Your CV is, to put it bluntly, the first impression you provide any law firm. The importance of this can not be underestimated no matter what level of
seniority you happen to be and so below is a list of frequently asked questions to assist in getting your ‘foot in the door.’
- How much of my history should I include?
Put simply, as a starting point you should include anything that you believe is relevant to your application. It can be difficult to know what this is and how far back you should go, but generally this will differ depending on PQE. For example, a non-academic achievement whilst at sixth form or university may be relevant when applying for paralegal positions, training contracts or even newly qualified roles, but the weight this carries as you progress in your legal career will undoubtedly lessen. A lot of the time, what you should include will boil down to basic common sense and this applies to previous jobs, academics and personal achievements. For example, if you happen to be a few years qualified as a corporate lawyer, are any potential employers going to be bothered that you were netball captain in sixth form, or that you once had a part time job as McDonalds? The answer is probably no, so just make sure the information on your CV is appropriate for the Partners who will be reading it.
- Should I include my poor academic results?
It is a fact of life that not all of us are blessed with the ability to obtain straight A’s and a first-class honours from university. The vast majority of people applying for legal positions do well, but not exceptionally well, so don’t panic if you think your grades aren’t quite up to scratch. There are law firms who will only consider candidates with the very best qualifications, but there are also plenty who are more open minded in this respect. So, should you list your shortcomings and risk not even getting an interview? The quick answer is yes. It may seem obvious, but if you leave out your 2:2 or poor A Level results, we will without doubt be asked why they are missing. This will not reflect well because from the outset it will appear as though you are being evasive, with honesty and integrity being at the forefront of requirements in a lawyer, your application would probably end before it has even begun. Be honest about your grades, if there are exceptional circumstances as to why you did not achieve what was expected, tell the consultant you are working with and they will speak to the employer on your behalf. If your academics simply fall below what is required, move on to the next opportunity.
- Is there a set CV format?
CV’s come in all shapes and sizes but our advice would be to keep it simple. So, we would tend to steer away from fancy or extravagant fonts and colours, photographs (if they want to see your face they can look at your online profile or LinkedIn), strange tables and borders and over elaborate personal profile sections. You should include contact details, a brief personal profile, academic achievements, career history, business development experience, personal interests and references.
- How relevant are my previous academics?
As a rule, the importance of your academic achievements will lessen as time goes by and your actual hands on legal experience will become more relevant. That said, there are firms who will give just as much weight to your academics no matter how far along in your career you are. Our advice would be to include all academic achievements but summarise the more junior accomplishments such as GCSE’s, rather than listing every mark and every grade ever achieved – this rule should also apply to A Levels and university degrees for more experienced lawyers.
- How important is Business Development?
The importance of having good business development and networking skills should not be underestimated. Your ability to build and maintain strong client relationships throughout your career will set you apart from other candidates. It is therefore very important to emphasise any skills or achievements in this respect, in a separate section on your CV. If, for example you have won a particular piece of work, built up a solid contact, organised a successful event, spoken at a seminar, written an article or blog, had a piece of work published, you should include this information. Bear in mind whilst law firms want lawyers, they also want good business people so showing that you have a particular talent for this, will bring you to the attention of the hiring partners.
- Should I take my CV to interview with me?
In short, no. Make sure you memorise it and are ready to answer questions you may be asked. Taking a CV into the meeting and shuffling through paper can look awkward and in our experience, certainly doesn’t assist in building a rapport with your interviewers, which is the most important thing.
- How long should me CV be?
Whilst you may have heard that two sides of A4 is ideal, there is no set length. In fact, getting all the information on two pages is pretty much impossible, particularly as you progress in your career. Our advice would be to take into account the previous tips in this blog in relation to relevance and keep it to the point and simple.
Finally, it may seem obvious, but it is paramount that you know the contents of your CV. Make sure you keep it up to date and by that we mean, every time you add to it, go through the whole document and check each section makes sense – so changing dates, paragraphs to past tense and summarising less relevant parts as outlined above.
We hope you have found this blog helpful and if you would like further CV advice, please get in touch with us any time.