Legal Resume and Interview Tips from a Top Legal Recruiter

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Make a great impression and stand apart from the crowd with these resume and interview tips.

Applying for legal positions? Leverage your strengths, make a great impression, and stand apart from the crowd with these resume and interview tips from Timothy Henderson, Esq., Director of Recruitment and Professional Development for Holland & Hart, Denver, CO.

About Timothy Henderson
After practicing as an attorney for several years in Kansas and Missouri, Mr. Henderson earned his Masters degree in Counseling and Educational Psychology. He served in Career Services at Kansas State University and at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, prior to joining Holland and Hart as Director of Recruitment and Professional Development in 2007. In The American Lawyer’s 2009 job satisfaction survey for midlevel associates, Holland & Hart ranked 35th in the country.

Tips for Your Legal Resume

1. No "objective" statement is necessary for recent law school graduates.

2. Your resume should show a broad array of interests, not just memberships. Firms want to see that you are a well-rounded individual.

3. Don’t try to be involved in every extra-curricular activity for the sake of quantity. It’s better to show a passion or commitment to one or two activities, with a leadership role in at least one.

4. Overstating experience is easy to do right out of law school. Keep it simple.

5. Perspectives have changed regarding second- and third-career candidates. More experienced students with previous careers no longer have a hard time landing a job in a firm. Detail regarding work history in another career should be included in your resume. Previous career experience oftentimes means an easier adjustment to the rigors of the practice of law and day-to-day professional life.

6. Be sure to include your GPA or a transcript with your application materials. If you do not include one of these, it raises a red flag. If there’s a problem with your grades, you can explain your GPA in your cover letter – maybe you worked multiple jobs, had to overcome a personal or family crisis during school, etc. This can be seen in a very positive light by an employer and will overshadow a less-than-stellar GPA.

Cover Letter Advice

1. Your cover letter should be brief –no more than one page.

2. Don’t rehash your resume in your letter.

3. Use research you’ve done on the firm to create a narrative for how well you will fit in.

Rules for Email Correspondence

1. Most applicants submit resumes and correspond via email. When, due to the nature of email, an applicant assumes an informal air and addresses the employer as, “Hey, Tim” or “Hey, Mr. Henderson,” it makes a poor impression.

2. Always err on the side of speaking too conservatively, and using Mr. or Ms., unless you’ve been specifically told not to. The tendency to be too casual in email correspondence must be avoided. Know your audience.

3. Re-read and edit three times to be certain your language is clear, you are making your point as concisely as possible, and you have double checked for spelling, grammar, and usage errors.

Acing the Interview

1. The Internet makes it easy to have a strong knowledge of the firm. Come in with a laundry list of questions about the firm and know how to position yourself and your strengths as a good fit.

2. Take notes. Ask if your interviewer minds if you take notes, as a courtesy. Write down responses to your questions and key points about the firm or your position.

3. The interviewer is likely to ask behavior-based questions, including examples of past performance or behavior in difficult circumstances. Two examples are: “Describe a time when you’ve had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree, and how you made that adjustment;” and, “How did you prioritize the tasks at hand when you were given an unexpected urgent priority?” These questions require you to reveal your actual behavior in a job-like setting, and allow you to rise to the top with responses that reveal your readiness to handle these challenges professionally in the workplace.

4. Remember that everyone you meet at the firm is “interviewing” you. Treat every conversation as an important one. Never treat anyone with less than the utmost respect.

5. Your interview with the director of recruitment often comes after seeing the attorneys. Some applicants get to his/her office and let their hair down, thinking, “I’ve made it through the tough interviews. This is just the standard HR interview.” On the contrary, the director of recruitment may be your toughest interview. Maintain the same level of vigilance and attention to detail, and ask questions with the same respect for this role as any other interview in the firm.

The Thank-You Note

1. A thank-you note is an absolute must when someone has taken the time to consider your application for a position. Go into your interview looking for a key point to recall in your thank-you note. Do not send identical thank-you notes to everyone with whom you interviewed; they may compare your notes.

2. In the recent past, mailed thank-you notes were preferred over email. The little bit of extra effort showed more interest. Now, however, emailed thank-you notes are very acceptable for their immediacy – that quick response is appreciated – as long as you make sure to maintain the formal feeling of the written note, and avoid all errors in grammar and punctuation.

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