Top tips on how to write a winning CV
Even though lawyers spend years learning how to draft documents many still find themselves struggling when asked to put together a CV. If you are guilty of this then fear not because we are here to help.
Simply follow the top tips we have outlined below and we are confident that your CV will have a much better chance of passing our initial vetting process and getting in front of a law firm or inhouse legal department.
But before putting pen to paper think very carefully about the job you are planning to apply for and ask yourself whether your skills match what the employer in question is looking for. If not, think seriously about whether that particular role is right for you so you do not turn into a serial applicant. If you are unsure about whether a position is going to be right for you then please give us a call for guidance.
Draft your CV with a sensible font such as Arial or Times New Roman. Fancy fonts not only look silly they can even corrupt a document. Bold-up or underline headings.
Avoid long blocks of text and use bullet points so it is easier for the reader to follow. Believe it or not recruiters (agencies, HR AND hiring lawyers), on average, spend around 20 seconds looking at a CV before determining whether to add it to the long-list. Only then will they look at it in more detail before deciding which ones to short-list.
Additionally, think about your language. A CV is ultimately a marketing document so where possible avoid too much jargon because not everyone who is going to look at your CV, especially at the first “sift”, will be a qualified lawyer.
Incidentally, there is no optimum length for a CV – one page is likely to be too short and four is probably too long, especially if your formatting is all over the place. What is important is the information you include. It should be concise, quantifiable where appropriate but above all else, it should be relevant.
A personal statement should contain a career summary, written in bullet points, of your key skills and achievements backed up with real life examples. If all it tells the reader is how good you are or what you think you are good at then it is unlikely to carry much weight with recruiters especially if drafted using clichés.
Start with your personal details (name, address, personal email and mobile phone number). Do NOT include your date of birth or a photo of yourself (note, however, that in some jurisdictions such information may still be required so if you are unsure ask us for help).
With regard to your email, it is essential you have a sensible address for your job search. Fluffybunnies@hotmail.com, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org will at best make you look unprofessional or ridiculous before we even meet you, and at worse get your CV rejected.
It will also help us immensely if you include your date of admission and what level you consider yourself to be towards the top of your CV so we can tell immediately if you have sufficient experience for the vacancy in question. This is especially helpful if you are dual-qualified or have taken a career break.
It is then up to you whether to write about your work experience or education next. If you are an NQ or junior associate it may make more sense to cover your academic achievements first – not forgetting to include all grades for GSCEs, A Levels, first degree and any postgraduate qualifications or equivalent. Include the full name of the institutions you gained these from as well as dates.
Incidentally, unlike training contract applications, there is no need to provide grades for individual degree modules – a simple classification is sufficient.
Mid senior associates/partners, meanwhile, may prefer to start with work experience. For each role list your key responsibilities and more importantly achievements referring to details of all the key deals and cases you have advised on including their sizes and outcome, and the side you were acting for (ie target/bidder, lender/borrower etc).
If such deals/cases are public then there generally should be no reason why you cannot name clients – if not or you are unsure then describe them by referring to their size and sector. In a difficult jobs market firms pay greater attention to sector experience as well as a candidate’s legal skills.
The people reviewing your CV will have a pretty good idea of what a lawyer does that is why it is crucial for you to explain what role you played on each matter especially if, for instance, you were the lead associate on it or instrumental in securing the work for your firm.
And do not forget to include non-fee earning responsibilities, notably business development because again this is another area that has become increasingly important for law firms.
This is your opportunity to highlight additional talents that will be useful / relevant to an employer such as languages. However, if your grasp of a language is only basic (ie it helps you buy a beer) then you may just want to leave it out as it is likely to be of little use to an employer.
You may also want to include some of these skills in your personal statement, especially if they tally with what an employer is specifically looking for. Relevance is key here, but who it is relevant to must also be considered. The only person whose opinion matters as to the relevance is, unfortunately, the person reading the CV.
HOBBIES AND INTERESTS
This is optional so do not worry if there is not enough room to include these but if you do wish to add something in this section then avoid exaggeration to make yourself sound more interesting. The whole point of including hobbies and interests is that they could be potential icebreakers at the start of an interview so unless you can talk intelligently about a leisure activity then leave it out.
Also, avoid including anything that may be viewed controversially such as membership of political parties. Similarly, use recent examples rather than ones that relate to your early childhood years. Being captain of the rowing club is worthwhile including if you are looking for a training contract or even an NQ role, but if you are a partner a recruiter might be concerned if something you did 20 years ago is your most interesting aside..
We will typically require two references including one from your current employer. However, do not worry about getting found out because we will only contact them once an offer has been accepted.
The other key point with regard to referees is that you can use them to directly influence who an employer is going to contact to elicit more information one you. And do not forget to ask the relevant individuals before you put them down as referees.
Never try to hide gaps in your CV by assuming that all legal recruiters are stupid. That is simply not the case – recruiters are trained to spot CVs that do not stack up. So stick to the truth. For most candidates such gaps are legitimate and can therefore be explained without resorting to white lies. If you are unsure about this thorny issue then ask us for advice.
I know this is obvious but re-read your CV many times over and take breaks in between each session and if possible sleep on it. Additionally, get a family member or friend to take a look at it as well because they are more likely to spot glaring mistakes. We are more than happy to offer guidance on how to draft a CV but it is ultimately your responsibility to get it right.
Although we will keep a master copy of your CV on our records we may sometimes ask you to tailor it for a particular vacancy. Admittedly, this can be time-consuming but will be well worth the effort if it is more likely to get you the result you are after.