The Jerry Rice Strategy: Part Two–The Resume “Order of Battle”

In Part One of The Jerry Rice Strategy, we discussed the importance of separating yourself from your job-search competitors by making a great, immediate resume impression.

Your next key resume decision concerns how you will present the substantive material about yourself. This question encompasses both the order and manner of your presentation. Your decisions regarding these issues can make or break your job campaign.

These decisions will not be the same for every attorney. You will need to determine both (1) the placement of key information, and (2) what you will include in addition to your two principal resume sections. Education and Experience.

In true Jerry Rice fashion, the decisions you make about the order of battle are central to separating yourself from your competitors. Moreover, they send the employer a subliminal message about your judgment and organizational skills. Naturally, you want that message to enhance your candidacy.

What Comes First: Education or Experience?

This is one of these key choices where it is essential to put yourself in the employer’s shoes.  What would you, were you the employer, want to see first about you? This is almost always an easy decision if you are a 3L or recent law grad applying for your first job. Education would come first for most of you who fall into this category. Your legal work experience is, at this stage of your career, probably limited. Your legal education is likely to be the most important factor in how you are going to be judged.

But this is not invariably the case. If you have had extensive, strong, or very interesting work experience prior to or concurrent with law school, or work related to kind of position you seek, you may have to rethink the customary Education-first inclination.

You need to balance the significance of your work experience against your education. If you have great work experience, but performed exceptionally well in law school, this may not be a close question. You would likely want to put Education first because you want employers to be immediately impressed with your stellar legal academic credentials. If you were a less-than-outstanding law student, you may want to put your prior or contemporaneous work experience first.

Similarly, if you have great work experience and attended elite, highly selective schools but did not shine academically, you still may have more to gain by leading with Education. However, if your work experience bolsters your candidacy for the particular position for which you are applying, this becomes a no-brainer. In that case, Experience should appear first, before Education. Say, for example, that you were a licensed funeral director prior to entering law school and are applying to the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection for a position in which you would be participating in enforcing the agency’s Funeral Rule. That “hands-on” experience overwhelms any consideration regarding the order of battle. It should come first.

When weighing what should come first against the job(s) for which you are applying, don’t discount the “intangibles” you developed at work or elsewhere), e.g., “soft” skills such as teaming, multi-tasking, interpersonal communications skills, organizational skills, client development and retention skills, etc. While not directly related to the substance of your potential jobs, these are nevertheless skills that any employer would value.

 

Note: You may arrive at different order-of-battle decisions for different employers.

Where Do I Position My….

Bar Admission(s)? This information always needs to be included on your resume. If you are not yet a bar member, indicate when you expect to be admitted. If you are awaiting the results of the bar exam, say so. Mentioning this at the end of your Profile/Summary of Qualifications is as good a place as any to get this point out of the way.

Community or Volunteer Activities? These are valuable additions for three reasons: (1) They demonstrate that you have a life outside the law and are not just a tunnel-visioned grinder. (2) This is interesting information for an employer keen on evaluating your client development and client retention potential. (3) Activities, knowledge, skills and experience derived from such activities may serve to compensate for thin, paid work experience.

Honors and Awards? Include all of the legitimate ones. When you cite honors and awards, accompany them with a brief explanation of their significance unless, like Phi Beta Kappa, they are well-known to virtually everyone.

“Hybridizing” Your Presentation

This is a great way to separate yourself from competitors. This resume organizing technique takes a different approach than the traditional, reverse chronological tack; provided, of course, that you have a very good reason for deviating from the traditional format. The hybrid approach means subdividing your Experience section into two subsections: Employment History, under which you devote a single line to each of your employers, e.g.:

Associate, Smith & Jones LLC, Boston, MA, 2015-Present

…and Professional Experience, with headings and bullets that present your work experience according to what you did rather than when and for which of your employers you did it, e.g.:

Litigation

  • Four bench trials and one jury trial.
  • Settled numerous cases favorably to my clients.
  • Trained junior litigators.

Transactions

  • Successfully completed more than 10 deals worth in excess of $5 million.
  • Developed firm negotiations manual.

The hybrid resume approach also serves an important collateral purpose by impressing potential employers with your organizational skills as manifested in how you thoughtfully structured your resume.

Also, by addressing your employment history up top, you are allaying your prospective employer’s suspicions that “hybridizing” your resume is an attempt to hide a spotty employment record.

Next: The Jerry Rice Strategy: Part Three