’s much more than just a list of your qualifications and previous jobs, it’s a guide to who you are. Throughout your career you’ll be expected to have a keen attention for detail and be a master of words, your CV should be the finest demonstration of this. Your CV is your first step towards legal recruitment and a brilliant new career, and in this article, we will give you some tips on how to make it stand out.
We spoke to Linda Allen, editor and owner of Ms. Career Girl, about the biggest mistake people make when writing their CV: “One of the most common errors isn't so much about the CV or resume as such but about its place and function in the overall job seeking process. It's not a standalone outline. Rather, it should be thought of as the first part of the three-part process of getting to a job offer.
“Part one - the CV or resume - is the introduction that tells the prospective employer what you're going to tell them in the interview. Part two is the interview process. That's when you tell them and sell them. Part three is the follow up call and letter. Yes, you guessed it, that's when you tell them what you told them. And close the sale.
“So, my advice would be to think of the entire package as a related whole and make each piece a logical part of the sequence. Tell, sell, close.”
This is your best opportunity to show a recruiter who you are, so make it count. To start, write your name, and underneath, your contact details. It is important that the contact details you list here you can actually be contacted by, so don’t put an email account you’ll never check, or put your phone number and never return any calls. Whilst trying to be recruited you need to be the most available version of yourself you can possibly be.
It is traditional to start your CV with a short personal statement, sometimes called a profile or career summary. This small piece of information should tell employers a short overview of all the information they are about to read. Your personal statement should be short and concise, make sure not to ramble. Tip - It’s always worth reading it aloud as well, it’s all well and good knowing it looks great but if it your statement reads weirdly this could stump your application at the first step.
When listing your employment history, make sure the first thing they read is your most recent employer, and then work back in time. With all employers put the company name, the location of the company and how long you spent there. These small bits of information are important to recruiters and helps them build a clear image of your employment history.
You’ll also need to write a summary of what you have achieved in this role. This shouldn’t be a list of the job roles, but how you have fulfilled them. For example, instead of saying ‘Providing counsel of laws and liabilities’ you could say ‘Provided effective counsel of laws and liabilities for music hosting and artistic services.’ Presenting your summary like this means you can list your achievements in the company, whilst showing the recruiter your main responsibilities.
Listing your educational history is a similar process to listing your employment history. You should format it in a similar way and be sure to not just auto-fill this section of your CV. You can also tailor the notes in your education history to appeal more to certain employers’ requirements.
James Innes, the UK’s best-selling careers author, shared some tips with us on writing a CV for the legal sector: “Arguably one of the most competitive sectors out there, getting noticed when applying for any job in the legal sector is never easy. No matter what stage you have reached in your career, make sure that you are doing everything you can to strengthen your CV. For example, if you are studying towards your law degree, think about what other activities you could be participating in that will improve your skills and knowledge. Join the mooting society and your university’s legal clinic if you can but also look outside of the university for work placements and pro bono experience that you can gain. The more experience you can demonstrate in your CV, the better your chances are of being identified by recruiters. Also, recruiters will want to know every detail about your education right down to your GCSE grades, so it is important to be specific, whilst keeping your CV concise. If you are struggling to put all these tips into practice, there really is no substitute to a professionally tailored CV.”
Hobbies & Interests
The hobbies and interests section of CVs has been in contention for a long time, with people arguing for and against even including it. Your hobbies can give the employer an insight into your life, who you are as a person and what makes you tick, but a lot of times it can fall short of this and become unrelated.
The key to adding hobbies and interests to your CV is to make sure they do one of two things: either they show an integral part of your character and your life or they complement your CV and show a skill, ideally, they should do both. If you have a keen interest in foreign languages for example, not only is this an insight into the kind of person you are but you can also use this to show you are self-motivated, have a willingness to learn and your other languages may be able to help you further down the line in your career. Or, if you have a keen interest in running marathons, and spend a lot of your free time competing you may want to include this as it’s a large part of the person who you are.
Your cover letter makes sense of your CV and is an integral part of the hiring process for recruiters. Although the effort it takes to write individual cover letters for every job you apply for feels like a lot, it is a great way to make your CV stronger.
There are three general types of cover letters and depending on which type of cover letter you are writing your content will change. You can have cover letters in response to job listings, cover letters inquiring about potential job opportunities or cover letters requesting information or assistance with your job search.
The cover letter is your chance to talk directly to the recruiter. You can seize this opportunity to prove you are serious about the opportunity, when providing over a CV some recruiters my think you have not attached a cover letter as well because you are either not serious about the role or you’re just too lazy to write one.
As best-selling careers author James Innes writes, “Nnever underestimate the importance of a cover letter.” He spoke to us a bit more about the topic: “Free from the rules and constraints of a CV, a cover letter is your opportunity to tell a recruiter exactly what makes you different from the other candidates. Not only can your personality shine through, the cover letter can also be used to show off your knowledge of the firm you are applying to and why you would fit in with their culture and values. So, do your research beforehand but don’t fall into the trap of just telling them what you think they want to hear – tell them something that makes you stand out and makes them want to find out more about you.”
Tell people what you have achieved, not just what you have done
Recruiters are hired to do one thing, recruit. Anyone looking to hire a lawyer is going to know what the basic job roles of a lawyer are, so make sure you aren’t just giving people a list of things they already know. Instead, tell the recruiter what you have achieved in your previous roles, and how you have met, and excelled the job description. Having the ability to self-analyse is not only a desirable trait, this will also show recruiters that you can reflect on how you are fulfilling your job role and shows a level of confidence in your work.
James Innes spoke to us a bit more about this: “A CV is your marketing tool and it is really important that your CV focuses on what you have done, not just what every other Lawyerlawyer, Legal legal Assistant assistant or Paralegal paralegal out there has done. When recruiters go through the huge stack of CVs they will receive in response to every job ad, they will be looking for candidates who don’t just tell them what they do on a daily basis. The recruiters will already know that and won’t bother reading your CV if that’s all it says about you. Focus instead on what changes you have implemented, what improvements you have made, what successes you have enjoyed on behalf of your clients and your firm. Make these highlights stand out on your CV so that recruiters will spot them straight away. If you think your CV is not working for you, take advantage of our free CV review service and we can give you some top tips to help you improve it.”
Make it relevant
If you can tailor your CV to the exact position you are applying for, it will not only make it as relevant as possible, but it will also make sure you are constantly checking over it and improving it. If you know exactly what a company is looking for, try your best to tick their boxes with your CV
Everything on your CV should be honest and true, but there is nothing stopping you making sure you include the more admirable things and cutting the less relevant things. Recruiters probably don’t need to know about your part time work whilst you were studying, unless you have learnt something from it that can be applied to the career you are working towards.
Think about design
Although your CV and cover letter don’t need to be the pinnacle of design, they need to be well presented and easy to read. It also helps if they are easily identifiable, and memorable. Ensure the design you choose is professional, but not boring. If you don’t have the skills to design your own CV, there are plenty of free and premium templates available online to help you on your way.