Lawyers and Legal Staff CV’s

Your CV

If you have to ask whether your Curriculum Vitae “CV” is doing its best for you – then it’s likely not. Your CV should do for you in the legal field what an Agent does for Actors in the entertainment world, or what a Manager does for Athletes in sports circles. In other words, it gets you through the door into a person to person meeting and, after that, it’s up to you!

Most potential employers dread scrutinizing CVs and holding interviews. The majority of them have had no proper training and rely heavily on guidelines from friends, books, and the net. A large proportion simply goes with what they call ‘gut feel.’ But the plain truth is they are all just too busy.

In a big law firm, the Appointed Recruiter could be expected to work their way through 200-300 CVs within a few days’ maximum. In a smaller law firm, the prospective employer might only have 20–30 CVs to read – but to that person, it will seem like 200-300!

How then, do you make your CV the one that is the attention grabber? What do you have to do to make your CV shout, “Pick me!” “Pick me!”? The answer is probably the opposite of the ideas that fill many Career Seekers’ minds. Your CV must be simple and straightforward, direct and to the point, short and easy to read, sufficiently comprehensive for the job you are applying.

Sounds suspiciously simply? Not really …. There is a standard way of CV writing that has a universality about it. Obviously, as always, there are variations on the theme depending on if you’re in India, Germany, UK, or the US. However, all over the world, there is a sort of generally accepted CV format.

That said, there is also a list of don’ts that are typically regarded as tacky and unacceptable.

In this article we’ll deal with both of those lists:                       

Do’s: 

• Do ensure your CV makes sense and leaves nothing to assumption making;

• Do ensure that the only paper you use is standard white A4 size;

• Do use only black print – it’s corporate and more comfortable to read;

• Do check and double-check your spelling and grammar;

• Do take the time to read and re-read your CV out loud to yourself to ensure it sounds right;

• Do make use of spacing as it’s crucial in making the document more comfortable to read and look better;

• Do use headings if there are several sections that you need to separate;

• Do use a sensible font – it’s generally believed that Arial and Times New Roman, Century Gothic or Calibri are the most acceptable, whereas Scripts, Italics and unusual looking fonts are probably the worst;

• Do keep it as short, but comprehensive, as possible: no more than 2 or 3 pages – 4 at the most – of course adding your percentages and marks from the university will extend it somewhat;

• Do show enthusiasm for the job for which you are applying;

• Do keep to the truth – even an implied lie will have its repercussions later;

• Do give the reasons why you are applying for a particular position.

Don’ts:

• Don’t use colored paper it’s an immediate turn off and looks odd amongst the white;

• Don’t use colored print as it hurts the eyes and is quickly put aside without it being read;

• Don’t appear bored or blasé or entitled;

• Don’t be so important that you sound too good for the job;

• Don’t use photographs unless they are conservative& academic looking – if you need them at all;

• Don’t do pretty drawings on the front cover – or anywhere else – business is business;

• Don’t scent the paper as, by the time the recruiter gets it, the scent smells awful;

• Don’t attach little notes and letters from your family and friends saying how good you are – once again, this is business.

• Don’t use binders or fancy covers or add bits of lace, ribbons or sequins! Yes, I have seen a large number of this type of things, and mostly it won’t be taken seriously, and your CV will either end up in a lever arch file at the bottom of a pile or in the garbage bin;

• Don’t use any rude words, colloquialisms or slang: they are unacceptable and often misinterpreted;

• Don’t ask for advice from family or friends – their opinions are far too biased and, in any case, – unless they’re in the business, they’re probably in need of the same assistance;

• Don’t make derogatory remarks about any persons or business; if you have nothing good to say, better say nothing at all.

There we are then. We’ve considered the first part of Writing your own Curriculum Vitae (CV).

I also intend to show you an outline of an acceptable CV. Hopefully, this will be of assistance to those job seekers who need help.

YOUR CV – TELL THE TRUTH

The composition and writing of a Curriculum Vitae have become an art form and a work in progress for every other person and their dog. Most web pages display content on this subject, and they all have their opinions. Unfortunately, there’s nothing new – just variations on the same theme. However, some of the points they are attempting to make do provoke comment.

Firstly, let’s establish what a CV, or curriculum vitae, really is. It should present an overview of a person’s life (business history) and qualifications. In other words, when applying for a vacancy, the purpose of the CV is to inform prospective employers of a job seeker’s qualifications, and all work experiences.

Because it’s the first element in your approach and introduction to a potential employer, the recruiter (whether agency or inhouse) will use the CV and its contents to screen you, the applicant, and decide on the merits of those contents whether or not you will be invited to attend an interview.

Resumé

A Resumé is something a little different from a CV. Instead of listing all your work history, it is a more selective document that highlights only the specific experiences and qualifications that the applicants feel are best suited to getting them that particular job on offer. In other words, it’s a little like taking a magnifying glass and placing it over only certain areas of a CV – excerpts – passages extracted from the whole thing and only those that refer to the current vacancy.

As we all know, when you take extracts from different sections of a document and put them together to form another document. This second document intends to cause the reader to arrive at a different decision than what they would have made if left to read the original document.

Now to say that this practice gives a false impression is to suggest dishonesty and, while we are sure this is not anyone’s intention, why is every potential CV and/or Resumé writer being advised to create a different CV/ Resumé for each individual vacancy for which they apply?  If you take the time to think through applying and possibly obtaining a job for which you are really not right – then continue with the thought process of how silly you will feel (and look) when you quickly lose that job because you were unsuitable. Understand that signing a contract does not ensure job safety. If you aren’t right for that position, you will lose it, no matter what.

Most of us have a CV. We probably wrote it years ago and updated it whenever necessary. However, if I were seeking another job, I could not, in all conscience, remodel it into possibly more acceptable and tailored sections because I felt prospective employers would find that more pleasing. That’s rather like making the foot fit the shoe. Let’s just say that perhaps there are those Americans who prefer to say ‘Resumé’ because they think it sounds a little more chi-chi than a CV.

What should be new every time you apply for a vacancy is your accompanying letter. In this letter, you may express yourself to the recruiter and state why you feel they should take your application more seriously than most.

In the letter, you may draw the recruiter’s attention to your more pleasing assets, experiences, and qualifications. You may sing your own praises and give your opinion on how that law firm would benefit if they hired you.

So, the letter changes according to the vacancy but (in the interests of full disclosure) the CV should remain the same.

Your CV is simply what it is – the truth: facts about your qualifications and working history. It should be updated whenever something changes because that’s necessary, but apart from that, it should not be altered because the facts should speak for themselves.

We will continue this regular discussion through many parts to cover most, if not all, aspects of this critical subject. We will bring you templates and discuss their merits, examples of letters, include world trends, and enter into many other discussions on the whys and why not’s involved in creating this necessary and significant document.

Most importantly, instead of trying to please you, we will bring you the truth and let you draw your own conclusions. The same way you should be treating prospective employers.

NB. An acquaintance of mine is the Manager of a Recruitment Agency. Two weeks ago, she advertised for a Driver, a Secretary; an Admin Clerk; and a Switchboard Operator.

The same person applied for all four of these positions and saw nothing wrong with their actions. They were not suited to any of those vacancies had no driving license and had never worked in an office – but, they still felt they were entitled to apply simply because they needed work!

YOUR CV – THE WRITTEN LAYOUT

Nowadays there is a tendency towards a variety of different layouts of the CV. The general opinion is that these are modern times, so we don’t want to appear old fashioned, and we want our CV to stand out from the others. It is thought that as long as the information is there, it doesn’t matter what format the document takes.

Sorry to Burst Your Bubble But….

Have you ever hurried into one of your local food chain stores when they’ve just changed their shelves around; you’re running late, and now you can’t find most of the items on your list? Your first reaction is rather to leave and go to another shop where you still know your way around.

That’s how a Recruiter feels when they reach for a CV from the pile and discover that the information is all over the place and the document itself has been redesigned to take on a different format. The Interviewer’s immediate reaction is to dump the CV and get another one in an easy to read format.

So, despite there being no hard and fast rules about the exact design, there is a general layout to follow when setting out your CV which gives the recruiter the information they require and in an easy to read format.

•  Personal Details

List your surname, first names, residential address, contact phone numbers, e-mail address, and any other personal information you feel is relevant and want your prospective employer to know about you.

•   Job Title

State the title or type of job you are seeking. If you are applying for a job in a different field to the type of work you have previously done, please – in as few words as possible – explain the reason for the change. However, do not just write ‘want a change’ as your explanation because that would be regarded as insufficient and rude.

•   Salary Margin    

Put the salary – or salary range – you are hoping to receive. However, if the job offers $6000,00 pm and you have been earning around $5000,00/ $6000,00pm, do not put $10000,00 – it may be regarded as being unreasonable and greedy.

•   Education

Write a list of your education’s details and further education, i.e., schooling, university, college, or wherever you attended. List the highest level of education you achieved and list your qualifications, certificates, diplomas, and the like.

•   Working Experience

Details of your working experience should follow – listing the different jobs you’ve had, the employers, the type of business, the duties you executed, the name of your immediate superior, the dates of your employment, the duration of employment and reason for leaving.

Here you can also add any additional related information you feel you would like your prospective employee to know. I.e., perhaps you took on extra duties and became quite proficient in other areas of work.

•   Personal Statement

You could end with a paragraph or two about yourself if you wish. This might be about your strengths, your work ethic, and your goals. Whatever you decide to put in this section is of your own choosing. It is not necessary to write something about yourself. However, it does give the prospective employer a more rounded picture of who you are as a person. Therefore, it is always welcome – on condition that whatever you write here is the truth about yourself. Any embellishments you might be tempted to make will be spotted very quickly, and there are always consequences.

•   Job References

This section is also not compulsory – if a Recruiter requires references, you will be asked to supply them from your previous jobs. Alternatively, the recruiter might prefer to take these references personally.

If you haven’t worked before, either because you are a graduate or are merely starting on the work circuit, perhaps it would be advisable to include a list of a mentor or lecturers with whom you have worked closely.

YOUR CV – THE ACCOMPANYING LETTER

When one sends one’s CV to a Law Firm, by hand delivery, fax, or e-mail, it should be sent with an accompanying letter. This is a contentious issue because innumerable CVs have been sent without a cover letter, and countless more have been sent with a tired message saying, “Hi, here’s it, get back to me,” which doesn’t get the job done.

Let’s return to the scenario of the overworked Prospective Employer or Recruiter. If there is more than one vacancy on offer and the CV in front of you is not specific (i.e., says what position it’s for, etc.), no one will be prepared to spend any of their valuable time on it. Instead, they will give their attention to the next CV on the pile, which has an excellent accompanying letter.

Having established the importance of that letter, let’s decide what it should contain.

Firstly, what do you know about the Law Firm to whom you are applying? You might like to take a look at their website if they have one. Perhaps you could drive past the Firm and have a look at its frontage. Maybe you know some people who work there. Using whichever means you choose, try to discover more about this Law Firm.

What is their work ethic? What type of people do they employ? Would you fit in there? Do you have the requested skills and experience? If you think that you just might be the right person for the advertised position, then your letter should say that.

Try not to respond only to the points set out in the advertisement but to tell more about your capabilities. However, do not lie because to fabricate experience that you have not had just to secure the job for yourself, will be discovered very quickly with negative consequences.

In light of the preceding, it becomes clear that a letter should have a specific format: a beginning, middle, and an end. Let’s examine the most straightforward and therefore, the best and most effective layout:

•   Addresses

Your address should be at the top right-hand corner. Then slightly lower down on the opposite side of the page (the left) should be the name and address of the prospective employer.

•   Greeting

Dear Mr/Ms. Last Name, (leave out if you don’t have a contact name) or, instead, To Whom It May Concern

•   First Paragraph

The first paragraph of your letter should include information on why you are writing. Mention the position you are applying for and where you found the job advertised. Include the name of a mutual contact, if you have one.

•   Middle Paragraph/s

The next section of this letter should describe what you have to offer the employer. Mention precisely how your qualifications match the job for which you are applying. Make strong connections between your abilities and their needs. Point out why you should be selected for an interview with the prospective employer.

•   Final Paragraph

Conclude your cover letter by thanking the employer for considering you for the position. Include information on how you will follow-up.

•   Complimentary Close

It is best to stick to the accepted norm – which is Yours faithfully – for the close with a capital Y and small f. Yours sincerely is also acceptable, but there is a large selection of other ends floating around, which are not as acceptable and might just ring the wrong note with the reader.

•   Signature

Then write your signature. You may write it in full, or it can be only with your initials and surname – both forms are an acceptable practice.

Now your letter is done, and it was so easy: there is nothing in there that a prospective employer or recruiter will find offensive. Chances are, once they’ve read your letter, they will want to read your CV.

CV WRITING – THE PROSPECTIVE COMPANY

How much do you know about the Prospective Company that is advertising the vacancy you are applying to? If you only know the company name and address, instead do more homework before applying for the position.

During the course of an interview, a prospective employer discovers that the applicant seated in front of them knows nothing about the company but hasn’t even made an attempt to understand and doesn’t appear to want to learn.

In any job market, this attitude is somewhat cavalier, to say the least. However, with today’s rife unemployment – a job is a status symbol.

To display no interest in a law firm to whom you are applying for work is, therefore, a Kami Kazi approach. The applicant would have been better staying at home and letting someone who does have an interest, have a better chance of getting the job.

If the law firm has a website, log on to that immediately and spend some time there. Whatever you find on that site will be of use to you. Things that will assist you in assimilating information about the prospective law firm are in their Mission Statement, so you need to find that.

You also need to discover what kind of people they employ and ask yourself whether you fit into this mold, i.e., would you fit into the company style? Do you share the law firm’s work ethic? Are their principles in line with your own?

If you cannot find the answers to these and other questions you may have, then write it down – draw up a list so that you have questions of your own to ask in the event of your being invited to attend an interview.

Obviously, you already have the required qualifications and skill plus the experience, or you would not have applied/be applying in the first place. What else do you know or can you find out about the company? The more you can discover about them, the higher your chances of putting together an excellent accompanying letter with your CV and improving your odds of being granted an interview.

The word passion is used a lot – are you passionate about what they do? Well, no – you can’t be yet because you don’t know them. You can be passionate about what you do – that’s honesty, and it’s also half the battle won for you.

We have already established that:

If the job for which you are applying is actually in your chosen career path and not just a filler (because any job’s better than unemployment);

If you have been honest on your CV, it is a reflection of the truth;

Then you have absolutely no reason to ‘re-adjust’ your CV each time you send it out;

The accompanying letter would need to alter according to each vacancy.

Once you have done your homework and dispatched your CV and letter, you now wait for a reply. If you are contacted and granted an interview, you must make a written acceptance /confirmation of the appointment e-mail is the norm these days.

Also, it is good to keep copies of any correspondence (e-mails or other forms) that passes between yourself and the law firm.

Do you know where the law firm is situated? Now that you have an interview booked, it’s advisable to drive past the head office – and also wherever you’ll be attending the interview if the two are not the same – just to have a look and get the feel of the place.

Stay awhile and watch people arriving and departing. Check out the area in general – nearby shops, lunch, transport, parking facilities, and any other requirements.

When you attend an interview you will know your way, have a reasonably clear understanding of the immediate area, and be calm and collected in the interview itself – and all because you are prepared.

PREPARING FOR THE INTERVIEW: FUTURE FLASHBACKS IN REVERSE; VISIONS OR VISIONARIES?

There are those selection and recruitment specialists who are adamant that the basis of job analysis should include a complete understanding of the hiring organization’s culture. Needless to say, a large Consulting Group with a hands-on approach would undoubtedly have to look at the law firm as a whole to appreciate its philosophy.

Probably one of the main reasons why a, suitably qualified, the new incumbent doesn’t quite cut it, is because of a mismatch of culture.  The new staff member has become an employee of the company and is also expected to become a devotee and upholder of the organization’s traditions and customs.

Perhaps the new Appointee has been used to utilizing an independent approach. However, the new law firm culture’s edicts are such that corporate rules must be strictly obeyed.

Maybe the new Appointee has worked alone in the past and expects to do so in the new company; however, the new company culture’s custom is to promote team working and group decisions.

Nature Of The Job:

Once the company’s culture has been acknowledged, next, one should identify the fundamentals of the job to provide the basic yardstick when interviewing the Candidates. Now you have the point of reference that will indicate whether or not the Candidate will satisfy the job requirements.

Determining the reason for the job will lead to considering the number of subordinates who will report to the new Appointee and measure the assets to be controlled.

The central issue here is whether or not the Candidate will have the ability to cause things to happen in such a way as to accomplish the goals of the company

Mid-Term Challenges:

It has to be a given that the majority of Candidates will be able to do the primary job. Therefore, the major issue regarding job analysis should be about the Candidate’s ability to deal with the mid-term challenges of employment. In other words, the hurdles and objectives which the recruiter identified before the interview, as being crucial to the sustainability of the Candidate in the position offered.  This will enable the recruiter, either during or after the interview, to answer whether or not the Candidate is the type of person who is likely to have the ability to deal with obstacles and meet targets.

Many law firms have realized their mistake months after hiring an Applicant when they’ve discovered that the applicant is only capable of executing the immediate current tasks, but is hopeless when confronted with any projection of the duties or futuristic advancement of the position they currently hold.

Unfortunately, this can slow down entire departments and thus have a highly negative effect not only on morale in general but also on budgetary matters.

Long-Range Possibilities:

Most recruiters fall short of the mark because they stop at the Mid-Term Challenge and rest on their laurels, feeling they have done a better job than most.

Alas, this is not the case, and especially in this hi-tech world of ours, we must equip ourselves with a futuristic vision so that we can assess whether or not the Candidate has the ability and willingness to move on to better accomplishments and higher goals.

Recruiters nowadays must ask themselves if the Candidate can reason in the abstract to go beyond the current situation and visualize innovation in an advanced form.

When the recruiter has isolated the mid-term challenges through which the new Appointee will be able to make a large contribution to the company, they should also bear in mind that they will require further growth and a certain amount of inventive contribution from the Candidate currently before them.

Martin Vermaak

The Lawyer Marketing Pro Digital Marketing Agency for Lawyers and Law Firms.

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