Seven Ways to Maximize the Effectiveness of Your Resume and Cover Letter

By Joni Driskell



Allow No Errors. Utilize your law school's career services resources, friends, and faculty. People who know your work and skills can check not only the literal and grammatical aspects, but also the overall content of the resume and cover letter to convey the appropriate content and tone.

Describe Experience and Skills Very Clearly. Use specific action verbs to describe legal and nonlegal responsibilities. These accomplishments demonstrate the qualities and skills you can contribute immediately in a law firm or agency. Relate your skills to utility in the law firm you are addressing. Some examples of this are

  • Fluency in foreign languages
  • Software proficiency
  • Management of personnel
  • Marketing/customer service
  • Analysis and communication

Employers evaluate your skills and experience for their use. Don't make them work too hard.

Volunteer Experience Should Be Treated Like Any Other Job Experience. When you volunteer, you take on responsibility that you didn't have to. You deserve to claim credit for the length of time and amount of contribution you made. People who participate in pro bono and extracurricular activities are often perceived to be more likely to be successful "rainmakers"—an increasingly important role in law today. Again, when describing your function, be specific. Show responsibility and skills developed there; tell of ongoing involvement and commitment and results of your efforts.

Include an "Interests" Section at the Bottom of the Resume. Your prospective employer wants to know about your life outside the law. What are you like as a person? You have precious few opportunities to pique the interest of your hiring professional. Your button collection may well end up being the common thread that starts a warm conversation with your interviewer and gets your foot in the door.

Customize Each Cover Letter (and Resume, Too). Craft your initial correspondence carefully, and don't underestimate its significance with the recruiting firm. All they may know of you comes to them on two pieces of paper: your resume is a list of facts; your cover letter is a heartfelt communication that can distinguish you from other applicants.

Research each firm you apply to: their website, firm history, employees, services offered, recent cases, and even possibly disciplinary action of attorneys there. The following are good sources for learning more about a prospective employer:

Martindale-Hubbell website ( www.martindale.com)
NALP website ( www.nalp.org)
ABA website ( www.abanet.org)
Lexis ( www.lexis.com/lawschool)
Westlaw ( www.lawschool.westlaw.com)
GreedyAssociates ( www.greedyassociates.com)

Grab Attention in the First Paragraph of Your Cover Letter. There is a big stack of applicants for that job. Give them a reason to keep reading or they will move on. Employers like to see a spark of energy and interesting experiences or perspective.

Close With a Thank You and Gracious Request to Meet in Person. Ideally, the tone throughout your cover letter should be positive and ambitious, yet respectful, humble, and grateful. Remember, they are considering hiring you to fill principally their need, probably not yours. The question, then, is whether you are the most able and pleasant candidate to work with. Count the number of "I's" you use to test the focus.


Joni Driskell is the Director of Career Services for Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Washington. She was previously a business development consultant with a Spokane CPA firm and has more than nine years experience as a hiring professional. Contact her with questions or feedback on the article at (509)323-6122 or JDriskell@lawschool.gonzaga.edu .
 
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