“I’ve got an amazing resume, so why won’t anyone hire me?”
Gaining entry to the legal services market is more challenging than ever, because there are twice as many applicants as job openings. Setting yourself apart from the competition is crucial, but many law students are unwittingly setting themselves up for disappointment by neglecting to present themselves in the best possible light on their resumes. Here are just a few of the ways that your legal resume is failing to impress potential employers:
1. Not Including a GPA
Many students whose grade point averages are less than stellar steer clear of pointing out their academic shortcomings on a resume, and rightly so. It’s better to focus on your personal achievements and transferable skills when grades are not the best way to demonstrate what you have learned. However, some students believe that they shouldn’t list their GPAs unless they are in the top of the class. This couldn’t be further from the truth. When an applicant fails to include grades, most employers assume that the applicant’s GPA was lower than 3.0.
Remember, the law is a prestige-oriented profession, and your academic standing will be an issue throughout your career. While it is true that once you have actually forged concrete legal skills your grades will be less important, for the first several years, grades matter. Add your GPA to your resume if it is 3.0 or above to avoid being unfairly judged.
2. Exaggerating Accomplishments
It is tempting to embellish and elaborate on the practical legal skills you have obtained through clerkships and other summer positions, especially if your grades are not the best. But one way that you will quickly frustrate employers is to characterize yourself as possessing significant legal experience when really all you have done are mundane daily tasks. For example, veteran legal recruiter Joe Ankus cautions that candidates who claim to possess “extensive pretrial and motion experience” typically only conducted very simple tasks in their previous positions, such as attending calendar calls, and did not actually write or argue substantive motions.
Recruiters and employers quickly see through these kinds of overstatements, so be honest. If you are lucky enough to make it to an interview, your puffery will quickly be revealed when it becomes clear that your deposition “experience” boils down to having merely watched one instead of actually defending one.
3. Including an Objective Statement
In the legal profession, these are simply a waste of valuable space on a resume. Employers don’t really care what your personal goals and aspirations are, they just want to know whether or not you have the qualifications to do a given job. Most objective statements tend to be vague and unenlightening anyway, so just leave it off your resume.
4. Including Political or Religious Affiliations
Politics and religion have always been delicate subjects, and pointing out your personal political leanings or religious views on your resume is something of a Catch-22. In some cases, it can be the thing that gets you an interview, and in others it can be a one-way ticket to the circular file. If the position you are seeking is with a certain political party or a church in which you are an active member, then go right ahead and highlight that. However, you should avoid automatically including any affiliations that might be considered offensive or controversial to a given employer.
5. Leaving Questions Unanswered
The most common example of this is the dreaded resume gap. Many job applicants struggle with this because they dare not reveal that they have been unemployed for any length of time, even though it is not an automatic black mark against them. It is not wise to try to paper over a spell of unemployment by trying to stretch out the dates you were actually employed. When you only list the years and not the dates of employment, an employer might assume that you are trying to cover something up. So, be honest. If you have been working intermittently on project work, say so. If you had to take time off to care for family members or perhaps to have a child, simply state that. Just remember that any question you leave unanswered, employers will answer for themselves—and it could result in your resume being rejected.