How to Optimize an In-House Counsel Resume


Note: This article is a segment of "Career Counsel," a column focused on career-development advice for in-house counsel.

As you can imagine, I have reviewed thousands of resumes in the course of my work. Your resume is a crafted snapshot of your experience, on paper, and it's often the first impression that you make on a prospective employer. Unless it's being hand-delivered by someone with connections to the employer (which I highly recommend, if you have such a resource), you need to make your resume speak impressively and clearly for you.

This article is a part of a series of upcoming pieces geared toward presenting your best professional self, including optimizing your LinkedIn profile, putting your best foot forward at interviews (including addressing questions like what to wear to a start-up), following up after interviews (do you send a thank you note, and if so, what should it say?) and making the most of your networking events.

With that said, here are a few guidelines for presenting your best self on your resume:

  • Present your information in a clean, clear and concise fashion: Cluttered, disorganized resumes are the death knell of a job prospect! Break out your experience with headings (e.g., Corporate Governance, Litigation, Management, etc.), and use bullet points. Few things are more tedious than reading lengthy blocks of text with no distinctions as to duties.
  • Lead with your most impressive fact: Did you go to a top-tier law school? Work for a big-brand company? Have an impressive title? Present that right at the top.
  • Tell your story: Show your career progression in reverse chronological order, and by clearly identifying your elevations in roles and responsibilities. Use descriptive action verbs to do so, such as "spearheaded," "negotiated", "led," etc.
  • Be specific: Identify the dollar amount of a deal that you negotiated, the number of direct reports you have and the duration of projects you engaged in. These specifics will set you apart from people using only general descriptors.
  • Add dates: If you've been corporate counsel, senior counsel and a GC—all at the same company—add the dates to show that you've been steadily promoted within the company. Also add the dates of your school graduations; employers still calculate your years of experience as a benchmark.
  • Extracurriculars: Add honors like law review, but refrain from adding facts like your LSAT score, however impressive it may be. I like to see an "Interests" section, especially if it shows relevancy to the opportunity for which you are applying—for example, if you're outdoorsy and applying for a role at Patagonia. Finally, your involvement with nonprofits and boards can demonstrate interest in taking on more of that kind of responsibility, e.g. you have a rescue dog/volunteer at the SPCA and are interested in working at Petco.
  • List publications and speaking engagements: Include these, especially if relevant to the company, industry or practice area that you'd like to branch into, but keep it concise. Perhaps add as a separate page if you have numerous entries. (By the way, I highly recommend that you get out there to speak and write as a high-impact way of raising your profile.)
  • List bar memberships: Add a line if you have multiple states. However, I find putting membership in the state that you're in, along with your bar number, unnecessary since it's already assumed and verifiable. (Also extraneous is a note about providing references upon request.)
  • Include your home address: I find that more and more people are leaving this out, but employers like to see this for all kinds of reasons—e.g., if local, what your potential commute might be. Many of Major Lindsey & Africa's searches are national, so we also like to have this quick reference. Finally, I've worked with international candidates who seek to return to the U.S., and have advised adding their domestic address as a way to show connections on the ground.
  • Add nonlegal roles?: I say no, unless of course, they are pertinent to the job at hand (e.g., if you were a biomedical engineer and are applying to a medical device company), or if it shows an impressive first career—but even then, keep it to one line. If you're more junior, I'm a fan of including legal jobs from before law school (e.g., if you were previously a paralegal). It may help you get an edge over the other applicants.
  • Summary at the top? I tend to skip over it and get to the "meat" of the resume, but if you've been in practice for a long time, it might be helpful to provide a quick overview of your experience.
  • Keep it to one page? I no longer think this is the going standard. Most resumes are read on the screen anyway (another reason headings and bullets are helpful). I do think that going past three pages is a bit excessive, however. This does not apply to the deal sheet, which you should include if you specialize in corporate.

And finally, of course, have someone review for overall clarity and proofread for typos. Even the very best first-impression resume will be tossed in the trash if you've misspelled even one small word.

This article was originally published on Corporate Counsel, March 9, 2015.


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