One of the most common questions I get asked is how long a CV for legal positions should be.
It's understandable there's confusion around this. If you search online for CV advice you will find lots of conflicting advice.
My rule is this: a CV should be two pages, subject to some VERY limited exceptions.
In this article, I will (1) explain to you why two pages will ordinarily give you the best chance of success, (2) address the counter-arguments and (3) consider the exceptional circumstances when a different length CV may be more suitable.
Why a Two-Page Law CV is Best
Having worked with many lawyer clients on their CV's over the years, a two-page CV has been the most successful. This personal experience is echoed in my regular conversations with the HR teams and lawyers who decide which lawyers to employ.
Your CV length is a huge part of the first impression you make on recruiters (alongside other factors such as formatting, layout, style, etc).
CV's are typically scanned in 20-30 seconds and a first impression is often formed quicker than this.
By requiring someone to read more than two pages you are asking more of them and their time. This can create a negative sinking feeling in them. The last thing you want is for them to start off thinking "Here's another waffler who struggles with concise communication"?
It Shows You Have Considered the Reader
A fundamental aspect of effective communication is to adapt your communication style in a way that suits the recipient.
So, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the average legal recruiter when they are reviewing your CV.
They have very little time, there are lots of CV's to review and they need to make a quick decision on who to shortlist for interview.
A two-page CV is going to help them with this and, for that, they will thank you.
You Achieve a Healthy Balance of Detail
A two-page CV will communicate enough but not too much. It achieves a healthy balance between (1) providing evidence of what they are looking for, and (2) giving detailed accounts of your experiences.
You need to remember this: the purpose of your CV for job applications is NOT to get you the job!
It's purpose is to get you an interview where you can talk further about your experiences, skills and suitability for the role.
Many candidates forget this, get their blinkers on and pen their life story across multiple CV pages. Your CV is not your autobiography.
The stark truth is this: if your two-page CV can't get you to interview then I'd put money on it that your three-page CV can't either.
You Provide Evidence of Strong Communication & Analytical Skills
The length of your CV can demonstrate whether you meet some of the skills requirements of a job.
Job ads will often contain requirements phrased like this:
You will have excellent verbal and written communication skills, with good analytical capabilities"
So, when recruiters see a CV running to more than two pages, they will often question the writer's analytical and communication skills. They might ask themselves:
- Is one of this candidate's weaknesses their ability to analyse lots of information and draw out the most important points?
- Does this candidate struggle to communicate in a clear and concise manner?
- Would this candidate communicate in a verbose manner with our clients, when they value brevity?
You Will Follow Legal Industry Norms
Most CV advice is generic advice aimed at the masses and not wholly appropriate for lawyers. In reality, the legal profession has it's own preferences and historical ways of doing things around CV's.
A two-page CV is widely accepted across the legal recruitment landscape. Although, you will find differing opinions out there on CV length.
That said, I have yet to meet a legal recruiter who won't shortlist a two-page CV candidate for an interview. Whereas I have met plenty of recruiters who have cited the length of a CV (too short or too long) as one of their reasons for rejecting a candidate.
When a Shorter or Longer CV Might Be Appropriate
There are exceptions to any rule.
Notwithstanding the above, there are times when you might consider using a different length CV.
There will be times when you are using your CV for a different purpose than a specific job application.
For example, you may send it as further background to a contact further to discussions about possible opportunities in their area of law.
Or you may send a CV by way of initial summary when you first approach a recruitment consultant.
These purposes may warrant a shorter CV or, in some cases, a set of emailed bullet points instead of a formal CV.
Lawyers with a great deal of PQE, including partners and general counsel, may choose to run to three or more pages.
At this level of experience, there are often extra requirements in job ads. For example, some firms will request a client list and/or a business plan.
In other cases, the lawyer may be a thought leader and choose to include an appendix of the articles they have written for industry publications.
Although a longer CV might be justifiable for more senior candidates, clarity of communication remains critical to success. When I coach more senior clients, we spend a lot of time editing their CV's down to achieve more clarity and greater impact.
Extra Information Requested
Notwithstanding seniority, there will be times when a recruiting firm or in-house department will ask for additional evidence.
For example, they might be keen to learn about a candidate's thought leadership work. Or there might be additional qualifications and accreditations which would help the candidate fulfil the role.
Do the Work To Get Yours to Two Pages
So, a two page CV is (almost always) best.
Getting a CV down to two pages can be a real challenge - but it's an important process to work through.
This is often the most challenging part of the work I do with my CV Relaunch clients. Yet, once they have completed it, they have a much clearer idea of their recruitment strengths and weaknesses and a significantly more impactful CV.
Want me to review your CV and send you a template to model?
Complete the Contact Form and I will send you a short questionnaire about your current circumstances and intended purpose for your CV.
I will then send you an initial "first impressions" review of your CV together with a template that is fit for purpose.