January 01, 2018 GPSolo

GP MENTOR: Creating a Standout Résumé

Colonel James M. Durant III

Today, as usual, I am knee-deep in attorney résumés and applications to become a government lawyer. Where do I begin? Which are the standout résumés, who are the standout candidates, and who will make the quality cut for the coveted title of counsel for the United States? Below are a few tips for creating a résumé that will get you an interview.

Focus on the job at hand. The first rule of thumb is to keep your résumé precise and focused on the job you are attempting to attain. You have one shot, and if your résumé falls on deaf ears, you will not make it to second base. Your résumé needs to ping, and ping loudly, but this pinging needs to be exceptionally germane to the practice setting and practice area you seek. (It is fine to have several versions of your résumé.) Extraneous information is good, but only if it is meaningful to your point. You need to know the business and how you will benefit the firm.

Be concise and organized. A second rule of thumb is one page for every ten years of work experience. If you have more information about yourself, consider adding your curriculum vitae (CV). The résumé should be concise and flow in a logical order. At the top of the page is your contact information. No need to include your U.S. postal mailing address. And if you have a “funky” e-mail address, change it. Keep it businesslike and simple. Next, your résumé should clearly state your objective in 25 to 50 words (or less). Consider this: OBJECTIVE: New lawyer with five years’ experience in personal injury. Desire to excel in a fast-paced, growing personal injury firm focused on insurance defense and litigation in a major metropolitan area. Experienced working with X Firm in law school on personal injury, staff attorney with general experience, including defense litigation, research, and brief writing. Next, you want to list your key attributes, such as legal research, government contracts, litigation, legal writing, data management, etc. The next section should list your legal jobs. If you are beyond five years out of law school, consider not elaborating on law school internship positions on your résumé, unless they are significant, nor academics, unless they are exciting (e.g., Law Review, Order of the Coif). For general experience, list the position, the firm, your involvement, and a couple aspects of your work as they relate to the position you are seeking. Remember, again, the résumé gets you an interview. Thus, as you are listing your accomplishments, stray away from the mundane. Consider summations and stratifications, such as handled largest caseload in CY18 of any associate in the firm. The next section is awards and recognition; chances are you do not have this fully developed as a new lawyer, but unless you won something like Attorney of the Year, don’t include smaller accolades. Keep the next section, affiliations, simple and short. The key here is leadership in affiliations, for example, Chair of ABA GPSolo Division’s Tort Committee. Last, under references, state “References available upon request.”

An example. In the batch of résumés before me, why is Mr. Andre Turner the best candidate? He has extensive experience in our practice setting and area of practice, has a proven success record, has superior research and writing skills, and has shown the ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously (all key requirements for this position), and he is a person of high character (as shown through his vast volunteer service). Mr. Turner’s résumé is exciting and got my attention; moreover, it told me up front exactly why he should be tendered an interview. He is in the top 10 percent of his class at a great school, but this is the only academic information on his résumé. Additionally, I noted that Mr. Turner is an American of African descent through his leadership with the Black Allied Law Students Association (BALSA); this is important to my office’s compliance with equal employment opportunities. Suffice it to say, I want to get to know Mr. Turner. Chances are, I took less than 45 seconds to make this conclusion; his résumé stated the obvious up front and read clearly and logically throughout. It also gave me a few details that we are interested in our hiring practices. Mr. Turner obviously did his homework.

Be prepared for what comes next. If your résumé has done its job, you will have made the cut for an interview. Now it’s your job to prepare, prepare, prepare. No need to rehash the résumé during the interview; instead, focus on why you will be a good fit for the firm and why the firm is a good fit for you. When the interview is over, remember to show great appreciation and state affirmatively that you look forward to working with the staff. And remember to send a simple thank-you note the day of the interview, and mention in it names, etc. If the firm/office asks for additional information, get it to them without delay! In sum, you need to sell yourself through an interesting, specific résumé, and you need to sell yourself during the interview. Good luck!

Colonel James M. Durant III

Colonel James M. Durant III, USAF Ret., served as the Chief Accessions officer for the U.S. Air Force and currently serves as the Chief Counsel, U.S. Department of Energy-Office of Science CH; he is a career senior executive in the U.S. federal government. His comments are personal and do not reflect the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of the Air Force, or Department of Energy. Colonel Durant is a past Chair of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division and serves as a Division Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates.