Making Your Law School Resume Shine: Part Two

As you craft your resume, you need to keep a sharp focus on what law schools want to know about you.  Our last post covered the four crucial determinations that law schools are making.  Those are the principles that should guide every part of your resume.

Those principles produce guidelines.  The first guideline is:  Be Selective.  We noted that your resume isn’t your life story but a short presentation of yourself and your experience that helps you stand out from a crowd of applicants with similar features.  The second guideline is:  Be Specific.  Our last post talked about the need to be specific and descriptive when presenting your intellectual and writing abilities.  Here are a few more illustrations, followed by some additional guidelines.

  • Be Specific (continued).
    • Leadership.  A lot of applicants have excellent academic skills.  Fewer can demonstrate superior leadership and management skills; if you can, that is not only important in itself, but may help compensate for weaknesses in other parts of your application.As always, it is very important to be specific about what you did.  It isn’t enough to say, “President” or “Manager” of an organization.  That’s a position, not a description of the scope of your responsibilities.You should describe any projects that you led, their complexity (if complex) and the skills required.  How many people did you manage or supervise?  Did you review and comment on work that was passed up to you?  What kind of work was it?  What did you coordinate?  Among what constituencies?  Think of it this way—if you knew nothing about your responsibilities, would your resume tell you enough to make you think, “This person will be a positive force in law school and a leader long after graduating”?
    • Initiative and innovation.  A large part of leadership (and the successful practice of law) is taking initiative and being innovative.  If you can demonstrate that you are an inventive self-starter, your resume will be much stronger.  Did you initiate projects and lead them to fruition?  Significantly expand projects or businesses already underway?  If you did, say so.
    • Other Interests.  The “interests” section is often (but need not be) the least illuminating part of a resume.  Like dating websites, everyone seems to have the same interests.  Music, travel, movies, reading…blah, blah, blah.  This isn’t the most important part of your resume but if you’re going to include it (and you should), don’t waste the opportunity.  Show some color!  If you play classical violin (or country fiddle), say so (and consider including a subspecialty, e.g., Czech dances)—don’t just say “violin.”  If you are an Indian-Swedish fusion cook, that will be memorable.  You have a chance to show a little personality.  Have a little fun.
  • Be Economical.  You have to present yourself in a very limited space.  That isn’t arbitrary.  Law schools are overwhelmed by the number of applicant files they review.  They not only don’t want to slog through long resumes (who does?), they can’t.Every word matters.  You and your advisors have to edit your resume ruthlessly to cut unnecessary words.  They not only take up space but dilute your message.
  • Be Active.  You can eliminate extra words by removing passive voices and perfect tenses.  For current activities, use the present tense; for past activities, the simple past (you may need to make exceptions to help the flow but they should be exceedingly rare).
  • Be Professional.  You’re applying as a professional as much or more than as a prospective student.  However good your experience makes you look, a sloppy or unprofessional presentation can create a strongly negative impression.  Your resume should look, literally, picture-perfect.
    • Consistent format.  Your format should be uniform.  If you abbreviate months in one place, do it everywhere.  The names of institutions or businesses should be done the same way (same font, etc.) as, and in the same spatial relationship to, address and other contact information.  Headings and subheadings, if used, should use the same symbols at the same levels.  Verb tenses within any description should be the same.  If you use a comma after “and” in one series, do it in every series.  And so on.
    • Your Contact Information.  Avoid unconventional or silly e-mail addresses.  Ideally, your e-mail handle should just be your name or identifiable parts of it.  Your phone message (law schools do call!) should be clean, crisp and professional.
    • Typos and Grammar.  They aren’t “just” typos.  They are mistakes professionals do not make in important documents.  Misspellings, typos, grammatical mistakes or similar errors in your resume or any of you application documents tell law schools that you haven’t taken the time to be a professional.  No matter what you say about your dedication elsewhere, typos indicate otherwise. You need to read and read again (and again) your resume.  You will miss things.  Find advisors or friends willing to pore over your application documents as many times as necessary to perfect them.
  • Watch for Red Flags.  Think about your resume from law schools’ perspective, keeping in mind their four key determinations (see part 1).  If there are gaps in your resume or, conversely, items that may be interpreted as flighty (e.g., too many educational institutions or jobs over too short a time), you may need to explain these elsewhere in your application materials, often in an addenda.  Even accomplishments can raise red flags.  If, for example, you are a professional of demonstrated excellence, the obvious questions are, “Why does this person want to go to law school, and why now?”  You’ll need to address that in your application package.

Your resume is the structural support of your non-hard data law school application.  If you implement these guidelines in each section of your resume, you will have gone a long way in convincing law schools that they want you in their incoming class.  That won’t just be because of your experience, however; a lot of a resume’s impact is visceral.  If a reviewer finishes your resume and thinks, “I’d like to meet this person” or “I’m really interested to read his/her law school personal statement,” you’ve set yourself apart in a positive way.  You shine if your resume does.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on February 3, 2010.

One Response to “Making Your Law School Resume Shine: Part Two”

  1. […] Part 2 – The Guidelines.  An exceptional resume will drive law school reviewers to answer those questions favorably.  You should: […]

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