Telepathy is not a resume builder. When drafting resumes and cover letters, you must share information about yourself that will be useful to a prospective employer.
How do you know what an employer wants to know?
What does the employer do?
If you do not know what the employer does, do some research. You will not learn what the managing partner has for breakfast, but you should be able to find basic information about the employer and its activities. Search tools: Google, martindale.com, LinkedIn, bar association and alumni databases. Ask your career services professionals what they know about the employer.
If you have relevant experience, describe it clearly. Use all of the important buzzwords and markers of accomplishment. If you have no direct experience but have done similar work, use the language of transferrable skills to show that you have demonstrate your skills and to show that you have the capacity to learn.
A Big Waste of Time & Resume Space
Do not write that you are eager to advance your skills set and to grow as a law clerk or lawyer. Anything that you may learn while working for someone else is a collateral benefit to you and of no consequence to an employer who is trying to hire a someone to get work done today.
What does the employer know about your school?
In a consistent act of magical thinking, law students believe that everyone knows everything about their schools. Unless the employer is an adjunct professor or very recent graduate, specific knowledge about what goes on in law schools is rare.
Law schools and their programs change all the time. Unless an employer is a graduate of your law school who pays particular attention to all of the printed and electronic material that the Dean sends regularly to update grads about curriculum, faculty, and new teaching methodology, your prospective employer has no clue about your law school experience.
Someone who graduated more than 15 years ago will have no idea that you represented live clients in your clinic and went to court on their behalf. Experienced lawyers may not know how your other classes may now connect to real world problems, and without specific information, they may dismiss your study abroad program as three months of overseas drinking.
Telepathy is not a job search tool.
If you don’t put something on your resume, an employer cannot possibly know that you have done it, unless perhaps, it was covered at Above the Law, salon.com or in the New York Times. If you have served on a journal or participated in a moot court, you need to put that information on your resume. Moot court in particular may need some explanation as the work that students do varies wildly among law schools. Similarly, your participation needs to be listed under “EDUCATION” and explained under “EXPERIENCE.”
Do not hide or diminish your experience.
If you have done interesting work (multiple arraignments, hearings, trials, or managed a huge caseload as a clinic student director) and are applying for a litigation position, don’t bury that information the last paragraph of your letters or omit it from your resume. This is meaningful specific information that your prospective employers need to know in order to make a good decision about interviewing and hiring you.
Job postings range from incomplete to utterly unhelpful
Sadly, many postings are ludicrously incomplete (“2nd year law student needed for busy family law practice,” or “3rd year student needed for complex business transactions practice.”) What does the employer value? Practical experience (clinic) or grounding in finance and economics (undergraduate or other graduate research)? You have two kinds of choices: (1) direct action (call the employer and talk to someone in HR or who will supervise you; (2) indirect action: guess, ask a current clerk or lawyer, career services professionals or a professor who teaches in the area.
A real job description
A real job description has (perhaps too much) text that lists job duties (including the dreaded “other duties as assigned”) and specific requirements and a list of preferred qualifications.
Know the meaning of each word
Buzz phrases such as “entrepreneurial spirit,” are fraught with peril because they are meaningless without context it. Good news. Raleigh criminal lawyer Damon Chetson wrote a helpful Lawyerist.com blog post from the perspective of an employer reviewing resumes and seeking experience beyond public defender clerkships. His excellent list of experiences and characteristics are good ways to demonstrate how you have worked and how you are willing to work.
- Do you have marketing experience—and by experience, I mean, actual work reflected in proven results?
- Do you have sales experience?
- Accounting, collections, or billing experience?
- Have you run direct mail campaigns in the past, or appeared on radio?
- Can you write? I mean: can you really write?
- Do you have a vast network of friends and acquaintances in your community?
- Are you tech-savvy? Do you know how to set up and maintain a network for a small office?
- Are you hooked into social networks?
- Do you know how to budget for a business?
- Do you have hustle?
- Have you demonstrated a willingness to work whatever hours are required to get something done? Even on short notice?
The combination of your knowledge about the work that a prospective employer does and your sharing complete information about your experience puts you on a path to employment. Relying on telepathy to ensure that an employer knows who you are and what you can do puts you on a path to nowhere.