Public Interest Resumes: Tips & Best Practices for Summer Job Applications

Yesterday we began a series of blog posts on public interest job application tips by covering cover letters. Today we’ll focus on résumés. Next week we’ll publish a post on interview tips.

As we noted yesterday, the first thing for 1Ls and 2Ls to do is visit your career services office.  Career advisors are going to help you with both form and substance on summer job applications.  As regards formatting, employers

reviewing dozens upon dozens of résumés want to find the most relevant information quickly.  Clean, easy-to-read formatting is essential, and your career advisors know how to help you put your résumé in the most presentable format.  But more important is substance. Your career advisors know what language will jump out at an employer while they are reading, and advisors will also know how to frame your experiences and credentials in such a way that they will match up most effectively with the qualifications sought for a particular job.

And now…

Five Tips for Public Interest Résumés

  1. Like a cover letter, a résumé is a living document.  Different job listings will call upon you to emphasize different experiences and skill sets.  You should be comfortable with making tweaks to your résumé so that it highlights the things that a particular employer will want to see.  As a result, though…
  2. …you must have someone else proofread a résumé before you send it out – each time.  While tweaking a résumé is a best practice, it is also one of the easiest ways to inadvertently create typos, and/or language and grammar inconsistencies.
  3. Do not include an “objective” statement in a résumé.  It is a waste of space, and employers know your objective is to land a job.
  4. A résumé should, as specifically as possible, list your skills and experiences.  It should be driven by action verbs and cite to numbers where possible.  E.g.: “Represented 3 minor defendants as a student-attorney while completing an intensive, one-semester juvenile justice clinic,” as opposed to, “Juvenile Justice Clinic, Fall Semester 2010.”
  5. A résumé generally should not exceed one page.   This is a hard issue to give advice on because there are two separate variables at work in determining résumé length: how much relevant experience you have and how detailed (or lengthy) a job description is.  As a general matter, though, for summer jobs you should be able to capture all of your credentials and qualifications on a one-page résumé.  The folks at Harvard’s Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA) list exceptions to the rule with which we agree: “Exceptions to this ‘one page rule’ are if you have an extensive list of publications or five or more years of work experience prior to law school.”  (We also recommend reading through the OPIA résumé tips in full.)  We can also speak from an employer’s perspective here, and the reality is that a one-page résumé just seems “cleaner” and less cumbersome to read.  If a law student sends a two-page résumé, that second page better have been necessary – i.e. filled with relevant past experience – or we’re turned off as an employer.  So our advice, to use a fancy legal term, is this: operate on the “rebuttable presumption” that your résumé should be one page.  If you come across a job listing that compels you to go over a page, talk to your career advisor about it.

Bonus Tips:

  • Italicized text is generally easier to read than underlined text.
  • Putting dates of employment or past experiences in the left margin makes for an easy-to-read format.

Remember to consult PSLawNet’s Job Search Fundamentals page for more tips.

Next Monday we’ll post interviewing tips. Stay tuned.  And good luck!

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