Resume Advice

Resume Advice video (4 min)
Walking through Sample Resume video (14 min)

In most cases, your resume is your first contact with a potential employer. It shows not only your experience thus far but also your accomplishments. Reflect on your target audience.  Are you writing to a law firm, small nonprofit organization, large government agency, or judge? Find out as much as you can about the types of projects in which you would be involved if hired. Based on that information, determine which skills you should highlight. For example, are your writing and research skills most important, or your communication and negotiation skills? You may choose to have a few resumes geared toward different types of employers.

Resumes should be concise, accurate, error-free, well organized, clear, easy to read, and visually pleasing. Keep in mind that the reader of your resume will probably spend no more than 30 seconds reviewing it. To be effective, it must be brief while still offering enough information to interest the employer. Most law student resumes should be one page in length. Use a standard font such as Times New Roman, and a font size of 11 point.

Legal resumes are structured with 3-4 sections, each of which is briefly discussed below.

Resume Construction

Heading: The heading should include your name, mailing address, telephone number, and Yale email address at the top of your resume. If you wish to include them, the heading is a reasonable place to provide your gender pronouns. You may decide to include your permanent address on your résumé in addition to your current address if you are applying for jobs in or near your home state, and your connection to that area is not already apparent on your résumé.

Degrees: List your degrees in reverse chronological order. Do not include high school. Include in the education section honors and activities under the appropriate school entry. Keep in mind that the honors category is reserved for the activities that you were chosen to participate in through some type of selection process. Briefly describe any awards that are not self-explanatory. If you are a joint degree candidate or already have other advanced degrees, give careful consideration to the amount of space you devote to those other degrees on your résumé. Think about the level of connection between the degree and the position you seek. The presumption of many legal employers is that Yale Law students with other graduate degrees are more interested in academia than law practice. Think strategically about this issue not only in drafting your education section, but also your experience and publications sections.

Scholastic Activities: Include activities that best exemplify your skills and interests and the skills and interests that the potential employer will find useful. These qualities may include leadership, speaking and writing ability, and teamwork. Ask yourself these questions: Which activities were most important to you? Which activities took up most of your time? Were some of the activities “legal” in nature (i.e., Student Judiciary Board)? Narrow your list of activities by selecting only one of a number of activities that are of the same genre. However, if you are applying for public service positions, you should include all of your service related activities to demonstrate your commitment to public interest work. With respect to social activities, do not overdo it.

If you are involved in activities at YLS that demonstrate skills or interests in which an employer would be particularly interested, feel free to list those activities in your experience section instead of as activities. For example, many students choose to include law school clinical work, research for a professor, and pro bono projects in the experience section of their résumés.

Students sometimes wonder about whether to include certain activities or experiences on their résumés that reflect an affiliation with a particular political, ethnic, gender, or other similar type of organization. Because the answer to this question will vary depending on the type of employer and the type of organization, this question is best addressed in an individual counseling appointment. Your affiliation with certain organizations may help your ability to secure an interview or job with certain employers and may hinder your chances with other employers. It is wise for you to think about this issue and talk it over with a counselor before sending out your résumé.

Experience: The experience section should list in reverse chronological order, all relevant employment. The name of the employer should be listed first, followed by the location, and dates of employment. The dates you provide can be general (i.e., Summer 20XX) and need not state specific starting and end dates. You may wish to include your job titles, depending on their impressiveness or assistance in clarifying your responsibilities.Volunteer or unpaid employment may be included in this section along with paid employment. Feel free to include work performed as part of your scholastic experiences in your experience section, including legal clinic experience, research for a professor, a pro bono project, and extensive work for a student organization. Use action verbs in your job descriptions. For example, state “researched and wrote memoranda on issues of jurisdiction and venue,” not “involved in assisting attorneys in the researching and writing of…” Provide enough description so the potential employer learns something about the projects you worked on and the skills you developed.

In deciding which employment experiences to include on your résumé, remember that your résumé is your sales tool. Feel free to leave out less relevant positions and include the more relevant work. While employers may become concerned about large gaps in your résumé, leaving out a summer here and there is not a problem. You may wish to use a summary line on your résumé such as, “Held various positions as sales clerk, waitress, and receptionist while in college.” Do not worry if you do not have any legal experience yet. Employers are not seeking law students who have had legal experience before law school. They are looking for students with qualities that lawyers possess, including common sense and intellectual ability. Think about what experiences you do have—did you develop leadership skills, analytical ability, or speaking ability? If so, be sure your descriptions reflect that information.

Additional Sections: Following the experience section, many students include an “interests” section listing a few special interests that may matter to an employer. It is not mandatory; however, if you have interests that are not already reflected in your application, then you may wish to include it. If you have a particular language ability that may be relevant to an employer, you can include a “skills” or “languages” section with that information. You may also add a “publications” section, but keep in mind that if a publication is listed on your résumé, you will likely be asked about it during an interview. In addition, listing many publications on your résumé may give an employer the impression that you are primarily focused on an academic career. 

Additional CDO Resources