Essential Guide to Lawyer CV’s
There follows some guidance on best practice for drafting a legal CV, increasing its impact and presenting a powerful personal brand.
It’s critically important to consider and plan the impact of the first page of your CV, in particular, the first half page.
Many recruiters will draw their conclusion having read the first 50-60% of the first page. This is what sits above the fold on a computer screen. This is where a recruiter will spend more time looking for something to grab their interest.
The first half page is your first impression, make it count.
How many of your most important and impactful messages are in it?
A CV profile section is to be added when the CV needs to work on its own without you or a formal covering letter to accompany it.
Always draft the CV profile section last – once you have created your Achievement Statements and finalised the drafting of all the other sections of the CV.
The first phrase you use in your profile will immediately pigeonhole you – this can make a positive impression if you get it right and can make a poor first impression if you don’t.
One tip is to talk to a friend about what you really want and what you have to offer – then look to see how much of that appears in the first two lines of your CV profile.
You need to ensure any profile is fit for purpose and you’re not using a generic one size fits all profile. It must be carefully aligned with the job and outline very clear reasoning why they should interview you.
Multiple versions of your CV with different profiles for different purposes is highly recommended.
The profile is very similar to an elevator pitch.
It’s easy for a CV profile to sound cliched and full of self-praise – beware of the use of adjectives in particular.
Try for a maximum of 5-6 lines. Your goal is clarity.
Use the concise third person (see below).
No need for a sub-heading such as “Professional Profile” – just put it in bold to make it grab attention.
Address these 3 or 4 elements:
- You – a summary statement of your work background and experience.
- Where – your knowledge of sector(s) and different organisations
- What – what knowledge and skills do you have; what have you done and achieved? What makes you attractive to your targeted potential employer?
- Next – what are you looking for next? (this part isn’t needed if you are using your CV to apply for a specific job as this goes without saying.
- 2 pages of A4 size (with very limited exceptions)
- Consider using horizontal dividers to break up sections
Make Things Easy to Scan
- Avoid large blocks of text
- Make it easily readable and scannable for the pertinent details – how does it do in the 20 Second Scan Test?
- Short sentences – to pick up longer and harder to read sentences run your text through the Hemingway app (see below).
- Avoid the use of jargon or technical language
Concise Third Person
Drop all of the personal pronouns of I, my, me, myself in favour of a concise third-person style, for example:
“I managed a department of 25 people and coached 5 of my senior managers”
“Managed a department of 25 people and coached 5 senior managers”
This not only saves on word count, but it also sounds much more action-oriented.
Having each bullet point start with a strong action word gives your CV energy and makes the bullets much punchier – the overall effect across the CV is an extremely positive one if you choose the action words carefully.
Use Simple Plain English
Use short, plain English words and phrases wherever possible.
Review and edit manually.
Use the Hemingway app tool (see below) to identify further words and phrases to change.
Most adjectives are CV cliches and make you sound like everyone else.
Many are expected as a pre-requisite by recruiters and are therefore empty phrases.
Trying to communicate personality attributes is easy to get wrong.
Review your draft CV for adjectives about yourself, e.g.:
- Team player
Demonstrate Don’t Tell – hard evidence of facts and details are more convincing than self-praise with adjectives – what you achieved NOT what you think it says about you.
Find any adverbs used and see if you can remove them – use verbs with more impact instead.
To check your writing for adverbs run it through the Hemingway app tool (see below).
Your Achievement Statements
The Achievement Statements you include in your CV are where you should be making the most impact on the recruiter.
Describing Work Experiences
How you describe your work experiences will be critical to your success. Below is some detailed advice on the key things to consider.
I also recommend referencing the Describing Experiences graphic I will send you too (remind me if I haven’t).
1. Achievements Focus
- Achievements = your best bits, your highlights reel – create “Achievement Statements”
- Quantifiable Achievements – where possible, add measured outcomes?
- Avoid generic Job Descriptions – don’t give generic summaries of duties and responsibilities – present your best evidence not a job description – if you could cut and paste into the job description for the next person who does your job it’s too generic. To avoid this focus in on specific projects – the shorter the time period, the better the detail usually.
Avoid talking about basic job information that sounds and feels routine or obvious.
- Know the Purpose – what’s the point? – for each achievement/highlight statement ask yourself “what does this demonstrate about me?”
- Tailor – to match what they are looking for – create your own version of their “Person Specification” from your own research notes
- Compelling Evidence – the goal is to present the most compelling evidence of the skills and attributes they are looking for – and your particular skill levels
3. Specific Details + Hard Facts
- Do you need further contextual details – for example, to clarify the role and the company, or to specify which clients you worked with, or colleagues you assisted?
- Avoid too much contextual detail, focus on your Actions – what did you actually do as part of each achievement?
- Metrics – what metrics can you add to add weight to your evidence – both in contextual details and to measure the outcomes of your actions – if there are few numbers in your draft consider adding some, for example:
- Number of cases in your caseload
- Number of people in your team
- Value of a case or transaction
- Targets you had
- Percentages of any changes you effected
- Don’t be Vague – By being too vague you are presenting a generic picture of your self – the dictionary definition of generic is “lacking imagination or individuality; predictable and unoriginal”. This is a huge missed opportunity, and will more often than not result in a much longer job search campaign than is needed.
Use the CAR Framework
For each of your best achievements, it can be useful to use the CAR framework, taken from the CAR Model (which is recommended for competency questions on application forms and in interviews).
This means you then have the raw materials for the answer to any competency questions plus it will help you brainstorm the most pertinent details to add to your Achievement Statements.
Create a table with 3 columns and complete it for each of your best achievements:
1. Action Words (spell out clearly what you did)
2. Specific Contextual Details (add metrics if possible)
3. Specific Outcomes from Your Actions (add metrics if possible)
4. Use Clear + Active Language
Recruiters consistently say the one thing they don’t see very often (and would really like to see) is clear & active language.
Key tips are:
- Avoid passive voice in your application writing, use active voice
- Use strong action words
- Don’t describe actions in vague or unclear terms
Active Voice vs Passive Voice
An active voice sentence is where you clearly perform the action stated by the verb. It clearly describes what a person (i.e. You) does.
Use of the passive voice often sounds like you aren’t claiming responsibility for actions taken.
In a CV it’s much better to use the active voice as it gives your points energy and immediacy.
“A plan was created to review the documents” = passive voice
“Created a plan to review the documents…” = active voice
For more on this important grammar point read: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/passive.htm
Also, see this Infographic – http://www.yourdictionary.com/index.php/pdf/articles/43.activevspassivevoice.pdf
To check your writing for the passive voice run it through the Hemingway app tool (see below).
Strong Action Words
Start Achievement Statements with strong action words
Choose verbs that convey enthusiasm, commitment and decisiveness.
Strong and clear action words communicate energy and result in more impactful Achievement Statements.
Brainstorm action words for the best/strongest factual verb.
Here’s a list of potential strong action words to use (not exhaustive):
• And so on…
Vague or Unclear Actions
Don’t hide your actions and contributions behind vague or unclear language.
Be clear about what YOU actually did – claim the things you did personally.
For example, it’s not “Helped to research…” it’s “Researched…”
It suggests a lack of thought and effort if these appear. However, it is very easy for them to creep in so be vigilant and proofread carefully.
5. Avoid Skill Signposting
There is no need to expressly mention a skill you are seeking to demonstrate – I call this “skill signposting”. Your description of the Achievement Statement should provide enough hard evidence of the skill without having to state it.
Just describe your actions well and use strong action words, for example:
“Interviewed clients in order to evaluate..…” – there is no need to expressly mention interviewing or communication skills.
Describing Interests & Activities
Much of the advice from the work experience section above also applies here.
Again, I also recommend referencing the Describing Experiences graphic I will send you too (remind me if I haven’t).
Use your extra-curricular activities to provide further evidence of relevant skills and attributes in another context, for example through your achievements in a position of responsibility outside of work.
Bullet Point Format for Achievement Statements
If there’s a need for further contextual clarification start a work experience or extra-curricular activity entry with an introductory line or two, for example, to clarify your role and/or your employer (not as a bullet point).
Use bullet points for your Achievement Statements (if completing an online application form, use a hyphen and space at the start of each one, not Word formatted bullets)
- Bullet points to be as short as possible, 2 lines maximum
- Vary bullet point length to make it easier to scan/read
- Avoid full lines for every bullet point as it will look like a continuous block of text which is less appealing to readers.
- Start each bullet point, wherever possible, with a strong action word (see above)
Review for Red Flag Words
Search for red-flag words which indicate you are being wordy, vague or passive, for example:
- Engaged in
- Took part in
- Dealt with
- Tasked with
Don’t “We” All Over Your Application
Search application document for these words:
They can only be contextual. It is very easy to present the team’s work mistakenly thinking we are selling ourselves. The recruiter is interested in your contribution to the team effort instead, so be sure to focus in on this.
Hemingway App – http://www.hemingwayapp.com/
Helps you pick up and change:
- Hard to read sentences
- Passive voice
- Words with simpler/shorter alternatives