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3 Common Mistakes that Law Students Make on Their Resumes (That They May Never Know They Made)

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

As a law student, your resume is the marketing tool that will launch your legal career. It is a dynamic document that paints a picture of not just who you are and what you have done but, more importantly, who you have the potential to become. This is what legal employers are trying to ascertain during the application review process.

I have reviewed law student resumes in 38 student recruitment processes and I have seen the same mistakes in every one. Unfortunately, given the volume of applications that employers are required to review within strict deadlines, there is no time to provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates on their resumes. When a student has decent grades but they don’t get an interview, they have no idea why their application was cast aside.

Here are 3 mistakes that law students make on their resumes that they may never know they made:

1) Focusing on the applicant perspective rather than the employer perspective

Most law students already have a resume that they have been updating over the years with each successive job application. Some think that all they need to do for the upcoming student recruitment process is to update their existing resume with their most recent education, work and extracurricular experience. This applicant-focused approach is a mistake in a law student recruitment context. A resume targeting a legal employer should answer their ultimate question: “what can you do for our legal practice and why should we interview you?”

Strategically, law students should start from scratch and create a new resume by taking a more targeted approach. They should draft their resume by focusing more on the employer’s needs rather than on reciting a chronology of their own work history.

Before drafting it, students should answer the following questions and then incorporate their responses into their legal resume:

1) What technical skills are required to succeed in this legal position?

2) What other skills and personal attributes would the legal employer consider an asset?

3) Which of my work, volunteer, extracurricular and educational experiences demonstrate that I match those skills and qualities?

4) What specific results did I achieve in those experiences that would be relevant and impressive to the legal employer?

5) How can I articulate these specific achievements and attributes concisely and persuasively?

2) Underestimating the importance of the "Interests" section of the resume

While the Interests section is at the tail end of the resume, it should not be approached as an after-thought. Human beings are the ones assessing law student applications (at least for now). People have an innate curiosity about other people, especially ones that they might work with in the future. The Interests section is like anticipating dessert after consuming the more savoury contents of the resume. Reviewers look forward to reading this section because it adds a flavour of humanity and personality to the applicant. This is why it is important to never under-estimate the strategic importance of the Interests section. If it piques an application reviewer’s curiosity, it can make them want to meet you and put your application in the “yes” pile.

Keep in mind that the 3-4 interests that you list should be genuine and specific. For example, rather than saying that you enjoy “travelling”, instead list an unusual place you have been and something interesting that you did there. It helps to describe it in such a way that an interviewer would say before meeting you: “Oh, this is the student that did X! I’ve been wanting to ask them about it!”

3) Make no mistake - the standard is perfection

The most common mistake I have observed law students make is...making mistakes.

Remember that legal employers use the resume to predict a student’s likelihood of success in the role and beyond. If a law student has not taken the time to ensure that a 2-page document of such personal importance is error-free, then their success in the role is cast in doubt. Even if one lawyer on the review team has a more forgiving nature, usually at least 2 sets of eyes review every resume. Reviewers are also mindful that the lawyers on the interview team will see the applicant’s resume in the interview material and will hold them accountable if it contains errors.

The way to avoid this mistake is to proofread, proofread and then proofread again. Print out the draft and proofread separately for:

1) substantive content,

2) typographical and grammatical errors, and

3) formatting.

Finally, ask someone you trust with impeccable attention to detail to proofread your resume before including it in your application material.

Once you are satisfied that your resume is targeted to your preferred employer, interesting to the reviewer and 100% error-free, you are ready to draft your cover letter. Keep in mind that your cover letter should be viewed as the “coming attraction” trailer to the feature film that is your resume. My next blog post will share some tips with law students on how to write a cover letter that will be compelling to the lawyers reviewing your application.

To read about 5 steps that law students should take before applying for summer positions, check out this blog post:

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