A resume is a brief summary of your abilities, education, experience, and skills. Its main task is to get you a job interview. An effective resume enables a prospective employer to see how you will fit into his/her organization. At The Paralegal Institute of Washington, D.C., we help you to succeed in your job search by providing professional assistance in refining your resume. The key is to emphasize your accomplishments and provide proof of your potential value to an employer.

Do your research

A good way to begin to improve your resume is by researching job openings and seeing exactly what employers find desirable in their ideal candidates. Review job ads on employment websites and look at required qualifications, skills and experience. Then incorporate your matching credentials in your resume so hiring managers see that you’ve got what they want. In constructing a resume for a legal employer, you must express your educational and experiential background in a way that shows you have acquired the skills necessary to function in a legal setting.

Choose your format

Use the best format to effectively communicate your individual skills and experiences in the most positive way. Job seekers who have significant professional experience should consider a chronological format. This format is generally preferred for the legal profession: educational and work histories are set forth in reverse chronological order. Those who have developed great skills through their experiences but do not have great job titles should use a functional or combination resume to highlight skills and accomplishments but to de-emphasize position titles. This format is often helpful to individuals who have had breaks in their careers, or who have switched professions. The combination format uses elements of both the functional and chronological styles. Those pursuing a second career may choose to add a section summarizing their qualifications for the position before listing their experiences and education.

Create your content and design

  • Use action verbs (e.g., drafted; managed; prepared)to present yourself as a doer and achiever.

  • Choose concise, effective language, e.g., “Managed 20 cases for lead trial attorney” instead of “Handled files”. Avoid the first person pronoun.

  • Minimize the job-hopper image by combining several similar jobs into one “chunk,” e.g., 1993-1995 Secretary/Receptionist – Fletcher’s Bakery, Microsoft; Carter Jewelers; 1990-93 Waitress/Busgirl – Smith’s Diner, McDonald’s; Porter’s Coffee Shop. Drop some of the less important, briefest jobs, unless you acquired important skills or experience in those jobs that are relevant to your current job search.

  • Only include hobbies if the activities are somehow relevant to your job objective or clearly reveal a characteristic that supports your job objective, e.g., “Talented in learning languages” might seem relevant to some job objectives (e.g., Immigration Law) but not to others.

  • Physical appearance of the final copy is crucial. Items should be positioned on the page so that a prospective interviewer’s eye can focus on information quickly. Use one professional looking font and different font sizes, bold, capitalization, spacing, etc., to stress and highlight. Proofread carefully to be sure the resume is error free. Printing must be on one side of the sheet only, on high-quality, 8.5 x 11 inch white or off-white paper. The right side of the page must be in “ragged” format, i.e., not right justified. Right justification creates awkward white spaces.

  • When sending your resume to a prospective employer, be sure to include a separate cover letter. This is usually one page long. The letter indicates your interest in a particular firm or position, summarizes the most important aspects of your education and experience, and lets the employer know where and when you can be contacted for an interview.

Remember that your resume is your marketing tool. It is about you, the job hunter, not only about the various jobs you’ve held. It must emphasize your accomplishments, rather than simply list your past job duties or job descriptions. With a well-written resume, you can market your past to create a promising future. Good luck!

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