Job Searches, NALP, National Association for Law Placement (NALP)

NALP 2010: Résumé Advice = Mind the Gaps

Day 2 of the 2010 NALP Annual Education Conference had a remarkably different feel from day 1. Apparently, it took everybody a day to realize that they were in Puerto freaking Rico. After really sticking to business casual on the first day, day 2 saw the introduction of something I’d call “business beachware.” Men were wearing t-shirts with their slacks. Women were wearing bathing suit tops instead of bras under their attire. Sandals abound. Everybody’s hair is messed up. Panelists stuck in suits look like they’re ready to kill themselves, or melt.

Anyway, you don’t come to me for fashion advice. You come to me to throw stones and rotten fruit for job advice. And today I’ve got that in spades. I attended a panel called Reading Between the Lines: A Candid Conversation about Resumes in Today’s Market. Good news: it doesn’t appear that anybody has an idea of how harshly to judge applicants with résumé gaps. So try not to worry…

There were two panelist who were the hiring directors at their respective firms. A quarter of the audience directed or were heavily involved in hiring at their firms — including one dude from the Army who was wearing his uniform. The other 75% or so of the audience was made up of Career Service Office personnel from law schools. After some opening pleasantries, the CSO people started asking the questions that are on everybody’s mind:

[How do you feel] about alumni looking for jobs, and [3Ls] with no offers? There are going to be gaps on résumés.

One panelist chimed in:

I don’t have an easy answer for how we’re going to characterize these times on resumes. We’re going to see different resumes. I don’t know yet what the preconception… what the level of compassion is going to be.

Then another piped up:

I’ve always told my lawyers to look for gaps and watch for gaps. You have to hear the story on gaps, but it’s a balance on how to characterize the gap and what you did with the time off.

And now from the audience:

I always tell my student to just do something.

Everybody nodded solemnly. I took that as my cue. I asked about whether a person could be in danger of marketing themselves out of Biglaw if they took a contract position or a non-legal job in order to pay some bills. Happily, everybody in the room looked at me like I had two heads. A panelist responded:

I value work and I think most people have to work in order to survive financially. And if you don’t then I should mention that I’m up for adoption.

The consensus in the room, from the hiring coordinators and CSO people (and the U.S. Army, apparently) was that employers just don’t know what getting laid off during the recession is going to mean to employers in the long term. Obviously, right now it’s a problem because people don’t have other jobs to go to. But in two or three years, when you submit a resume that is silent from November 2008 to January 2010, we just don’t know how that is going to play. I guess we can take up the topic again at NALP 2011.

I think that the gaps discussion should make people feel more at ease as they try to explain what happened after they were laid off or no offered. Right now, there is no right answer. Try your best and change tactics if what you’re doing is not working. We’re making up these rules as we go along, embrace it.

While the room was foggy about what should be done with résumé gaps, there was a lot of other good concrete advice from the panelists and the audience. Here are the bullet points that I gleaned from the room:

* NO TYPOS EVER: That includes the names of firms you previously worked at, which should be spelled with the correct comma placement and use of ampersands.

* Interests: Include them but make them very specific and be prepared to answer questions about them. Don’t list “cooking;” list “making pastries.” But don’t put it down at all unless you are prepared to be questioned by Martha Stewart during your interview.

* Languages: Fluency or it didn’t happen.

* Grades: Include them, especially if you are in the top half. Not just top 10%. Many people remarked that if you don’t include grades, they assume you are in the bottom half.

* Bad Grades: Is there anything you didn’t suck at? Please explain.

* Length: You have to have a very good reason to go over one page. No, better than the one you’re thinking of. And if you must go over one, you best be able to fill two. A page and a half is just silly.

* Religious/Political Affiliations: Doesn’t hurt to include if they are a big part of your life. Honestly, you don’t want to work with a bunch of people who hate everything you stand for anyway.

Okay folks. If there is hiring uptick in 2013, you’ll know how to update your resume.

Earlier: NALP 2010: New Litigators be Warned

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