9 Ways to Make Your Legal Resume Stand Out to HR Recruiters


When embarking on a job search, your resume serves as your first introduction to potential employers. But keep in mind that the initial eyes scanning your resume may not belong to a legal professional. Often, it will first be reviewed by a non-attorney—like someone in the HR department. These early reviewers act as gatekeepers, responsible for screening and shortlisting candidates for the hiring attorneys.

What does this mean for you? To ensure your qualifications are effectively communicated and considered, you must gear your resume toward both legal and non-legal audiences. The following tips can help you compose a resume that improves your odds of progressing to the vital next stage in the hiring process.

  1. Stick to traditional fonts and formatting: A quirky font, colored text, creative formatting, and photos may seem like clever ways to make your document stand out from the pile. But the only thing they’ll ensure is that your resume is not taken seriously. As legal recruiters, we will instantly reformat any resumes we receive that exhibit these distractions. After all, we want your qualifications to speak for themselves.

  2. Provide clear and concise bullets of your experience: Stick to one or two lines per bullet as a rule of thumb. Aim to keep the number of bullets per role the same, unless you’ve worked in one role significantly longer or it’s highly relevant to the position you’re applying to. Also, don’t use the exact same bullet points for multiple positions you’ve held—even if the tasks you performed were essentially the same. Repeating language verbatim is a red flag that you haven’t invested much effort.

  3. Include a summary if you want to—but make it count: Think of your resume summary as your professional calling card. It’s a quick and impactful way to showcase the skills, experience, and achievements that make you an appealing candidate. Ensure your summary is clear and easy to read while including keywords that relate to the role you're applying for. Also, keep it brief: three to five sentences is a good ballpark.

    What about having an objective on your resume? We’ve seen this backfire in some cases, when the objective doesn’t align very well with the role a candidate is seeking. Often, we recommend just leaving it out.

  4. Tailor your resume to the position you’re applying for: Do you have the sought-after experience noted in the job description? Don’t make the reader hunt for this information; be sure you list it prominently and in detail. Use metrics if you have them (e.g., “negotiated roughly 100 agreements per year,” or “managed a team of 14 including two admins, four paralegals, and eight associates”). Including specifics can help HR better understand your depth of experience in a certain area.

    If you have more than one specialty area (e.g., technology transactions and IP), it may be helpful to create multiple versions of your resume. Then you can choose the most targeted resume for each role you’re applying to.

  5. Don’t go overboard with the legalese: Again, the first people reviewing your resume aren’t likely to be an expert in your practice area (or even have a legal background at all). The last thing you want to do is cause them confusion and uncertainty. That’s why it’s important to strike a careful balance between legal jargon and layman’s terms. Your goal is to quickly give the reader confidence you meet the requirements for the job so that they pass your resume along to the hiring attorney.

  6. Don’t get too hung up on a cover letter: Cover letters are like the “cherry” on top of your resume. They’re nice to have, but likely won’t make it past the first review—so you should spend the bulk of your time and energy on creating a stellar resume. If a cover letter is required by the hiring employer, keep yours as concise as possible. Use it as an opportunity to add some context to your background, such as explaining a transition into a new practice area or a significant gap in your work history.

  7. Skip the personal interests: Listing your personal passions and hobbies typically won’t give you a leg up in your job search. In fact, they can distract from the more important attributes you want to highlight. It’s better to save that resume real estate for things like industry certifications, legal technology expertise, or multilingual proficiency. And remember, even if some skills aren’t pertinent right now, a role requiring them could arise down the road. Including all your capabilities can help you stay top of mind with HR and hiring attorneys.

  8. Don’t list references: It’s unnecessary to take up space on your resume with these. If references are required by the hiring attorney, you’ll be asked for them at a later date.

  9. Proofread, proofread, proofread: Nothing kills credibility faster than resume misspellings, typos, and poor formatting. Even a minor grammatical blunder can instantly take you out of the running! It’s well worth the time to carefully proofread your finished resume and/or have someone else do it. The same applies to emails you send along with your resume or after any interviews.

A polished, thoughtfully crafted resume can help propel you forward on your professional journey. Use the strategies above to craft a compelling narrative that speaks to both legal and non-legal audiences and brings you closer to landing the job.


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