You have four opportunities for storytelling when job hunting. Two are obvious; the other two not so apparent:
On Your Resume
Resumes rarely tell stories. The overwhelming majority simply recite numbingly boring job descriptions. Consequently, the handful that go beyond this are usually the ones that resonate with employers.
Depending on your qualifications, there are five ways in which to render a resume a good story:
Beginning with your first line—your name—you can begin to impress an employer if, in addition to your law degree, you bring another “value proposition” to the table. For example, if you have a certificate in risk management, your resume should include, in addition to your name, the fact that you have a law degree as well as a value-adding certificate, e.g.,
“Jane Doe, JD, ARM”
Note: “ARM” stands for “Associate in Risk Management” and is the most prestigious risk management training available.
Another example, one very timely for the current legal job market:
“John Doe, JD, CIPP/US”
Note: “CIPP/US” is short for “Certified Information Privacy Professional/U.S. Private Sector” and is the “gold standard” of data protection training.
Adding something like this that will interest an employer enhances your chances of being invited to a job interview by several orders of magnitude.
A.k.a., “Summary of Qualifications”
No resume should be without this section, which should immediately follow your identifying information or, if you are one of those rare candidates seeking a sea change in your career path, the “Objective.”
A Profile is always useful and can do much to advance your candidacy. It is also an extremely flexible device. You can use it to—
– grab the employer’s attention immediately and entice him or her to read on.
– bring key points that may be buried deep down in your resume up close to the top where they will be seen early on. Foreign language skills, for example, are always good for this kind of up-front treatment. If your Education section will follow Experience, then this is a good place for announcing that you attended prestigious academic institutions and/or performed brilliantly in school. This way you can make certain the employer sees your important selling points at the outset, before Attention Deficit Disorder sets in.
– emphasize your most compelling selling points regardless of where else they might appear. It never hurts to inform someone more than once about your triumphs.
imprint your distinctive qualifications on the reader. This is a great place to tout your Nobel Peace Prize or Olympic Gold Medal in Modern Pentathlon.
Keep your Profile succinct and to the point: a few lines and sentences only. Avoid subjective statements such as “outstanding legal researcher.” Employers do not “trust, but verify.” They want objective proof of your capabilities. Experienced resume readers are almost always skeptics, made that way by having read hundreds of resumes and having been subjected to thousands of bloviating, exaggerating and over-the-top assertions. Their constant reaction while reading through resumes is “prove it.”
Order of Presentation
Where you present the substantive material about yourself in a resume also tells an employer a story about you, one that can make or break your candidacy. Where you position key information speaks to your judgment and ability to reason, and employers pick up on this quickly. They can learn a lot about your judgment and organizational skills just from where you put things. (For more on the decision-making that goes into positioning. See “Order of Battle”)
Your goal here should be to personalize your work experience descriptions by taking what I call the “OAR” approach: Outcomes…Achievements…Results. Move away from a recitation of your position descriptions to describing your prior jobs, to the extent possible, in terms of your OAR. That is far more interesting and telling to an employer.
Adding a narrative addendum (preferably one page in length) to your resume is a great way to go beyond the constraints of a resume and show an employer how your brain works to solve problems. It is your opportunity to distinguish yourself once more from your competitors.
I have yet to encounter an employer who told me that a resume addendum violated any perceived rule about resume length. An addendum is your chance to story-tell. The best way to craft a compelling addendum is to describe a problem you were called upon to solve, at work, in a volunteer position, or elsewhere, and go through the steps you took to analyze it, recommend a solution, implement the solution, and evaluate the results.
A job interview offers you two opportunities to story-tell.
When, during the interview, the interviewer cites a matter that is related to something specific you have done successfully, this is a good time to bring that up and describe your work and result(s). Aligning yourself with the employer’s “problem” is always a winning strategy.
When it comes time during the interview for you to pose questions to the interviewer, make sure you have memorized 5-7 questions that are designed to (1) set you apart from your competition, and (2) imprint yourself on the interviewer as a serious individual with the “big picture” in mind.
After you indicate the name, title, organization, and contact information for each reference, include a brief note about something you did in collaboration with, or under the auspices of, the reference that will bolster your candidacy. Not only does this make for a good story; it also gives you partial control over what the employer and your reference will talk about.
If you do all of these things—and I strongly recommend that you do—you will find yourself in a much stronger position with respect to legal and law-related job-hunting and launch your campaign with a much greater chance of success.