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After more than a decade in law school career services, I have switched teams. It may be more accurate to say that I traded in my coaching hat for a referee’s whistle, now that I am working on associate development and recruiting from the law firm side. I now see candidates on the playing field, how hiring partners respond to applications and how decisions are made. By conducting multiple entry-level and lateral searches, I have the opportunity to review hundreds of resumes, submitted both by individuals and search firms. So in rolling out your own game plan, take a lesson from a few of these observations and don’t run afoul of the rules. � Know your position. While lawyers are extraordinarily good at scoring points for their clients, they too often fumble when serving as their own advocates. A job search is nothing more than an exercise in the art of advocacy. In the job search, you are your most important client, so prepare, practice and proceed accordingly. Before embarking on a successful search, know what sets you apart. Employer in-boxes are awash with applications; what will get yours noticed? Your academic credentials? Perhaps your deal list or past client roster will outshine the competition. Identify your strengths and be as specific as possible. Platitudes like “high energy,” “strong work ethic” and “demonstrated record of success” do not mean much if they are not, in fact, demonstrated. Note your billables, degree of responsibility and deal- or case-load; pull out your past evaluations and billing records. Review your resume and cover letter with a new eye: What will this mean to the head of a law firm department with specific hiring needs? Create a deal or case sheet and append it to your resume. Without violating client confidentiality in describing your experience — which will get you eliminated for poor judgment — add details to your resume and cover letter that provide a real sense of your background. This is no time to be shy, so incorporate feedback passed along by clients, professors or supervisors into your cover letter. � Delay of game. If a job listing makes a specific request for your transcript or a list of references, include it. If you don’t, at worst, you will be rejected out of hand for failing to follow directions. At best, the overworked recruiting director will have to follow up with you to request the missing materials. Employers will ordinarily not make decisions without law school transcripts; omitting this piece of the puzzle brings more attention to it, not less. If grades are not your strong suit and there is a legitimate reason, provide a letter of explanation. If your rank does not reflect your regard from faculty, include a letter of reference saying just that. If your resume contains firms, companies or schools that are not recognized brand names, help your prospective employer by providing context. For example, if your international law degree was conferred by the most prestigious university in the country, add that. This editorial information is critical if you have a international background, hail from a lesser-known law school, or are translating out-of-town legal experience. � False start. Know your target audience by checking a potential employer’s Web site. Don’t write to a firm’s Chicago office raving about its securities practice if it doesn’t exist. Some global and national firms do not explicitly state on their sites where practice areas are concentrated, but that should not stop you. Search the bios of the attorneys by practice area, and identify who works where. The NALP Directory provides lawyer count by practice area and office, as do other on-line resources. Ignorance of the law firm is no excuse! � Unnecessary “ruffness.” If I had a dime for every candidate who boasted about his keen attention to detail in a cover letter riddled with typos, well, I could build my own West Side stadium for the Jets. � Illegal procedure. Job listings provide critical information on what an employer is seeking, and the job seeker who wants to stand out from the crowd cannot do so on sterling credentials alone. A cover letter provides the opportunity to identify your area of interest and respond to each of the employer’s desired criteria. If you aim to sell yourself for transactional practice and your work to date has been 100 percent litigation, you can still try for that Hail Mary pass, but you’ve got to take careful aim. Visit the firm’s Web site, conduct additional online research, and identify the firm’s client base, the backgrounds of lawyers in that department, and the nature of the practice. Create a list of the key skills and day-to-day responsibilities of an attorney in that area, and use your cover letter to draw clear analogies between your prior experience and the firm’s needs. Describe your ability to learn quickly, illustrated by other instances in your career where you speedily mastered a complex new area of business in preparing for a case. Cite business and finance courses and CLE programs taken to gain substantive knowledge in the area. � Personal foul. Integrity is your most important asset. Any attempt at puffery, obfuscation or embellishment reflects poorly on you. It is doubtful that the fact you are obscuring will be the cause of either your acceptance or rejection. However, if your misleading or erroneous aims are discovered, you can be sure your candidacy is kaput. Some candidates commit the sin of omission, assuming that the job left off the resume will never come to light. Big mistake. More and more, legal employers are adopting long-standing corporate hiring practices, requiring job applications and performing background checks. Where dates, facts and figures are concerned, a resume is not a marketing tool you can shape to your needs. Choose accuracy. � Instant replay. Technology has enabled job seekers to apply for jobs with a mouse click. No more expensive stationery, time-consuming printing and costly postage. The speed and ease of the process is a great leap forward, but the cost in care and contemplation has been great. Don’t spam your resume. Use the time saved by clicking to search for a contact at the firm. Perhaps you have a law school classmate there, or a friend of a friend who can get your application a closer look. Check with your law school career services office to explore whether there are alumni or faculty with connections to the firm. Use the Web to find attorneys with whom you might have an academic, professional or community connection. You still want to send your application through the proper channels, but a mention in your cover letter of a conversation with a firm attorney (in the first paragraph) might pull you out of the stack and into the starting lineup. Gail Cutter, an attorney, is the chief officer-associate development and recruiting for Dechert. She has worked for 12 years in law school career services, mostly as director at New York University School Law.

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