Legal English Online - Building a successful Law Career: Writing a successful CV

Building a successful Law Career - Part 4

Writing a successful CV

So, you have finished University and perhaps even started your first job. Now you need to write a CV that markets you, and your unique capabilities, to a future potential employer. Remember that a CV should be an advert for you as an individual. It’s your own personal brochure, but it must be relevant to the particular job that you want to apply for. A CV has two purposes, the first is to help employers decide if your skills match their requirements, the second is to impress and interest them sufficiently to invite you to an interview.

As always, with anything to do with your career, it is better to plan the CV before you begin writing. You are going to prepare several lists which will help you write the CV.

There are five basic steps to writing a successful and effective CV:

  • Make a list of your skills and experiences
  • Find the Job that you want to apply for
  • Choose the right style and format for the CV, depending on the position
  • Write the CV
  • Adapt the CV for each particular job application

Begin with making the list of skills – this is like brainstorming by yourself – just write them on to a large piece of paper and then add comments beside them as you go through the points in this article.

Write down your interests and experiences, including university. Think about what you have done in the last five years and what you liked or disliked about each. Now list what you learned from each activity, e.g. Coached Football team – Liked: being part of a team, Disliked: losing matches, Learned: how to communicate with team members.

Now list your skills. There are two types of skills, hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills include the knowledge that you gained at university and in any subsequent work. They include your legal knowledge and expertise. Soft skills are the skills you have acquired a through your experience in life and are difficult to assess. In general they can be transferred into your daily working life such as an ability to communicate, problem solve or manage, or lead. When you have identified your hard and soft skills think of specific situations where you have demonstrated the use of these skills. Make a list of these occasions.

Next, we come to achievements. List the times in the last five years that you have come to a situation and used your initiative, or soft skills, to solve the problem or make a situation better. This demonstrates to a potential employer that you use initiative and deal with problems, perhaps even can lead a team of people. Past performance is the best indicator of future performance, so the more successful incidents and awards you can list, the easier it will be for the employer to see your potential value. What things are you proud of or received awards for, when were your suggestions accepted by others, have you started a new trend or procedure, trained or taught others, satisfied a difficult client or situation, achieved a personal target such as running a marathon? You are going to put all these hard and soft skills and achievements into your CV along with your values.

Our values are usually formed earlier in life by our family culture and social surroundings. They are a limitless number of values such as achieving recognition by your fellow workers, earning a large salary, having a family, telling the truth, not stealing. Make a list of those values that you believe are important. Not everyone has the same values as yourself and may not consider your values as important as their own. Once you have listed 10 different values, choose those which you must have in your job, those which you would like to have but are not essential, and those which are not important. You will use this list in the next stage of writing the CV.

Now use the list of values you prepared to select an employer, or to decide if a particular job will satisfy you. Having spotted the job or employer, you are now going to write a CV that will interest them in you and cause them to invite you for an interview.

CV's can be either targeted or untargeted. Targeted CV’s are intended for one specific employer and one specific job. In today's difficult financial climate, most employers will receive many untargeted CV’s for every post they advertise. They will be receiving CV’s even when they are not advertising. You need to put yourself ahead of the people sending out tens or hundreds of untargeted CV's hoping that somebody will give them a job. The way to do this is to target your CV each time for a specific employer and position.

You are going to list your CV chronologically to show what functions and activities you were involved in and what you achieved and learned from these experiences.

Begin the CV with your name and contact information. This is very basic but I will mention it now: Write your full name. Underneath this write your current and full-time address and your phone number, including mobile phone number if any. If you have a personal website then put this address also. Do not use funny or odd nicknames in your e-mail address e.g. bigpants@a....).

In order to show the employer that you are exactly right for their company, you are going to add a career objective section to show why the position and company are perfect for you. Write one or two phrases which show where you want your career to go. Make sure that this is exactly the type of work that the company needs the applicant to do. This section will prove that you are thinking of the future and have a good idea of what you want to do. Career objectives can include things such as, ‘to develop as an international arbitrator’, ‘to use my English and French language ability to their full extent’, ‘to specialise in IP law’.

The next part of the CV will show your qualifications and abilities. List these in chronological order. Then add the languages which you can speak, beginning with those that relate to the position, even if it is not your first language. If you are fluent then add this. If you are not fluent but can understand the language, then do not specify your level of ability.

Now you will list your soft skills e.g. good communicator. You will do this by listing your achievements when you used these soft skills, from one of the lists you made earlier. E.g. organised Toastmaster meetings, created weekly newsletters for group. If you have computer skills you should list them in this section.

Next, we come to the section related to your experience gained in your career so far. List your experience in date order, beginning with what you are doing now and working backwards. Give details of the length of each employment and the position title, including the name and city of the organisation. Briefly describe your responsibilities in each job and write down some examples of your soft skills and achievements in that job. Use bullet points and the active voice in single line statements. If you have been awarded any honours, prizes, or bonuses for special work, this is the place to mention it, and make certain that you do mention it, because it will make you stand out from ordinary workers. If you belong to any professional associations that are relevant to your career goals, list them here. It shows your interest in achieving your career goal. Mention any attendance at conferences relevant to the work involved in the position here, also.

We are coming to the end of the CV now and here, especially for those who are applying for their first job, it is important to add some details about your interests. Employers may use this section to learn more about your personality and may use this information as an introductory topic at the beginning of your interview. This is also a place where you can show that you are unique because of your range of interests and activities.

Well done. You have now written your first draft of your CV. Now you are going to check to see that it is targeted for the specific job you want and that is precise and short. Read and re-read the CV to check the spelling and grammar. Do not leave it to spell-checker to do this for you! Make sure that you used the active voice rather than the passive voice. It is useful to remember that HR managers and employers will probably spend just 20 or 30 seconds scanning your CV to see if you are of interest  – for this reason you need to add in key words which will catch the eye of anyone scanning the pages. If the job advertisement mentioned words such as ambitious, self-starter, enthusiastic, then make sure that you have included these words in the section where you describe your soft skills and also, if possible, in a career objectives section.

No employer will want you to attend for an interview if you have not carried out any research into their company. If you have not already researched the company now is the time to do so. The company probably has a website and you can learn all about their aims and objectives and the work they do from this site. If not, ask your friends and contacts if they know anything about the company or the people who work there. Once you have this information check your career objectives section again to see that it is relevant to what the company does. If not, then change it to make it relevant. Now go back and check the soft skills and achievements which you have mentioned in your CV to ensure that they are relevant to the post offered. If they are not relevant, then take out the small achievements but leave the bigger ones – to show what you can do.

All that is left now is the correct formatting and layout. It should go without saying that the CV should be typed on white A 4 paper. Do not use italics but a standard business style font with capital letters for each new section or bullet point. Follow the sequence listed above. Keep your CV to 2 pages in length, maximum. Employers and busy HR managers have no time to read long CV’s and a long CV will give the impression that you cannot communicate in a short, effective, organised style. If your CV runs onto a second page then make sure you add sufficient information to fill up 75% of the second page – do not use just the top few lines of this page.

So now you know that the CV is unique to you and targeted for a specific job with a specific employer. The whole purpose of the CV is to get you an interview. It has to be viewed as a marketing tool to get you into the door of the company. Any CV that fulfils any other purpose e.g. to show what a nice person you are will be destructive to your chances of getting the job.

In the next article, I will show you how to use the items you have mentioned in your CV to market yourself during the interview so that the employer can see you fit exactly into the position they want to fill.

Part 1 - Some general basics
Part 2 - Growing  your own professional client base – Networking Events
Part 3 - Essential skills – The Ability to speak in Public
Part 4 - Writing a successful CV
Part 5 - Giving a successful Interview – What to do and what not to do
Part 6 - Letter writing skills
Part 7 - Deciding which area of law to work in
Part 8 - Seven skills that will land you work experience at a law firm
Part 9 - How to move your career into top gear – Winning quick promotions
Part 10 - The Key to moving ahead in your career – Mastering Legal English!