I’m really pleased to share a guest blog post from Jan Hyde. You can find out more about Jan and the work that she does at www.cljournal.com.
My thanks to Sarah, for giving me this opportunity to share with you some tips on how to write a professional CV. Although my article will be based on writing a CV for opportunities within the area of law, please note that this structure can be used for all types of CV.
Your CV, and it’s accompanying Covering Letter (which I’ll talk more about in a later post) should create a powerful first impression. Your CV is your ‘selling tool’ or ‘marketing document’ and these 2 pieces of paper (yes do try to keep to 2 pages for a CV, unless you have years of relevant work experience) have to work really hard to sufficiently impress an employer such that they will want to invite you in for an interview. Therefore, your CV needs to be persuasive and provide information.
You may find the idea of ‘selling yourself’ uncomfortable, but when you consider the competition for jobs, it is important that your CV stands out from the rest and persuades the employer that you have the skills required for the job. Remember also, that employers may look for relevant academic or work experience, but they are also looking for somebody with the right skills and personality for the job, so your interests, activities and transferable skills are equally as important.
It is vital to ensure that the content of your CV is complemented with an appropriate and professional style of presentation. For the area of law I would advise a conservative presentation style with the CV word processed, printed black ink on good quality white paper using an ink-jet or laser printer. Make sure that you use space effectively and pay due care and attention to grammar and spelling – use spell-check and get someone to check it for you.
There’s no hard and fast rules governing the length of a CV; however, it should be seen as an exercise in presenting information concisely and this is most commonly achieved within the boundaries of two sides of A4. Just remember that employers may have to read hundreds of CVs, so make their life easier by presenting your information on no more than 2 pages.
When allocating space to different sections, give some thought to the likely importance of each element in the eyes of the employer. Information which you consider to have the best chance of persuading him/her to offer you an interview ought to be most prominent in order to create the desired impact. For example, you may wish to highlight your suitability by ensuring any relevant work experience features on the first page.
Content and structure
There are many effective ways to structure a CV, so you will need to give some thought to the information you want to include. Your CV is a very personal document and should not follow a set format. The most successful CVs are those which manage to convey something of the writer’s personality as well as having relevant information in a suitable order. In this article I’m going to concentrate on a traditional chronological CV, however, if you don’t have any relevant work experience you might like to consider a ‘Skills-based’ CV. This kind of CV often features a list or demonstration of your key achievements matched to the skills sought by the company.
The Traditional Chronological CV
Name, address (home and term-time if appropriate), telephone number, email address. You may also decide to include your nationality and sex, if you feel this information is relevant but it is not compulsory.
Career aims or Personal Profile
This is a short summary of the main features you want the employer to focus on and describes the type of work you are looking for. The purpose of this is to provide a broad overview, clarify your career plan and/or to highlight key qualities/experience or Unique selling Proposition. This is a difficult section to perfect and requires careful planning. Avoid using language which is so general as to be meaningless or applicable to most applicants; be specific and offer evidence to support any assertions being made.
‘An ambitious and committed graduate of law with a sound understanding of the legal profession and a good level of commercial awareness developed through several quality legal work experience placements. A quick learner who can communicate clearly and effectively with both legal professionals and members of the public…………etc., Presently looking for a challenging opportunity within a dynamic family law firm which will offer the opportunity to develop…etc.
Education and qualifications
This includes names and dates of attendance at institutions from the age of 11 with details of qualifications and results. As employers are likely to be most interested in your recent education, list your activities in reverse chronological order. It is good practice to provide some details of your degree or diploma course, particularly if it has some relevance to the work you are seeking. This could include brief reference to subject areas, a selection of modules covered, the title of your dissertation or project and your expected or actual result.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Sept 20XX to dateLegal Practice Course De Montfort University
Core subjects include Conveyancing, Commercial and
Corporate Law, Litigation and Employment Law
Sept 20XX to June 20XX Law LLB (Hons) Class 2:1 gained De Montfort University
Relevant subjects included Law of Contract;
Conveyancing; Commercial Law; Equity and Trusts;
Sept 19XX to June 20XX Cheadle Hulme Comprehensive, Manchester
A-levels: History B, Business Studies B, English B
10 GCSEs including Maths and English at grade B
This section includes the details of all work experience including sandwich placements, voluntary work, vacation work and Saturday or evening jobs, and as with the education/qualification section is listed in reverse chronological order. There are various ways of structuring this information but I would advise that you have two separate headings; one for ‘Relevant Employment/Work Experience and another for ‘Other Employment/Work Experience’. This will assist the employer in identifying directly related experience more successfully. Take each of your jobs in turn, giving a brief description of your key tasks and skills you developed and if possible how you added value to the business. This could be e.g. how you saved time, implemented a new working procedure etc.
If, on the other hand, you haven’t got any ‘Relevant’ work experience you may prefer to list all your jobs briefly and follow this with a section headed ‘Relevant Skills’ which highlights common themes across the different jobs you have had and can include skills and experience developed at university e.g. mooting.
It is important to differentiate yourself from other candidates and show a little of your personality on your CV. This information can give employers an insight into what you’re like as a person e.g. if you participate in sports this may indicate that you are fit and healthy, if you are a member of an amateur dramatic society this may indicate an outgoing confident personality.
This is an opportunity to inform the employer of any key achievements in any area of your life. Examples range from certificates of attendance, exceeding sales targets through to running a mini-marathon.
This could include positions of responsibility or skills such as driving, languages and computing or keyboard skills.
Usually two referees are needed for your CV. If you are at university or have just graduated ideally you would have one from an academic and the other from an employer. You may choose to avoid giving details of your referees at this stage and include a statement suggesting that ‘references are available on request’. This is a legitimate course of action, creates extra space and provides greater flexibility if intending to use different referees for different applications.
Targeting your CV
A persuasive CV targeted at a particular job should be more successful than one which simply lists your biographical details. Therefore, you should organise and present the information within your CV tailoring the document to meet the requirements of a particular job or occupation as follows:
As a marketing tool it needs to be persuasive and dynamic in order to convince a potential employer of your suitability for the post. When preparing your CV you need to assess the qualities, skills and aptitudes required by the employer and use relevant examples to demonstrate that you have the necessary attributes. You should review the document each time you send it to an employer, adapting and refining the content as necessary. Even minor adjustments can sometimes make a crucial difference.
Your first task is to analyse the job description or advert and pinpoint the key requirements in terms of skills, abilities and personal qualities.
Secondly, review your experience (from work experience, educational background or spare time activities) and identify evidence you could use to highlight your suitability. For example, if the job requires excellent communication skills, think of instances where you have communicated effectively orally or in writing. This may include delivering presentations to large groups, writing assignments or dealing with the public in a part-time job.
Having accumulated a bank of evidence you will need to prioritise your experiences, selecting the examples which best reflect your unique selling proposition. When presenting the information, you should use active verbs and phrases to promote your experiences as positively as possible.
Summer 20XX Legal Clerk Keelers Solicitors, Manchester
Gained experience of a practice specialising in criminal and commercial law:
• Drafting affidavit and observing client interviews
• Proof reading and amending documents for Civil Appeals Office
• Researching corporation structure, legal rights, obligations and privileges
• Minute taking at staff meetings and assisting with reception duties
If you are writing speculatively to employers it can be more difficult to target your CV, but the same principles apply even if you have to make an educated guess at the skills required.
Before you send your CV off make sure that you spell-check it and re-read it several times. Ideally, get someone else to review it and give you a frank appraisal or you could sleep on it and re-read it afresh the following day. Print your CV out to make sure that it still retains the same formatting as it did when you reviewed it on your Monitor and lastly if you are sending it by email ensure that you submit your CV in the correct format, (e.g. Word) which may have been specified in the ad.
I hope that you have found the information in this article useful to you. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions and finally I’d like to wish you the best of luck with your career in law.