Job Searches, Small Law Firms

Size Matters: Spring Clean Your Résumé

Today is the first day of spring. The morning news shows were focused on all the many ways we should shed our winter selves and prepare for spring. The most common story was, of course, spring cleaning. And, as ForbesWoman reminded us, this applies equally to your résumé as it does your closet. As Krista Canfield, a senior manager of corporate communications at LinkedIn, explained, “[w]hether you’re on the job-hunt or not, Spring is an excellent time to evaluate your long- and short-term goals and make sure they’re reflected in your career profiles.”

The comparison between “spring cleaning” your home and your résumé is even more apt for one reason: both activities suck. Indeed, when I ask my unhappy lawyer friends why they do not look for new jobs, they all complain that updating their résumés is too painful and difficult a task. Yet, thanks to five easy tips I picked up from headhunters, career coaches, and law school career advisers (um, yeah, I have been on the job search before), the process need not be so unpleasant….

(1) Quantify

The number one tip I received was to quantify the entries on a résumé. For example, litigators should include the amount in controversy, the number of depositions taken (assuming the number is large), the universe of documents (assuming they are enormous), etc. Transactional attorneys need to include the dollar amount associated with their deals. In doing so, one can transform a résumé from a generic statement of one’s past experience to a fact-specific account. And big numbers are impressive.

(2) Engage

A résumé is intended to be a persuasive document. Prioritize information according to what is most important, relevant, and unique. For instance, do not put “skilled at research” as the first bullet point. Also, be selective in what information to include. Highlight work experience that is interesting or demonstrates a niche. In updating your résumé, ask yourself what you have done in the past that would make you stand out from the many other applicants.

(3) Demonstrate management skills

Unless you are fresh out of law school, employers want to see evidence of your management skills. Luckily for small-firm attorneys, you likely have developed those skills. According to one head hunter, young associates mistakenly leave off management skills from their résumés because they assume that the only relevant experience is managing other attorneys. Not so. An associate may manage paralegals or support staff. To the extent you do have experience managing other attorneys on a team, do highlight that experience.

(4) Make your résumé relevant

It is no longer acceptable to have a one-size-fits-all résumé. In some instances, employers may not read a cover letter. As such, it is important that your résumé clearly indicates your qualification for the specific requirements of a job. In order to do so, one career coach suggested maintaining a living document that describes, in great detail, specific projects focusing on the challenge presented, the course of conduct chosen, and the outcome sustained. Also, every time you see a job that is interesting, copy the required skills to the left column of a 2 column chart. Then, fill in specific examples of your qualifications for each skill in the right column. Bottom line, make sure you are constantly documenting your work experience as often the details can be lost over time.

(5) Follow up

While it is imperative to have a strong résumé, a résumé is only useful if it gets into the right hands. Unfortunately, the majority of jobs now call for résumés to be sent to some black hole and do not provide the name of an individual with whom you can follow up. The challenge then falls to you to find a contact through LinkedIn or, if you are really ballsy (which you need to be), find a phone number and speak to someone in HR. You do not want all of your hard work updating your résumé to be in vain, so do whatever you can to get that thing read.

So, think about these tips and set aside some time to take stock of what you have done this year/quarter/month, document that progress, and update your résumé. Need more motivation? Things appear to be heating up on the hiring front!

Spring Clean Your Career: Online And Offline Quick-Fixes [ForbesWoman / Forbes]

When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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