Questions — all of which are appreciated — have been accumulating throughout the year. Quite a few recent ones have focused on job searches, which is not surprising in light of our economic downturn. One of the most common such inquiries focused on a core component of a search, namely, one’s resume:
Q: I expect that you must have looked closely at thousands of resumes. What are some of the most prevalent mistakes that lawyers make in those documents or in the submission process?
A: Although resumes are still essential documents, especially for more junior lawyers and in-house aspirants, Web bios of private practice lawyers are increasingly important. As such, some of the advice offered here should be kept in mind in assessing your online bio. There are five primary resume missteps that often arise; I will offer an additional suggestion for Web bios.
First, lawyers frequently “oversell” their experience, which results in a portrayal of skills that are not consonant with their core practice. In most cases, there is some nexus to a facet of their factual experience, which prevents the depiction from being a total fabrication, but it is such a stretch that credibility is damaged. Let me give an example.
An in-house position is described as one that needs a corporate generalist, who is experienced at drafting and negotiating contracts, working with entities from “cradle to grave” (formation to M&A), and is familiar with the operation of businesses. A commercial litigator, who is quite skilled at forming an argument and presenting a case, applies those talents to positioning himself for such a job, even though he has never spent one day as a corporate lawyer in his firm. This lawyer, after all, has litigated contractual disputes and several other matters that turned on corporate bylaws or reps and warranties in deal documents. The lawyer posits that since he has litigated matters of this type, it thus follows that he understands the issues that are inherent in being a business lawyer and can quickly excel as an in-house business lawyer.
If recruiters, HR staff, and in-house lawyers involved with the hiring process had five dollars for every time someone adopted this strategy, the United States may not have needed the economic stimulus package, as the sum total of those dollars would have slayed the deficit and pumped much needed funds into the sagging economy. Unfortunately, this is a losing, albeit creative, strategy that not only will doom someone’s candidacy for an open spot, but may taint him for others in the future, because credibility will have been shredded.
It is far better to stick within the bounds of your true skill set and, in a cover letter or interview, explain how your ability to adapt quickly — for which you should give examples — makes you a compelling candidate. Once you have discussed how facile you are, it becomes much easier for an employer to accept that it can, and should, grow with you over time as your skill set expands with appropriate training and experience.
The second mistake that lawyers make — particularly those with much more experience — is not appending a deal sheet or similar list of key accomplishments to their resumes. In some cases, this may stem from a belief that a resume should not exceed a certain number of pages (which I, for one, do not adhere to). In my opinion, if someone is an accomplished lawyer, the resume should reflect this and the best way to do that is to attach a tight list of the most significant deals or cases that capture this.
The last three resume suggestions may trigger some skepticism, as many may believe that lawyers simply cannot make these types of mistakes, but I have seen them countless times. The first category encompasses grammatical errors, such as missing words and syntax mistakes, which evade spell checking. As with other important documents, put the resume away for a day or two before you send it, so that you can see it with fresh eyes, or show it to someone else for a quick review, as this is the best way to catch these mistakes.
The fourth area is a simple one — be careful with naming documents. I have received innumerable documents with names such as “inhouselitversion14″ and “pharmabusresume” and so on. The unmistakable impression is that the candidate is cranking out resumes to fit specific job opportunities, which creates the specter of the aforementioned creative advocacy type of approach to job opportunities. Reasonable minds may differ on the advisability of tailoring resumes, but, if you should do it, be smart about it, and don’t telegraph it with the names you attach to documents. Word processing programs provide you with the ability to create limitless folders, which you can employ to track and store all the different resumes you may create, even if you give them all the same name.
Finally, it is vital that you always remember that judgment is often as important as skills in the job arena. Please heed this when you open a personal e-mail account (and you should always use such an account — and not your work e-mail address), especially if it is one that you intend to use for your job search. Although I have omitted a few letters from the following e-mail addresses (to protect the guilty), each one is part of an e-mail name that a lawyer has used to send me a resume (and, in a few cases, even emblazoned on his/her resume): “classicrockjd@_____” “macdaddy@_____,” and an all-time classic, “hotblondesq@_______.”
I know what some may be thinking — really? I kid you not — not surprisingly, these, and similar monikers helped to stop these candidates in their tracks. Save your individuality and penchant for crafting catchy names to other pursuits — stick with straightforward e-mail addresses and let your candidacy be decided on the merits.
As to Web bios, it is important to continually update these descriptions. The online world, as we know, moves at warp speed and a stale bio is problematic. Systematize your updating of this document by ensuring that every new article, newsletter or mention of you in the press is captured. I have reviewed innumerable bios that contain impressive lists of activities that mysteriously stop during the last few years. In talking to quite a few lawyers who fall into this category, I have learned that this gap was caused simply by a failure to update. But for that discussion, I, along with others, may have understandably believed that someone’s energy, activity level, and accomplishments had nosedived — which is certainly not the impression you want to create. •
Frank Michael D’Amore is the founder of Attorney Career Catalysts, a Pennsylvania-based legal recruiting, consulting and training firm.