Biglaw, In-House Counsel, Job Searches

Inside Straight: Lessons Learned From The Résumé Professionals

As careful readers of this column know, my daughter just started business school in Chicago. (As particularly careful readers may have deduced, Jessica moved to Chicago just as I was being transferred to London. The kid inherited the finest dorm room in the history of The University of Chicago.)

What’s the first thing you do at business school — before classes start, before orientation, before anything?

Draft your résumé. And then give it to an advisor who helps you polish the thing. And then go through several more iterations before you submit the final form to “the first of three résumé books,” as Jessica’s email explained, although I don’t quite understand what the words mean.

(Unless times have changed in the last 30 years, law schools are not nearly as aggressive as business schools in immediately preparing students for the job market. Perhaps that’s an institutional failing. Or perhaps law school runs for three years, so students have two summers available for internships, while business school lasts just two years, which places heightened importance on the recruiting season in the fall of year one — before students have finished a single course.)

Jessica asked me to take a look at the original form of her résumé, which she prepared, and she later sent me (for the customary Dadly-proofreading) the final version — which was much, much better.

I haven’t prepared a résumé for myself in more than two decades, and, mercifully, I’m forced to look at relatively few résumés these days. But I learned a few things from watching my daughter’s résumé pass through the belly of The University of Chicago beast. And this experience prompted me to think about the difference between preparing a résumé when you work at a law firm compared to preparing one when you work in-house . . . .

Jessica and I are amateur résumé writers; the Chicago folks are professionals.

The professionals always beat the amateurs.

For example, Jessica hadn’t even started business school when she prepared the first draft of her résumé, so she (and I, when I reviewed the draft) couldn’t think of anything more than “Business School, MBA anticipated 2014,” for the first educational entry. We were able to add many more items when we described Jessica’s undergraduate experience, where she’d actually done some things and won some awards.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Naturally, the most recent educational experience is the most relevant one, so the professional résumé-writers revamped the original draft. The instant Jessica chose her concentrations, they added that to the résumé, even though she hadn’t yet taken any classes. She joined some student organizations; that promptly went on the résumé. Her GMAT score was sufficiently high, so they added that, too. And the advisors correspondingly collapsed the description of the less relevant undergraduate achievements to a scant three lines.

On the work experience side, Jessica and I had described stuff she’d done during three years working at non-profit organizations to help keep families from losing their homes to foreclosure: “Created marketing materials for outreach to homeowners;” “strengthened relationships with referral sources, including housing counselors and attorneys.” But the smart résumé writers (unlike us) added the results after the descriptions: “Created marketing materials for outreach to homeowners, achieving a response rate of 90 percent”; “strengthened relationships with referral sources, including housing counselors and attorneys, quintupling the number of referral sources in less than one year.” The pros even managed to beef up the “Additional” section of the résumé, turning the creation of a book club into the possible basis for a conversation: “Founded and maintained a book club for three years by providing members with good food and wine.” And the pros turned coincidental travel experiences that occurred years apart into a single eye-catching (and conversation-starting) entry: “Scaled active volcanoes in two countries (Chile and Guatemala).”

I’ll have to remember the lessons I just learned two years from now, when my son (you remember him, of course) enters the job market.

My experience with Jessica prompted me to think about résumés more generally. It’s pretty easy to create an impressive résumé when you work at a law firm: “Obtained first defense verdict in nearly ten years in antidepressant-suicide trial”; “retained on appeal and obtained reversal of largest medical malpractice verdict entered in the history of Ohio”; and so on. Tee up the representations (or victories), and they speak for themselves.

But it’s much trickier to draft a compelling résumé if you work in-house, where you’re no longer accumulating deal lists or collections of victories, and your successes are unseen and contributions harder to explain. “Entered alternative fee agreements for X percent of legal expense” or “upgraded quality of approved outside counsel” sound too amorphous and hardly distinguish one person from the next.

I really don’t have any suggestions about how in-house lawyers should go about drafting compelling résumés. (I guess it’s a good thing I’m not currently in the job market.) Perhaps readers can suggest some ideas in the comments. (But please, lay off the kids; don’t punish the children for the sins of the father.)

P.S. to Elie Mystal: Don’t worry about a thing, Elie. My kids are living proof that parenting skills are utterly irrelevant.

Mark Herrmann is the Chief Counsel – Litigation and Global Chief Compliance Officer at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide (affiliate links). You can reach him by email at

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