Two résumés land on the Hiring Director’s desk. Both list Ivy League degrees and the required “big firm” experience. Yet only one makes it to the callback pile. Why?
The differences make all the difference.
To increase your résumé’s callback odds, try following these guidelines:
1. Write a killer cover letter
The right cover letter can determine whether your résumé gets a mere scan or a careful review. [See “How to Catch a Fish in 30 Seconds” for tips on writing cover letters that get you noticed.]
2. Write like a leader
Yes, I can see from your résumé that you’ve worked on some impressive mergers. But were you more than a scrivener? If you played any role in strategizing or structuring the deal, by all means, say so. If you headed negotiations for any aspects of the deal, then tell me. Were you in charge of younger lawyers on the team and responsible for their output? Then mention it.
The point here is this: The more you can talk about your experience in “take-charge” terms (e.g., “led,” “managed,” “structured,” “strategized,” “negotiated,”…), the more competent you will appear.
3. Use crisp, powerful verbs
“Action” verbs create an image of strength. Rather than saying you “participated in the negotiation of…,” say “negotiated….” Instead of saying you “assisted foreign counsel in understanding local laws,” say “advised foreign counsel on local laws.”
Aim for short, punchy descriptions. For help getting there, read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Then read it again.
4. Talk results
For instance, if you were part of the plaintiff’s legal team on an environmental case, mention that the court awarded $[fill in the blank] damages to your client.
Or, if you were in charge of your department’s budget and cut spending by [fill in the blank]% during the first two years, mention that.
You won’t always be able to reveal dollar amounts, of course, because settlements, M&A prices and such are often confidential. But, when the financial impact of your work can be disclosed, do so. It will make your reader think you are results-oriented and have a good business sense.
5. Play to your audience
Your résumé should not be a “one-size-fits-all” document. Each time you apply for a position, customize your résumé to emphasize what’s important to your potential employer.
How do you find out what that is? Read the job spec, if one exists. Do research on the company and extrapolate from there. [See “Why Your Firm’s Marketing Pitch Didn’t Work: Reason #1” for research “how-to’s.”]
For example, if the company you’re applying to is a retailer in the fashion industry, be sure that your résumé highlights any experience you’ve had with issues that pertain to that industry (manufacturing negotiations, advertising deals, import/export regulations, etc.).
On the other hand, if your potential employer is a financial services company, downplay your manufacturing experience and emphasize, instead, your experience with SEC requirements and financial regulations.
What if you haven’t had any direct experience working with your potential employer’s industry? Find a way to analogize the work you’ve done in other subject areas to the requirements of this particular job. [Look for a future post on how to do this.]
6. Make it easy on the eyes
Most résumés are a visual “sea of gray”: unbroken blocks of type that threaten to go on forever. This daunts the reader: She shouldn’t have to wade in to figure out what your selling points are.
Assume that your résumé will only get a quick scan on first pass. You need to organize it visually, so that your skills will leap off the page — and make the reader want to go back for further study.
One of the quickest ways to make your reader understand that you’ve got the background she’s looking for is to include side-headings when listing the projects you’ve handled at each of your employers.
Granted, side-headings in résumés are a bit unusual — but they work. Recently, I worked with a young associate whose specialty was employment law. We reorganized his résumé – with subheadings – to group his employment law experience under topics such as: Policies & Training, Risk Counseling, Litigation, Mergers & Acquisitions, Immigration and International.
Following our resume makeover, the associate applied for three jobs — and got three callback interviews. Coincidence? Or causation? (He swears the latter.)
7. Commit to the truth
Of course, your résumé should describe your career achievements in the most powerful way possible.
But always tell the truth. You should not take credit for achievements that weren’t yours. Your integrity is something you will need for the rest of your life. Don’t gamble it away.