In the first two parts of this blog series on resume writing techniques, we examined the “Jerry Rice” Strategy, which is based on the separation the greatest wide receiver in National Football League history was able to achieve from his defensive pursuers. We analogized this to the distance a legal resume drafter should aspire to create between himself/herself and the competition. To reiterate, separation should be the goal that you strive for when putting together a resume.
Achievements, Accomplishments, Outcomes, Results
In your resume Experience section, try to describe your background in terms of results. Doing so will boost you ahead of your competitors who often will only list what amount to bland, boring position descriptions of their experience. Job descriptions are dreary to write and, worse, even drearier to read and thus are quickly forgotten. Results are far better because they include specifics― tangible details that stick in the reader’s mind. Employers are generally more interested in outcomes than they are in process.
This advice goes beyond just your resume. Whenever in your application materials and the job search process (i.e., during a job interview or when motivating your references or communicating with your networking contacts) you need to describe what you did, try to do so in terms of your accomplishments. They make for both a livelier presentation and a much more compelling reason for an employer to keep you in the game and for your enablers to assist you with enthusiasm. This also forces you to think in achievement-oriented terms, which will help you both reconstruct your history and boost your self-confidence, as well as put you in the proper positive mindset for communicating with prospective references, contacts and employers.
The point here, like the others discussed in Parts One and Two of the Jerry Rice Strategy blogs, is to do something different, something to your advantage because you need an advantage to be seriously considered.
Storytelling through an Addendum
Everyone enjoys a good story. While “enjoy” may not be exactly the reaction of most employers to the generally unwelcome and unpleasant task of reading through a stack of job applications, they will appreciate—and value—a candidate who makes an otherwise numbing task somewhat interesting, lively and entertaining.
One very effective way to tell a good story is to append a Highlights Addendum to your resume where you can devote a full page to relating how you tackled a specific problem and devised a solution, whether you did that on a job, in school, as a volunteer or elsewhere. Your highlight(s) does not necessarily have to be something legal or law-related if you don’t have anything along those lines to present. It just has to be something that demonstrates that you went above and beyond the call of duty in order to accomplish something of value.
This resume addendum strategy impresses upon an employer that you are a problem-solver and not just someone who goes through the motions. It also impresses because it shows that you have given considerable thought to what the employer really wants to learn about you.
An addendum is the best place prior to a job interview in which to tell your story, market yourself more effectively, brand yourself and imprint yourself in the employer’s mind when s/he finishes sifting through applicant resumes and has to winnow them down to those few candidates s/he wants to interview.
Make sure you direct the employer to your addendum in the body of your resume. The best way to do this is by referencing it in a parenthetical at the end of one of your resume bullet statements, e.g., (see Highlights Addendum, attached).
And don’t worry about exceeding anything you might have been told by your law school career services office or anyone else about exceeding some so-called “rule” about resume length. In three decades of advising legal job seekers, not a single employer ever complained about or rejected one of our clients’ resumes due to the appending of an addendum. Quite the contrary. They frequently applauded and rewarded the job seeker for so doing.
Every Job-Search Document is a Writing Sample
Attorneys spend more time and brain power writing documents for both internal and external consumption—
Opinions, pleadings, briefs, memoranda of law, contracts, leases, licenses, settlement agreements, regulations, regulatory comments, legislation, etc.—than they do on anything else. This is why legal employers put such a high premium on writing ability. You need to be sensitive to this when crafting all of your job-search documents.
Implicit in this fact of legal life is that typos, misspellings, poor syntax, bad grammar, mixed tenses, awkward usage, inconsistent structure, etc. are absolutely to be avoided. They are often the kiss of death to one’s job prospects. Make certain that (1) you have spell-checked your application, and (2) that someone whose English skills you trust also reviews your documents (in addition to your own proofreading) before they leave your possession. Because your writing ability looms so large in both the candidate consideration process and in law practice, legal employers generally have zero tolerance for even the smallest slip-up.
You need to spend time, energy, attention and sweat equity making certain that your job-search documents are as reader-friendly as possible. Again, put yourself in the employer’s shoes. What would you want to see (and not see)? A resume crammed full of type with minimal margins and lengthy paragraphs? Or one with plenty of white space and short succinct statements preceded by bullets?
Strive to make the employer’s reading experience as tolerable and pleasant as you can. You are awarded additional employer-points for how you go about organizing and presenting your information above and beyond the substance of the information you present. The pay-off can be huge.
Lasting Impressions: Imprint and Impress
What perception of you do you want an employer to retain when s/he finishes reading your resume?
First, you want to be memorable. Almost always, the person who wins the job offer is someone whom the employer remembers after wading through multiple resumes without having to go back through them to trigger his or her recollection. You want your resume to “imprint.”
Second, you want to leave the employer admiring the way in which you have distinguished yourself from other candidates competing for the position. In other words: separation.
Next: The Jerry Rice Strategy-Part Four: Imprinting and Impressing at the Job Interview