I've noticed an interesting trend. The majority of my coaching clients and the majority of the participants in my seminars are asking about "discipline." They are grateful for all of the information I provide about HOW to go about a proper job search, HOW to network, HOW to get their CV and professional plan properly thought through and written. My (frankly) innovative approach and legion practical tips make a big difference. BUT.
BUT, they need help actually DOING THE WORK. They want to know how to become motivated and how to stay motivated to keep on track. I'll distill my perspective on that here. And, just so you know, I've developed these strategies out of my own failure, stumbles, and few successes along the way. So this is the voice of experience talking here, believe me:
1) If you aren't motivated, LISTEN. This is an important issue for you. The reasons can be myriad because lack of "stick-to-it--" (as my folks say) is a SYMPTOM not a disease. So, it could be: a health issue (mental or physical); it could be that you are not "on track" professionally; that you have some other non-professional detail that you have been avoiding. The list could go on forever. Sit back, take an hour, or three, or a weekend: figure out what it is that you are NOT taking care of. The 'interior' mind is VERY persistent: if you do not do the number one priority, the most burning of issues on a long list of burning of issues, your interior self will not permit the active mind to go forward. So, figure out what is so important and bloody well do it. Next.
2) Once you've dealt with the issues above, look back at your professional plan--that is usually where the disconnect is. Some part of it is not 'ringing true' with your inner governor. So, you need to read, re-read and read again your plan (or write it out on paper for the first time!) and take a good long look. What parts have you been avoiding? If they are just details that you hate and can get away with not doing, fine. Just force yourself to do them in one fell swoop and give yourself a break/treat afterward--no biggie. But it may be that you are avoiding the CENTERPIECE of your plan. If that is the case, either you have #1 issues (above) or you are simply not headed in a direction you REALLY want to be in, or you don't believe the plan will work. Try to think of ways to change it; maybe there is an EASIER path to your goal. Usually, easier is better.
3) OK. Let's say your plan is the right one and you ARE on track but still lack the motivation to stick with your weekly plan. I won't spare the time to write out my entire model on the nature and definition and functioning of motivation, but I'll give you a few pointers:
a) You need to do a little work exploring your desires/fantasies/daydreams. Write them out without 'self-editing'. Now read them. Do they have any relationship at all to what your current professional plan calls for? There's no 'right' answer to that as we all have to make compromises, but just getting out on the table some of your perhaps stifled goals or aspirations may help clear the air sufficiently to let you move on your current plan.
b) You need to explore your fears. List them out. Don't hold back. I've even tape-recorded them and then transcribed them because sometimes they come out of my head too fast to write down. It's important to look at these. Some are rational, some aren't. But putting your big fears out on the table and letting your mind work on them dispassionately, rather than having them nag you, may also help.
c) Discovery who your heroes/heroines are. This is important. Then realize what they are telling you about yourself. Usually, our heroes are telling us a great deal about ourselves. If we don't resemble the core attributes of our heroes, our minds may be throwing up roadblocks until we start acting more in line with our core values.
d) Get healthy (already touched on that one). I suggest that everyone in a transition get a complete physical (if you can afford it at all). Tell your primary physician that you not only want to get a physical, but you want to talk a little bit about your circumstances and any concerns you have about how you are bearing up. I'm trying to be subtle: ask him/her if they think anything you say could be a warning sign about depression or other issues. Not addressing issues like these will stand in your way.
e) If you actually engage in these exercises, you'll begin, naturally, to function at a better level (higher level, better resonance, pick your metaphor). The bottom line is that we will be able to begin to be more aware of what is going on at all levels of our consciousness--the point being that once things are brought to light--lots of monsters can be seen to be much less scary, and much smaller, than our psyches make them to be.
The point? We must, must, must! stop trying to 'keep things at bay' while we 'work'. We must take time, on a regular basis (weekly is best), to do a little check-in.
OK: A few more concrete tips:
1) Put EVERYTHING you need to do on your Outlook calendar, even if everything overlaps. You are going to have to start compromising. The calendar has no option for more than 24 hours a day.
2) You may need to make changes in your routine to incorporate more time for your professional aspirations. Make a date in advance with your significant other to talk about any changes you want to make, and why. Also, try making changes on a trial basis with a firm deadline ("let's try me working until 7:00 pm Mon-Thurs for a month and see how it goes."---that sort of thing).
3) Check in regularly with your professional 'posse' (you can do a search on this site for my piece on that concept and discipline)--weekly is best. But every other week will do. You can't make it big without bringing others into your 'inner circle'. Um---one person does NOT a circle make.
4) Be rigid; be flexible. Last resort: Remember, there are parts of us that are 'all grown up' and parts of us that are still infants and everything in between. Try treating yourself as the subject of your own private coaching session. Literally have a two-part dialogue (in your head if you don't want stares!) about why you didn't meet your weekly goals. Be rational. If that doesn't work, move it down a maturity notch: use punishments and rewards. If that doesn't work, and you really HAVE done all of the above, call me and I'll give you my super-ninja advice--for free. But it's not a method for everyone.
Did I mention getting a professional coach??????? :-)
Post your experiences as a comment or email me at and we can discuss any aspect of this you wish. @yahoo.com
In a quiet pool near a silent grove, Narcissus fell in love with a reflection of his youthful face, and died. Not a complicated plot. Curiously, while short, this story is recounted numerous times in Greek mythology, and in a variety of interesting forms. Obviously, the myth must have communicated something important in Greek culture. With the proper understanding, it can provide vital information to us in our time as well. My hypothesis is that this illusive character from Greek mythology presents us with a profound mystery and potentially an important insight into the human psyche. Understanding the deeper message presented by Narcissus' challenges, and failure, can have a direct impact upon our understanding of ourselves, and upon our productivity and career satisfaction-ultimately, perhaps more than that.
At the most basic level, this article is specifically designed for my candidates to give them a framework (and comprehensive list) of information that I as your recruiter need to represent you. The story as told by the Greeks and many of their apologists, is of a young man who was unable to see himself for who he really was, and by means of this, was unable to relate to others. He was thus destined to be consumed with a superficial understanding of his own worth (valuing only his reflection and not his own true self) and therefore foreclosed from success in relationships or life.
This understanding of the unexamined or faultily-examined life also characterizes the modern understanding of clinical narcissism. What I propose for anyone seeking to reach higher levels of productivity and fulfillment from their profession, is that they combine what to some may seem a 'narcissistic' attention on one's self, but in order to avoid the pitfalls of the true meaning of the word. In short, I propose a way through the contradiction between the popular meaning of the word on the one hand, and the classical and clinic definitions on the other. Thus, the challenge that I lay before my candidates is: that they find a greater and more accurate understanding of their owns strengths and weaknesses through a thorough examination and profound attention on themselves, in order to escape from the pitfalls of a failure of self-knowledge (which is often a false esteem, called narcissism), and thereby access and hone their strengths and abilities for greater professional productivity.
How To Read This Article
This piece, while long, is NOT intended to 'scare you away' or overwhelm you. Rather, it is designed to give you ideas and serve as a starting point for conveying what you believe is of note in your career path. There is no need to provide answers to all of the below questions, nor to do it in any particular form or order, or to follow any particular format at all. Rather, please view the below as merely a brain-storming experience to get your creative juices flowing.
Further, feel free to skip around. You may want to read only the overview below, and perhaps the conclusion, or perhaps get ideas for only one aspect of the project you are having difficulty with. The danger in giving anyone 'guidelines' for a creative experience is that it will rather stifle creativity. Don't let that happen to you!
If you find this explanation restrictive, or, if you have a very defined, and limited set of information that you feel best describes you, great! There are a number of ways to get to our common goal, which is: to present as much information about you as a professional and a person to give a potential hiring partner a sufficiently detailed understanding of what you can bring to his or her organization.
Confidential Nature of the Information
I am asking for a free-form, stream-of-consciousness email, written confidentially to me, with the purpose being to communicate as much about your experience as a professional (and student, businessperson, etc.) as possible-the good, the bad, the ugly, but most especially the wonderful, unique, inspiring, shamelessly name-dropping, and personal. As we will have already discussed in person or by telephone, the information will stay between us-no one else sees it (no staff person and no database entry person-neither will it be saved on any system accessible by others). Further, as it has always been and remains my policy for all candidates to sign off on the text of all cover letters, there should be no concern that any particular revelation will find its way into a cover letter without your knowledge and consent.
The Overall Gist
The point of the exercise is for the candidate to divulge as much as possible of the information and detail that they would eventually like me to be able to mine for a compelling cover letter. On the most banal level, I need great one-liners for the text of that letter! On a higher level, I need to have a critical mass of information about your professional and academic (and other) experiences to get a sufficiently intuitive sense of what you bring to the table so that I can develop themes that will form as the superstructure for that letter. Further still, I need to know who my candidate is to a sufficient degree to know how to answer those little "pertinent questions" that law firm recruiting coordinators tend to ask-and to answer them in a way that is accurate, compelling and presents you in the best possible light. My goal is for the candidate to take the project wherever it goes-it is not necessary to use the document as an outline. Every candidate has unique experiences and attitudes toward life, their career, the law-everything. Thus, each time the process is engaged in, there is a different result-which is entirely the point.
Nevertheless, there is a wide range of information that is suitable subject-matter area. In order to prime the pump of your imagination, I provide the below outline of possible avenues to take. I have hesitated long before putting these suggestions in writing, as I certainly do not intend this exercise to descend to a "deposition by interrogatory." Rather, these are provided only as placemarkers in the process. With that important caveat, please refer to the below list of topics when beginning the process:
I. Your current practice:
Try to give me a narrative that explains the arc of your career. How and why did you begin in your first practice group and how and why did that evolve (it may have been chance, it may have been by design). Importantly, what is your current practice, what do you like about it, and what do you want to do in the next phase of your career? The following are provided by way of illustration:
§ Provide a laundry list of each component part of the process that you have actually engaged in with respect to your core specialty. When people hear that you are a "corporate" lawyer, for example, they want to know specifically what parts of that global set of practices you have experience with, and what tasks you have actually performed within that.
§ Describe the types of industries that your clients are in.
§ Begin at the beginning: list each subject-matter area that you have practiced in throughout your career.
§ If your career is sufficiently lengthy (5 years and up) you may have some meta-analysis to provide. By that I mean that you likely have a broader understanding of how all the component work you have completed fits into the arc of a particular business process. If so, tell me about it.
§ Talk about the parts of your practice that you like and those that you don't. Further, tell me about the parts that you have excelled at and those you haven't (it will be interesting to see the slippage between those two sets of criteria).
II. Your Academic Career
I am interested in understanding not only all about your law school career, but also about your other graduate experiences as well as your undergraduate career. If your secondary education was overseas or otherwise remarkable, it too may be worth discussing. Try to use the following as a guide for the detail to provide:
§ Discuss why you picked the institution (banal, Machiavellian and climatic reasons are all valid!). Disclose your grade-point-average and your class standing. If you took a particular interest in one topic, discuss what it is, why it was interesting, any particular recognition you garnered from that interest, etc.
§ Make sure to list every single award, extra-curricular activity, and all organizations in which you had any sort of leadership role (academic, professional, pro-bono, civic, service, community, fraternal, etc.).
§ Discuss any personal triumphs you enjoyed or challenges you overcame.
§ Discuss any particularly important influences (professors, other mentors, formative events going on in society during your educational experience, etc.), how they influenced you, and how they impact your current approach to your career.
II. Your Transitions.
It is exceedingly important to handle properly the issue of a candidate's transition from one work experience to another. Further, no matter what degree of success you perceive that you have in your career, please understand that your understanding of what a law firm may perceive as a "good" or "bad" reason for moving is probably other than your immediate reaction. Thus, it is good to trust your recruiter on this point-they deal with this issue literally every day and are generally free from any particular bias-they simply know what the current trends are and can help advise you in managing this particular issue. That being said, the recruiter cannot help you if you do not actually disclose all of the reasons you left or are intending to leave your current position and why you think another position will be better. Therefore, as the candidate generally is not in the relatively knowledgeable position regarding 'good' and 'bad' reasons, it is best to think long and hard about what they are and then disclose them to your recruiter for advice.
There are two types of transitions to consider-the immediate change between your current (or immediately preceding employment) to the next (with respect to which you are asking your recruiter to assist you).
The Current Job Change:
As stated, rational thinking and full disclosure to your recruiter are key. To that end, it may be beneficial to consider the following issues that often come up in any particular transition:
§ unfulfilled in the current position due to corporate culture;
§ unfulfilled in the current position due to lack of appropriate type, caliber or volume of work;
§ unhappy because of a particular co-worker or set of co-workers in the current organization;
§ personal, non-work-related need to change geographical markets;
§ personal judgment about the viability of advancement in the current position;
§ personal judgment about the continued vitality of the current firm;
§ personal judgment about the future direction of the current firm;
§ professional decision that a different (more prestigious, larger, smaller, more focused, more generalized, etc.) firm is better in terms of your overall professional plan;
§ perception that you have enemies at your current firm;
§ perception that you have burned bridges and/or otherwise made yourself unable to advance in the current firm.
In addition to the above issues, it is important to think about what questions may be raised by large changes in direction in your career-past or present.
Past or Present Changes in Direction
It is important to think about the reasons you have left a particular position, as stated. Moreover, it is important to explain to your recruiter any sea-change in your overall career direction. For example, if your prior experience was heavily weighted in one practice group, and you are looking to change subject-matter areas, or, rather, if you are seeking to move from government work to the private sector, your recruiter needs to understand this. Further, any such change in your past career must be similarly explained. For example, I once had a candidate that had a JD, two LLMs and a JSD; the burning question in my mind, and in everyone else's, was why this candidate now wanted to move from academia into private practice. The point is, moving from one sector of a market (from government service or academe to private practice or from an overseas practice to the US or from one region to another) raises a question in the mind of the potential employer-and you must answer the question on your own terms rather than leave the employer to guess. To be sure, such changes do not go unnoticed.
III. Positive Feedback.
It is certainly true that firms are interested in hearing positive feedback that you may have received in the past-the more specific the better. While firms often ask for references at or near the time of making an offer, they certainly would benefit from hearing about past praise that you have received to assist them in evaluating whether they want to get that far. The key is to be specific: what sort of skills have you demonstrated, what positive outcome was the result, what was the context of those skills (whom did they benefit), etc. Consider the following:
§ Review any and all prior written evaluations. Provide a sampling of specific positive feedback. Try to avoid banalities. Solid observations are what are needed. For example: "seems to have great rapport with clients", "is able to hone in immediately on the core issues", "judgment is trusted in the firm" are all positive. Conversely, banalities such as "fitting in well" or "doing a great job" do not communicate anything helpful.
§ Think back to positive statements made by colleagues, clients, partners, co-workers, professors and the like. Provide quotes or near quotations if possible.
§ Be free to name names, or at least to identify the rank or position of those that have had an influence in your professional career, or have given you positive feedback. It is helpful to know that you relate to clients, but better to know that the CEO of Chevron thinks so if that is the case. Likewise, it is certainly positive that you participated in symposia and gave lectures that were well-received by the attendants, and better to know that the attendants included senior trade officials, diplomats of several industrialized nations and an ambassador or two.
§ On the topic of 'naming names', please be as thorough as possible with respect to the names of friends that you may have potential target firms. We can use those names (if you believe it appropriate under the particular circumstances) to use those names as internal references to follow on any submission.
§ Remember, one of great advantages to working with a recruiter is that he or she can sing your praises (effectively and appropriate to be sure) but nonetheless sing them. To do that, your recruiter needs the raw materials to draw upon. Our opinion (while valued!) will not get you an interview-the candidate must demonstrate that he or she is respected in their current and/or former milieu.
The process of a legal search can be a mere blip on your professional radar, a minor catastrophe, or, conversely, the beginning of something new, wonderful, and even life-changing. It all depends on how much of the real, down-and-dirty thinking that you are willing to put in to the process. When it comes down to it, we must be willing to face ourselves, and do so on a far deeper level than Narcissus did. He saw only his face, the mask that he presented to the world. As passionate professionals, however, we are challenged to look still deeper, into all the wonder and majesty behind our façade, and even behind our conscious thoughts. To the extent we can gather the full quantum of data about our preferences, temperaments, experiences, skills and limitations, and apply thoughtful analysis to the same, we can become far more successful than ever imagined. Please enjoy the process, but engage in it nonetheless!
There is a well-traveled quote often attributed (incorrectly) to Nelson Mandela, but actually written by New Age author Marianne Williamson. You must have heard it. It begins, "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure," and continues, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?" If the sentiment behind these words is true-and I believe that it is-then how do we get some of that "inner wonderfulness" out in the open and actually doing some good-and how about right now?!
Well, first things first. In order to begin realizing our innate talents, each of us needs a guiding force, an organizing principle, a motivating vision. Why? The simple fact is that our minds are made to rationalize, to analyze, to make conclusions-24/7, 365 days a year. However, if we don't rein in that process, give it structure, and find a way to prioritize our thoughts, we will make hasty, conflicting, or worse, self-defeating decisions. How can we do this?
Indulge me in an analogy. How does a general on the field make tactical decisions in the face of incomplete or, more likely these days, overwhelming amounts of information about the enemy and about the enemy's strengths? He does so by knowing the strengths and weakness of his own troops. He knows when they last ate-and whether they liked the food. He knows how far he can push them-and how to do it. He knows how to motivate them. He understands the internecine struggles within his command structure. He knows who the up-and-comers are, and he knows which of his lieutenants is lazy or burned out. In summary, he has a thoroughgoing knowledge and interest in his and his army's capabilities, goals, and limitations. Thus, knowing his enemy and his mission is not enough; he has to know what raw materials he can work with to achieve his mission. Only if he can put all of the foregoing knowledge together in a coherent framework can he then formulate and execute a winning strategy.
Your career search is much like waging a military operation and requires the same level of attention to your capabilities, desires, motivations, and limitations. In short, it is not enough to "know the market." In addition, you must follow the injunction: Know thyself!
Let's stop right there. I am willing to wager that many of you may be thinking you don't have time for frivolous psychobabble. Instead, you may think that you simply need to get on the stick, get out there, and land that job. In a way, you would be right. You do not have any time to waste. I would draw a different conclusion, however: You do not have time to waste taking action without first getting to know yourself. Life is short; spend your time wisely.
Okay, if you have followed me this far, go with me a little further. Here is what you really need to know before you can put pen to paper and write up your career-transition plan (and you are going to write one!). First, you need to spend some time thinking about your last career experience. What did you learn? What did you really do? How well did you do it? How did you work together with the others on your team? What skills did you wish you had developed? In short, you need to give yourself a comprehensive career review, and you need to be brutally honest. By the way, "brutally honest" does not mean "knee-jerk negative"; neither does it mean "wearing rose-colored glasses." Take the middle road. Try to be objective, and try to think about what you did, rather than how you feel about it. There is a difference.
Second, take the time to free associate, and then write down what you really want out of your career. What is your motivating fantasy about yourself? Do you see yourself making X per year; living in a certain place; or having a certain circle of friends, a certain type of practice, or a particular environment for your work? You need to identify these.
Third, take stock. Ask yourself what it is about these visions of yourself that attracts you. What do they say about how you prefer to work and what kind of work you like to do? Further, what does all of this information tell you about your already-stated career goals? Are they in alignment? If they are, that's great. You may likely find, however, that you have learned something important about yourself and about why you were not as successful as you wanted to be or what kind of success you are looking for in the future. Or both. Regardless, the deeper you can drill down, the better off you will be, and the more accurate and profound your conclusions will be.
When you can answer all of the above, you will be on the fast track to putting it all together. Coming to the point where you know what you want and why you want it will take all of the fear and mystery out of the "how" question. Why? Because you are a lawyer, dammit! You know how to analyze and how to problem-solve. You just may not have known how to place that problem-solving ability in the correct context. Once you have gained a deeper level of self-knowledge, that will the time to let the amazing power of your mind run free; that 24/7 machine will be able to start doing something besides spinning. Instead, it can begin to weave a dream, a plan, a vision for a great new future. Frankly, lawyers are not known for their introspection and self-awareness. Be the exception. And succeed.
What professionals do: professionals take the time to figure out exactly what they can and cannot, will and will not do. They know what their industry is doing. They research where the growth trends are and where the areas of under-exploitation are. Then they find companies that fit the profile they create. Then they pick up the phone and call the CEO and tell them they want to work for them for the following three (insightful) reasons.
My results with this method? 4 for 4.
That is certainly my intention. ** **!!!!!
And I try to remind all my professional coaching clients as well as my attendees that it is all about (STILL all about) what you know, what you want to know, and what you want. The work and the understanding of 'how to position' yourself CAN'T be done without first doing that big homework assignment of knowing all of your past successes.
Moreover, as I constantly remind folks, each individual and each firm must be able to look at each success from as many angles as possible. Was it just the result that was great for our client? How about our processes? How we staffed; how we reacted; our reaction time; our efficiency; our ability to network in expertise, etc., etc.
The answers to all of the above questions (and more) can help us understand and BELIEVE what makes our firm, our service, our value added, well, added value! But we can't start at "what our clients want to hear". We MUST begin with the truth: what we are, and what we aspire to be. There are ALWAYS enough clients---but you must FIRST: HAVE a message; and BE someone (be someTHING) before you can "sell" the firm.
And NO, you cannot be 'all things to all people'. Even large, full-service firms know that. They have to figure out what makes them unique, what makes them worthy of being entrusted with a case, and being paid cold hard cash for it.
Ask yourself those tough questions first, and the rest will fall in to place, believe me.
Well. This is why I love coaching individuals and teams---all the answers are really all there, it just takes some digging and some refining--and someone willing to take the time to ask the right questions.
Who here says "I don't know how to (want to) network"? OK. Really, really simple: begin making a list. Go to your Outlook contacts folder, your family address book, every one of your email accounts: create a master list of EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING ON THE EARTH THAT YOU KNOW.
Well. If every single person on that list doesn't know you are looking for work/looking for a change/seeking more business, etc., then you haven't even done step one of networking.
People pay big dollars for lists of potential contacts. But you already have upwards of a 1000 contacts ALREADY----start using them. Even your maiden aunts. Remember the 3 degrees of separation rule? That means that everyone---EVERYONE you know is related somehow to someone who can give you business. Get your message out.
Getting it out: start calling and reestablishing relationships. Start sending emails offering to go out for coffee. Make an entry on your personal blog or FB. Start now. Don't even think of going to networking events and cold-calling until you have exhausted the network you ALREADY HAVE.
Got it? Good.
SO MANY of my new acquaintances and new clients are struggling with the resume/cv format. Here's a 're-print' of my (if I may say so) famous resume article. FOLLOW this advice and your CV WILL get attention.
When I sit down to write an article, I usually try to come up with some reference to classical antiquity, or perhaps Enlightenment-era philosophy. I like to think that the progenitors of our society have something relevant to say that sheds light even in our relatively “dumbed-down” pop-centric, go-go culture. But when I sat down to write this article on re-approaching the professional resume, I felt that the sedate, reasoned approach to life exemplified by our intellectual forebears just did not catch the spirit of the modern job search. Not at all.
I am not the first to notice that the interview process is analogous to a dating relationship. Moreover, in this age of increasingly short law-firm tenures, the law firm/attorney dance can resemble a singles’ bar scene. If this is the case, then recourse to the timeless Justice Holmes is in order. Recall his admonition: “the timid may stay at home.”
You do not want to stay at home—you want to fulfill your professional goals and get into a platform that creates the synergies you need. You have to get your name noticed, and for any given person, you do not have two chances to do it. Just one.
A fantastic cover letter will open doors and get you past multiple gatekeepers, but a resume must still deliver. At some point, a decision-maker is going to pour over that resume and hope that the skills and experience that she has been looking for will finally appear. And this person does not want to guess and surmise—she wants answers. I hasten to add that your resume has approximately 11.3 seconds to communicate those answers. This is why your resume very likely needs, “A little less conversation, a little more action.”
Action v. Conversation
While I would normally hesitate to quote the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll for the centerpiece of anything worth writing about, I have to admit that his injunction “action over conversation”, is the perfect synthesis of the interview process as dating ritual, and the need to truly communicate and impress in a resume. Basically, what I mean is that your resume must be taut, dense, full of “answers,” not “questions.” In short, your resume must be an action saga, not a job-description, or mere ‘conversation’.
With this as a philosophical basis, I provide the following broad perspective and practical advice on how to re-imagine your resume as a fearless piece of pointed advocacy, rather than a timid, milquetoast recital of unsupported conclusions.
A vital preliminary word about format.
Many of my candidates initially have a difficult time listening to my suggestions because they cannot get out of their minds the outdated rubric that a resume can be only one page long. They hear about the extra detail I want them to add and they are afraid that they will exceed this outdated and lifeless magic circle, which they conceive of as a cardinal rule. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. A resume, if well-read, is a pleasure to read. In the context of a professional resume--especially for a lateral attorney with at least one year of experience--two and even three pages are perfectly acceptable. Thus, if you are following me, I hope that you have allowed yourself to completely deconstruct in your mind your current resume and its format, the better to begin your reconception of that document anew.
The “Legal Experience” portion of your resume is going to be reconstructed to demonstrate your abilities, not describe them.
Think of your resume as a piece of advocacy. A good brief shows a judge how and why your client’s position is the only reasonable one. Similarly, your resume must be designed to answer the “how?” and “why?” behind statements like: “Experienced in all aspects of litigation” or “complete mastery of corporate formation tasks.” Something like that lyric “A little less conversation . . .” is going through the mind of someone who reads multiple resumes in a week. The hiring partner or recruiting coordinator is thinking “why can’t this highly educated person tell me something interesting about themselves—why does this resume look like every other one I’ve ever read except for the name, the school and the graduation date.” You as a candidate must make it your mission to foreclose the possibility that those thoughts go through the mind of the decision-maker at the firms you approach. Thus, I want you to conceptualize of your resume as a showcase for success stories that highlight your skills, and puts them into a particular context.
Write the perfect bullet point with my “eight golden keys” to grabbing attention.
Your resume is going to be full of detail, but it must be snappy. The best way to draw a reader in, without making him or her feel ‘trapped’ by undifferentiated text, is to use bullet points. You have seen bullet points before—short sentences, or perhaps two or more sentences, set off by text above and below it by a dash, arrow or round dot, a “bullet.” Your resume should use them strategically, but the most important aspect is to craft the text. In my view, the way to view bullet points is similar to how you may have used them in a brief—as a recitation of evidence supporting a conclusion. The first line or two of any heading under the “Legal Experience” portion of your resume is your firm name, and title (“associate” or “partner”). If the firm is a well-known one, your “conclusion” may already have been stated (“I am a world-class [litigator, corporate attorney, etc.]”). Further, you may want to simply write out a two-line “conclusion” just under this information, to give the reader an idea what you have practiced. The idea is to communicate the way you frame yourself to other attorneys—you are communicating to the reader that you are a competent and well-rounded litigator (for example) that has lots of experience in sophisticated work. Alternatively, this could also be done at the very outset of your resume in a “Profile” section (a 3 to 5 sentence narrative paragraph summarizing the most important points about your legal skills).
Regardless how you frame the “argument” of your resume, the “bullet” points are the meat that backs up the conclusion already made. And those bullet points need to deliver. Note that these are not simply “further information” for the reader. No. They are a presentation of facts that prove—that demonstrate--your competence. The way to prove competence is through the eight golden keys, which individually or in combination provide the “scope”, the “context” of your work. They are:
a) degree of autonomy;
b) caliber of client;
c) sophistication of the work;
d) volume of the work;
e) client industry;
f) degree of client access;
g) dollars involved; and
h) social/political significance of the outcome.
Ideally, each bullet point throws in powerful phrases or word-clusters that allow each bullet text to contain 3 to 5 of these “golden keys.” Let me demonstrate. A bullet point in a litigation resume may say: “Took the lead in several complex commercial litigation matters.” I see this type of phrase every day in resumes. The candidate should have focused on one of these matters and touted his own, individual work. For example, the following communicates much more: “Wrote, argued and won summary judgment defending a Fortune-100 worldwide chip manufacturer in a $50 million licensing and distribution lawsuit based on appropriate application of choice of law provision.” Notice that I have used at least five categories including: a) degree of autonomy (“wrote, argued and won”), b) caliber of client (“Fortune-100”), c) sophistication of the work (“motion for summary judgment” and “choice of law provision”; e) client industry (“chip manufacturer”); g) dollars involved (“$50 million”). If I didn’t have any of these facts, I would try to find at least two categories that did apply. The point is to take the time to dig back into your past successes and mine them for gems. In the day-to-day practice, we tend to think only of our current projects, forgetting past successes—don’t make that mistake.
Third: Make sure you covered the basics.
Every attorney resume should have at least the following sections: a) biographical information (name, cell-phone number and email address); b) legal experience; c) education; and d) affiliations/admissions. If applicable, add the following: e) “Other Experience”; and f) “Publications and Presentations”. Try to use the above principles when describing your law school and undergraduate careers.
Fourth: Honesty--The ONLY Rational Policy.
It should go without saying that every single statement and every portion of every statement in your resume, transactions list, bio, or any other piece of writing you submit to a potential employer must be 100% accurate. There is no puffing, no stretching of the truth, no artful lapses of completeness to convey the wrong idea. Most real or perceived ‘blemishes’ can be handled. What CANNOT be ‘handled’ is even the hint of misdirection. The legal market is too tight to deal with the cognitive dissonance that results from partners having to re-think their analysis of a candidate’s fit for a firm, after realizing some important aspect of their profile that wasn’t immediately obvious from the original submission or resume.
Action, Action, Action.
Basically, this all boils down to making the job of the hiring firm easier. By doing the analysis yourself of what you have done, where you’ve done it, what the results were and how it impacted on clients, you are leading the reader to the conclusion you want, without the reader having to work to prove or disprove any representations you’ve made. Thus, less conversation—less space-taking chatter about “abilities”—and more action: more direct demonstration of your proven successes. If you can make that cognitive leap, you are much farther down the tarmac than your competition. And believe me as someone who is in a position to see trends in the industry, competition for premier positions will only increase.
Peter L. Smith, Esq.
On Call Counsel