Your goal in creating a resume is to make it an effective marketing tool. It should be a fluid document which changes as you earn degrees, gain professional experience and acquire new interests and career directions. Employers often spend less than a minute looking at each resume when they first receive it. From this glance, they often make preliminary rejection decisions; therefore, an organized and informative resume is crucial to the job search. Your resume must be “scan-proof” to avoid being sent straight from the envelope to the rejection pile.
Below are general guidelines to help you create a visually powerful resume that best reflects your strengths and accomplishments and enables you to land job offers with your top choice public interest employers.
We also encourage you to view the OCS/OPIA Resume Workshop video.
If You Think You Don’t Need to Redo Your Resume…
Think again! Your resume can always use some improvement. Through interviewing, you will learn what needs clarification on your resume and what should be emphasized. As you add information, the format of your resume may need some adjustment. Take a look at the 1L “before” and “after” resume (.pdf). The “after” resume looks less cluttered and the information is easier to access and understand. The resume format used here is conducive to adding information and presenting it in a professional manner. You should strongly consider having someone else proof your resume for typos. A typo on your resume may cause a prospective employer to be concerned about your attention to detail. Even if you already have a fine-tuned resume, consider reading on. You may be able to skip some of the following steps, but with our format and content suggestions, you can draft a polished, easy-to-update document that captures your accomplishments.
Things to Organize Before You Start Writing
Sit down and list all of your work experience since high school, including your activities, hobbies and interests. After you have made this list, start thinking about the following:
- What were your primary responsibilities?
- What specific examples can you give of your work (e.g. “Represented social security claimants denied disability benefits,” “Drafted legislative initiative to reform the Civil Rights Act of 1990,” “Analyzed $150,000 budget to identify cost-cutting initiatives”)?
- What skills did you develop?
- What tasks or projects did you undertake?
- What accomplishments did you contribute to or complete yourself?
Talking to friends or co-workers about these experiences may make it easier to recall all your responsibilities and achievements.
It is worth taking the time to clarify your career goals before revising your resume and launching your job search. You also may need to give some thought to which interests, work skills and experiences you want to emphasize for prospective public service employers.
Your resume should not generally exceed one page. That usually means that you have to make some strategic omissions in your work experience or academic sections. Exceptions to this “one page rule” are if you have an extensive list of publications or five or more years of work experience prior to law school. Also, some fellowship sponsors ask that you include any relevant information even if it dates back to high school and causes your resume to exceed a page.
A Dynamic Document
Plan to rewrite your resume many times during your legal education and your professional career. Invite friends, family members and classmates to look over your resume and offer suggestions, corrections and help in identifying any areas that need clarification. Incorporate those suggestions that appeal to you, but make sure you use your own language. For this reason, you should always save an updated resume on your computer or on a drive you can easily access.
Remember that your resume ultimately serves as a public relations piece to market you to prospective employers. Refine it continually to accentuate your accomplishments and strengths.
The visual aesthetics of your resume are important. Employers tend to make only cursory scans of newly received resumes looking for something that grabs their attention. Your format should allow the employer to skim through your education and experience. By enabling the employer to read all of your attributes at a glance, you increase your chance of getting a second look.
Your resume should be easy to read or scan along the left-hand margin and free of typos. Resumes and cover letters should be on matching stationery if submitting hard copies, preferably white or off-white. Standard office bond paper is acceptable. The tabs and margins must be consistent and you should avoid using too many different fonts or sizes on your resume. Avoid underlining words or sections; use italics instead. Put the names of former and current employers in bold and in all caps, so that a prospective employer can know from a glance where you have worked. An excellent technique for proofreading your resume is to read it backwards, so that your eyes move more slowly over the words.
Sending Your Resume
If the employer states a preference for email or another format (mail or fax, typically), follow his/her guidelines. Many times an organization will accept both emailed and hard copy applications. If you are applying to a federal agency in Washington, DC, it is often wise to send your materials electronically, as mail for US Government offices is subject to security measures and is often delayed.
If you are sending your materials electronically, and no file format is specified, convert your files to PDF. Include both your last name and the type of document (resume, writing sample, etc.) in the filename to facilitate the recipient’s ability to store and locate these files.
Unless an employer requests no phone inquiries, it is smart to call the employer to confirm that your resume was received and indicate when you are available for an interview. Alternatively, you can send an email message if you have one for the hiring contact. It is particularly helpful to let an organization know if you will be coming to town and are available to meet.
Be careful to balance persistence and enthusiasm about the position against aggressiveness and over-exuberance. The idea is for the employer to have your name in mind when turning his or her attention to final hiring decisions – not to harass them.
You can also send writing samples or other materials to update your resume if the hiring process takes some time. Calls or emails from practitioners or professors familiar with the employer are sure to impress potential employers and may land you an interview.