How to Make Your Resume Rock

By Hillary Mantis

Fall is right around the corner, and it’s time to polish your resume. The competition’s tough. You want it to look good. More than that, you want it to actually get you some interviews. Here are some tips to make it stand out:

Focus on their needs
Typically, job seekers will focus on their own goals in their resumes and cover letters (“I hope to gain meaningful experience from your internship”).  I would suggest you do the opposite. Picture the overworked hiring partners reading your resume. The firm approved a new hire and they are sifting through stacks of resumes. What do they want? Someone smart, who writes well, is easy to work with, and doesn’t need a lot of training, right?

Whatever practical experience you have that matches their job description (paid, or unpaid), is what they are looking for; focus on that. Tweak your resume so you have a detailed description of your experience in their practice area, or courses you have taken that match the skills they are seeking.  

Make it look pretty
I have seen a lot of ugly resumes. Text jammed together, tiny margins, distracting boxes and lines — you get the picture. The aforementioned tired hiring partners want to pick resumes out of the pile that are easy to read. I would stick to one page if possible. Pick a nice looking font: Times Roman is fine, but try another font, such as Garamond. Your whole resume will instantly look more attractive. 10 or 11 point is good; below that, and you are risking someone not reading your resume.

Bullet points or not? It’s up to you. If you go with bullet points, make sure your descriptions are detailed enough. I’ve read resumes with bullet points that just read “Researched and drafted memoranda of law.” Boring?  You bet.

Describe what you did in detail. If you go with the paragraph format instead, that’s fine, but you may have the opposite problem. Make sure not to go into too much detail, or write run on sentences. Your paragraphs should be short.

It’s a marketing document, not just a summary of experience
The point is to get called in for an interview. Focus on marketing to the employer. Try to start every sentence with an action verb (e.g. “researched, drafted, initiated”). Be careful not to start every sentence with the same verb (a common mistake; I recently read a resume that began every single line with the verb “drafted”). Explain awards or scholarships, instead of just listing the name of the scholarship or award. Quantify where possible; if you have handled a large caseload, or won a high percentage of your cases, you can include some numbers.

Bond with the reader
Now that you have marketed yourself to your future employer, it’s nice if they have something in common with you. In my opinion, it’s okay to include sports teams you were on in college, sororities or frats you were in, or other extra-curricular activities. I’ve met a lot of people over the years who told me that their interview took off when they got off the subject of law, and started to talk about their shared interest in tennis or football, or whatever they had in common.

Should you also include an interests section? If you have finished the New York marathon, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (I actually had a student who did), or you are on the board of a charity, that’s great. If you just write “enjoy travel and movies,” I would skip it. Save the space for when you need to write a new description of your next big job.

Hillary Mantis is a career consultant who works with pre-law students, law students and lawyers. She is the author of Alternative Careers for Lawyers. You can write to Hillary at