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Podcast Episode Building Best Resume

Building the Best Law School Application Resume

Resumes To Get You Accepted

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You’ve done your research and you’ve come up with the list of schools you’re applying to. Now you’re working on your applications and your resume. In this show, admissions deans and authors/consultants give you solid advice on putting together your law school application resume. This resume should be different from the resume you’ll use to apply for jobs. Our guests explain how they’re different, what admissions committees look for, what catches their eye and what is an immediate red flag.  They also address nuances in your resume such as writing style, format, what categories to include, and what not to include. Don’t send your resume without listening to this show!

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Guests include:

  • Bill Hoye, Associate Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs, Duke Law School
  • Rita Jones, Assistant Dean, Admissions & Financial Aid, Boston College Law School
  • Richard Montauk, admissions consultant and author of How to Get Into the Top Law Schools
  • Ann Levine, admissions consultant and author of The Law School Admission Game: Play Like an Expert

Transcription:

Welcome to Law School Podcaster, your source for inside information and advice on the Law School application process.  I’m Diana Jordan.

You’ve done your research and you’ve made a short list of schools you’re applying to.  Now you’re working on your applications.  You’ve sweated over your personal statement, your transcripts, recommendations and LSAT scores are on their way or ready to go.  What’s left? Your résumé.  In this podcast, two law school admissions deans and two authors and consultants give you solid advice on putting together your law school application résumé.  This law school résumé will likely be different from the résumé you’re using to apply for jobs.  Our guests explain how these types of résumés differ, they tell us what the admissions committee members who review your résumé are looking for and they’ll address writing style, format and what to include.  We’ll also hear what can be an immediate red flag.

Ann Levine is an admissions consultant and the author of The Law School Admission Game:  Play Like an Expert. “If I’m evaluating a file, the first thing I turn to is the résumé to get an overview of who you are.”  We also speak with admissions consultant Richard Montauk, author of  How to Get into The  Top Law Schools.  Also on our show are Rita Jones, Assistant Dean, Admissions and Financial Aid at Boston College Law School and Bill Hoye, Associate Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs at Duke Law School.

The résumé is often the first document the admissions deans will pluck from the candidate’s file and, while they spend no more than a minute examining it, the résumé outlines the trajectory of the candidate’s education and experience – sparkles with highlights that may not show up anywhere else in the application package and the résumé is often referenced several times throughout the process as the admissions committee looks at the rest of the documents in your file.

Keep in mind that you will be submitting a résumé for law school — not for a job.  Dean Hoye of Duke Law School tells us that you may not be submitting the right type of résumé to the law school.  “In my experience, we sometimes see candidates submitting a résumé that seems most appropriate for finding a job and then leave off information that we really would find helpful in making a decision about law school admission.  So for instance, someone who is looking for a job might put together a résumé that provides a lot of detailed information about their skills in a particular industry and might use even language, jargon language, that only those that are in that industry might really understand and leave off a lot of good information that we would want to know about how that particular individual operates within an academic environment because that’s typically not something the employers might like to see.  That’s a missed opportunity.  That might be great for finding a job but it’s really not what we’re looking for.”

Business résumés and résumés for your law school application differ, agrees author and consultant Ann Levine.  “The point of the résumé in a law school application is to really share how you’ve spent your time basically since graduating from high school, for most applicants.  It’s really important to describe activities and the time involvement in activities so I’m less concerned with making sure it’s a one-page résumé than I am with making sure you’re really communicating your experience to a law school.”

Rita Jones is the Assistant Dean, Admissions and Financial Aid at Boston College Law School.  According to Dean Jones, a résumé is a summary of a person’s employment history and a listing of a person’s education qualifications and other related activities.  “The difference to me comes in how and where the emphasis is placed.  Business résumés focus on a demonstration of employment-based skills and achievements and are generally preceded by a cover letter.  A law school application résumé, on the other hand, focuses on these factors as well, but also includes expanded information about education, volunteer experiences, research, honors and awards, interests and hobbies – that sort of thing.”

Dean Jones explains that the résumé provides background information in a clear and organized way.  It can include information not provided elsewhere in the file.  It’s also an example of a candidate being concise in getting one’s point across, says Dean Jones.  “I think a résumé should give the reader and anyone on the admissions committee greater knowledge of an applicant’s experience and potential to succeed in law school.  For example, a résumé could reflect one’s level of responsibility, motivation and success in a particular endeavor.  These are attributes that I think are transferable to law studies.  In a way, it expands on the profile.”

So a strong, clear résumé is important.  Let’s get started and build your résumé.  Richard Montauk is the author of How to Get Into the Top Law Schools.  He says résumés are a strong tool for admissions committees and yet they don’t spend a lot of time with them.  “Law school admissions people are likely to spend maybe 15, maybe 30 seconds looking at your résumé.  This means that you should of course have just one page.”

Consultant Ann Levine is the author of The Law School Admission Game:  Play Like an Expert.  She tells us that the length of your résumé depends on your experience.  “For example, someone with 25 years of experience in law enforcement or whatever is going to have a much different résumé than someone who’s a year out of school.  Most people who are a year or two out of college don’t need a two-page résumé but if someone’s been president of  ten student organizations and all of this, then they might need a two-page résumé.  But I would say it’s almost never that I say to someone that they need a three-page résumé.  In cases where someone has twenty years of work experience, a great deal of that work experience is usually in the same industry and can be summarized.  You wouldn’t need, for example, to have repetitive bullet points under 3 different job descriptions to describe what a human resources professional does.  So, I would say one to two pages is ideal.  There’s only one law school in the country that I know of that requires only a one-page résumé.  For most people, two pages is fine, if they’re using the space properly.  If it’s all white space, then it’s a waste, but two pages is usually okay.”

The deans who will read these résumés generally concur.  However, there are nuanced differences between schools.  Bill Hoye is the Associate Dean, Admissions and Student Affairs at Duke Law.  “At Duke Law School, we don’t have any particular requirement on length but it certainly can be longer than one page.  And that’s of course sometimes the mistake that candidates make as they assume that that’s what you hear employers want — is just one page — but we think sometimes going beyond that is really appropriate, depending on the kind of involvement that the candidate has had, the kind of work experience that she has had – for instance, before coming to law school.  Annotating a résumé will take up some space so it’s perfectly appropriate to do a couple of pages; two or three pages.  The actual structure, I’m typically not too worried about, as long as it’s very clear and easy to read.  I think it’s always good to avoid making a very pretty design that might get in the way of readability so just a pretty straightforward format is the best.  I think it’s best to stay away from the functional type of résumés that sometimes job seekers are using, particularly those that might not have a lot of work experience yet.  I tend to prefer chronological résumés when detailing involvement and school or work experience because it’s just easier to grasp the full context of the student’s experience when reading them.”

Brainstorm everything you’ve ever done when you begin building your résumé.  List your activities, education and achievements in reverse chronological order, says law school consultant Ann Levine.  “Anything you’re still doing for the present should be listed before anything you finished doing last summer.  That’s really important in terms of organizing your résumé within each heading.  Within education, your graduating institution should be first.  Within experience, your most recent job should be first.  Within activities, your most recent activity should be first, even if you were president of something else.  So, let’s address that.  If that’s going to mean that being president of something is buried third in your activities list, you might want to think about breaking up separate headings – one for leadership and one for activities.  These are some other ways you can really be creative in how you present yourself on your résumé while still being accurate.”

And think about what distinguishes you and what would be an appropriate heading.  Let’s break it down.  “If you’re getting started with an outline on your résumé, the easiest way is just to start putting in the basic headings.  Start with education.  List the schools you’ve attended.  Think about what you did at each of those schools.  What was your degree? What was your major? What were your grades? What honors, what activities? Were you a research assistant? Were you a TA? Just think about everything you’ve done and when you’re brainstorming and outlining your résumé, include absolutely everything you can think of, under each school you attended.  Same with experience, if you have two different career paths you’ve had, it’s okay to separate it out – one for teaching and one for journalism, but write everything down.  For your jobs, you should write down your title, the company, the location of the company, the dates you were there.  If you were working while you were in school, absolutely include the number of hours you were working a week.  It helps put all of your achievements in context.  Financial responsibility and self-reliance are really important to emphasize.  It’s that part of what your résumé represents, and your descriptions should emphasize that.  You should also have sections for activities if that applies to you; community service if that applies to you; significant hobbies if that applies to you; skills, language abilities are really important to emphasize.  If you have other skills or other achievements, whether they’re athletics, this is all fair game because you want to show you’re a well-rounded person.  Those are some basic sections you can start with.  Make sure that you don’t include high school.  It’s very rare that I have an exception for that rule that’s worth including, so start with high school graduation.  Think of everything you did after that and that’s what should be included.”

Ann Levine says for most people education should come first on the résumé.  “In most cases, if I’m evaluating a file the first thing I turn to is the résumé to get an overview of who you are. What were your grades? What activities have you done? What have you been involved with? What is your career experience? I want to look at your résumé and immediately know,  is this someone who’s applying with a ton of work experience? Is this someone who put himself through school? Is this someone who is involved on campus? Is this someone who is a community service person or an advocate? I want to know that from your résumé.  So put the headings in a way that will let me know that right up front.”

Richard Montauk explains some of the finer points to building your résumé.  “For jobs that you want to describe in detail, consider separating out the responsibilities from the achievements.  Responsibilities can be put into an introductory paragraph form and then your achievements can be listed as separate bullet points.  Be sure to make your résumé as up to date as possible.  Law schools tend to be very curious about what you have done most recently.  Without information about what you’re doing at the moment, they are likely to assume you’re doing something quite feckless, if not worse.  The space devoted to the topic should of course reflect its importance.”

At Duke, students are entrepreneurial in the way they approach law school.  Dean Hoye wants to see that in the résumé.  We, in the admissions process, are looking for students who demonstrate that kind of approach – meaning that they are creative.  They’re innovative.  They really recognize an opportunity when it comes in front of them and they grab for it.  They’re ambitious in the best sense of the word.  We’re looking for those kinds of factors, some evidence of this kind of approach in the entire application so we might get it in the letters of recommendations, for instance.  We’ll certainly perhaps get a sense of it from what the candidate talks about in the personal statement, but we’d really like to see a résumé as well, that really demonstrates significant accomplishments in things that the applicant cares about.”

According to Dean Hoye, you may not be proud of everything you’ve done but it might behoove you to include the information anyway.  “Avoid leaving things out that you might think are uninteresting.  For instance, we fully understand that many college students need to work while they’re on school to earn money for tuition and living expenses.  That’s just a fact.  We know that happens, but leaving that off is a mistake because a job, even if it seems uninteresting takes a lot of time – time away from studies.  Again, if you leave that off, we don’t have a full context of how you spend your time and if you include it, then we will understand the accomplishments that you’ve had academically and all the other things that you’ve managed to do are even more impressive given the kind of responsibilities you had to work and to earn money.  Be certain that that gets on the résumé even if a job in the dining hall doesn’t sound all that interesting.  It’s important for us to know that kind of information”.

List any honors projects or thesis in the academic part of your résumé and be specific, Dean Hoye says.  Detail the prize and how you were selected.  He says the law school also wants to know what the candidate cares about.  “ I think one mistake that sometimes an applicant might make is to assume that the longer résumé is necessarily going to be more impressive, meaning, “Gosh, if I just join every club that’s available, list them all out, then that will look really good. That’s not really necessarily the case because what impresses I think many law schools seems some sustained engagement in a particular activity or activities- – whether there are some connections between them that suggest that you’ve discovered something that you care about that is meaningful to you, that you feel that you’ve been able to contribute towards.  That gives us a good clue that this is someone who will continue that kind of approach in that level of engagement while in law school and because of that kind of activity, you’ll be someone who’ll be fun to have as a classmate and someone who’ll be really fun to teach and will really elevate the environment of the school just based on the passions that you demonstrate.”

Duke requires a résumé.  Not all schools do but Dean Hoye says it’s a good idea to send one anyway.  Some admissions committees are noticing a new trend in résumés.  Dean Jones, among others, is seeing that candidates are picking up on the opportunity they have to use pieces of information in the résumé to communicate that they are well-rounded.  “I really appreciate the candidates who are thoughtful enough and who really say to themselves, ‘Okay, what else do I want people to know?’  We often say that to people who are interested in interviewing.  They always say, ‘If I could put in an interview, if I could talk to you and let you see how much I want to be in law school, it would be great.’  We always say, ‘Well, that should be in your application.’  In a résumé, a candidate can pick up one of those pieces of information that don’t fit anywhere else.  For instance, particular honors or information about the selectivity of a particular award that was received or job position that was attained among 300 or 400 or 500 applicants.  It’s a good opportunity for a candidate to really use the résumé space to put those pieces of information in place in a very clear concise way.  I think candidates are picking up on that.”

You can list your achievements in your résumés, says Dean Jones.  “The ones that stick out the most to me are the ones that do talk about honors or perhaps research that was done and successes in that research, very much like a business résumé.  You don’t want to just list the job.  You want to say what you achieved in that position.  By the same token, if you’ve done particular research, if you’ve had a particular fellowship, you want to talk about what’s been achieved even if you’re listing for instance, works that you’ve done with a fraternity.  If you’re able to talk about offices held, gains, successes working with either your peer group with the fraternity or with the national organization – that makes a difference and that can come out in a résumé because there probably isn’t any other place that that would be brought to light.  That said, you wouldn’t want to include that in the résumé in a lot of detail, if in fact part of your personal statement speaks to that.”

Put your best foot forward in the résumé and demonstrate what you’ve accomplished.  “Sometimes people are a little too humble.  Sometimes in résumés when you read about people – people who have been in the military, people who have done volunteer work, people who have been involved in athletics, university politics – when you see the kinds of successes people have had, they really stand out when you just see one or two lines that tell you pages worth of information about a candidate.  That’s what’s exciting.”

Dean Jones has seen shining examples.  “I think of a few of the veterans of the military who are generally very clear and concise, who have done tremendous work and service to the country and seem to put in about four lines’ -years worth of dedicated work – promotions, service, really valiant efforts.  And I think you could also see that, I know I’ve seen situations where people have done that in working in service areas, really helping people in volunteer ways.  You see it often with candidates who have done Teach for America and they go on and you can tell through the résumé that they’ve advanced rather than just doing a two-year stint.  They stay involved.  And they do it simply by saying how they’re still keeping involved with that while going on with another part of their life.  It lets you see how enriching some people’s experiences are.  They’re not one-dimensional.”

Now that we’ve revealed what goes into a résumé, there are some things to leave out.  There are some glaring mistakes to avoid.  Richard Montauk lists a few.  “They fail to update their résumé.  They include a lot of high school stuff, strongly suggesting that they peaked when they were 17 years old but it’s been downhill ever since.  They have lots of typos, including the tracked changes remaining in the résumé.  They’re poorly organized so you can’t follow their educational and career path.  They’re jammed with detail and as a result, they’re off-putting, causing people who are would-be readers of this simply to skip reading the résumé and go immediately to your file.  People also commonly make the mistake of leaving out things that aren’t “legal”, i.e. what they’re doing is shying away from showing that extra dimension of themselves simply because something may not seem directly applicable to law or law school.  That’s generally a mistake.  Feel free to add additional categories – languages, music, time abroad and so on as appropriate.  This gives a more rounded picture of you which is of definite interest to schools.  Another common mistake – be careful not to show yourself as a hard partying type.  In other words, if you’re a social chair of your fraternity or sorority, it might be good to leave that off.  Don’t include an objective or “references provided upon request.”  Both are implied here.

Dean Jones shares with us some of the other mistakes she sees and she provides some ideas to keep in mind as you fine-tune your résumé.  “I don’t think it should be used anywhere including law school résumés and that is doing things like listing relevant courses or doing a listing of relevant work experience.  That’s separate from the employment history.  We often see that in résumés and I don’t think it’s necessary.  That’s not something that you see in the business résumé and I also think it’s something that you don’t have to see in a law school application résumé.  Things that people should keep in mind is that you need to be organized and concise, still with all we suggest the résumé can contain, I don’t think it needs to be more than a page or two and I don’t know that there needs to be a theme.  You don’t have to structure the résumé for instance to be law-related.”

Dean Jones identifies more red flags to beware of and some of these will be familiar.  “Like the application in general, I think typos, misspellings on the résumé, gaps in employment history.  That’s a tough one.  We would actually consider that a discrepancy.  If there’s a gap in employment you better describe it, explain it; that sort of thing.  And also, sometimes [you need to provide] just minimal substance in the descriptions of position responsibilities, for instance.  Sometimes it’s just such a brief listing that it doesn’t tell you too much more.”

Dean Jones says there are certain things you should avoid altogether when building your résumé.  “One thing I noticed and I can’t speak for everybody in law school admissions but many of us has commented that you really don’t need to list an objective at the beginning of a résumé because the objective often comes through in the personal statement and in most cases, I also don’t think that a law school application résumé needs to include high school events.  I think you will get to a point when you’re applying to law school that you drop off the high school piece.

Ann Levine is even more emphatic about that high school piece.  “The most common mistakes for me on résumés absolutely include – having high school.  I don’t care if you went to a fancy prep school.  In fact, it might even hurt you, to show that you were privileged so, unless you had a full scholarship for that fancy prep school, I don’t want to know anything about it.  In high school if you had 4.0, I don’t care if that’s what got you into college.  You’re applying to law school as an adult so I want to know as an adult what have you accomplished? What have you done on your own? What choices have you made and how did those choices apply into why you’re applying to my law school? Those are really important things to think about when you’re describing your activities and deciding what to include on your résumé.  Some other mistakes are including travel that was all from childhood.  If you’re having a travel section, you want to avoid looking a little bit privileged.  This is about what you’ve done with your choices, with your money, with your time since you’ve been an adult.”

You can mention it in your résumé if you’re a National Merit Scholar, Eagle Scout or any other recognizable, highly regarded accomplishments you had in high school.  Dean Jones says there’s only one reason to include high school activities.  “I don’t think you need to include the activities in high school unless they’re still ongoing.  I do recall an application from a candidate who has been involved with Habitat for Humanity since elementary school and still through college was involved with Habitat for Humanity.  That’s a big deal.  If you demonstrate the consistency over time, I think it’s fine to go back as far as you need to go back with that.”

Dean Hoye also advices to handle your community service and high school experiences with care.  “Some candidates will actually label sections such as service work or community service or leadership opportunities in a chronological way will serve lift out those kinds of activities.  That can be helpful.  I tend not to spend a lot of time with high school accomplishments.  Sometimes we see a résumé filled up with that because there hasn’t been much to talk about in college and that can be less effective.  I think really, it’s better to focus on college work and beyond.

Don’t overdo the information about your study abroad, says Dean Jones.  “I think one’s study abroad experience is probably best to be simply stated.  Again, especially if discussion of that is included elsewhere in the application – either on the personal statement or say from a faculty member who was a part of the study abroad.  I think it can be pretty simple unless the candidate really feels that it was incredibly valuable and important and they want to emphasize it.  But if that were the case, I’d put it in the personal statement.  Many candidates do study abroad and that’s not to diminish the value and the importance of them to all of the students but it’s a matter of simply listing it.  If there’s something really important to talk about, to discuss about it, I think that would come up some place else unless there is a brief listing of perhaps selectivity or perhaps something that was different about that study abroad.”

In terms of community service, Dean Jones says it depends on how long you’ve involved and how involved you’ve been.  “You’ll see an awful lot of listings of some fake community or volunteer service and it might be a few weeks here or a month there and you start adding it up and it doesn’t look tremendously significant.  But if it’s all been related, I think somehow that works into an overall understanding that, here’s someone who has been involved.  So I think it’s important to lay that out but maybe if you’re listing three or four different volunteer experiences you could do either a sentence before or a sentence after saying, ‘In all of these cases, this is what I was responsible for.  This is what I was involved in.  This was the outcome.’”

Dean Jones says don’t ignore the gaps in your résumé.  “Don’t ignore them because that will stick out like a sore thumb.  It’s better to be as complete as possible and to provide any explanation necessary to explain any gap or any other discrepancy.  I think it’s always better to be very upfront.”

One red flag is a résumé that contains very little information.  Dean Hoye says there isn’t any easy fix, as the solution is not to pad it.  If there are gaps in the résumé, explain.  “If the gaps were that one graduated from college and one just hasn’t found a job just yet, I think that’s important just to let us know.  I mean we understand this is not an ideal time to graduate from college and secure employment and yet we find many candidates are using their time effectively with some volunteer works, some community service work, other kinds of things that they find of interest.  Other kinds of gaps, sometimes are created by one had to take some time off because of some family responsibilities.  That’s much more common than anyone might think.  It’s helpful to give us a little bit of information so we know a little bit what was happening during that time period.”

You might be adding items to your law school résumé that you’d never mentioned in a jobs résumé to fill the gaps, according to Richard Montauk.  “Perhaps you can put in what would ordinarily not be a résumé item – i.e. that you were busy prepping for the LSAT or you were spending time travelling or what have you.  In other words, things that might not ordinarily appear in a résumé but for this purpose it could clarify what you’re doing in a useful way.  But keep in mind that big gaps in your résumé are also the sorts of things that may make appropriate topics for an addendum to your application.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at this point, don’t worry.  Rarely does Montauk see a résumé ready to hand in.  “In fact, the average résumé, as far as I can tell, is a bit of a disaster.  There are a lot of reasons for that but most people I guess at 21 or 25 don’t have résumés that are really appropriate for this process, even if in a few cases they might be appropriate for the job application process.  Everything you can do to add value to your résumé in terms of sharpening it, shortening it, making it easier and more appealing to read and so on is worth whatever effort you put in.  In fact, I would say that the most underutilized, undervalued in that way part of the application process is clearly the résumé.”

A résumé is a straightforward exercise – lifting out your accomplishments and the things you care about in a format that’s easy to read and clear.  Don’t make a disaster out of your résumé.  Dean Hoye.  “I would stay away from things like clipart or multicolored kind of presentation or photographs, things of that nature to try to make the résumé stand out.  I think it’s just a good idea to remember that one is applying to a professional school and a profession.  Those kinds of cute kinds of adornments typically don’t work too well either in the résumé or in the personal statement.”

Read your résumé carefully.  Dean Hoye says emphatically.  “You’re entering a school that values precision and certainly a profession that values that as well so make sure that it’s carefully constructed and that there are no typos.  Be certain that you spell check it but don’t rely on spell check.  You really have to go back and read it a couple of times, maybe write it and put it aside for a couple of days and then come back to it.  That’s sometimes easier to pick up any errors.”

You may be finding it difficult to put the full story of who you are in the spaces provided by a law school application, so your résumé is an opportunity to add to your personal story for the admissions committee.  Our experts have provided some good advice to build the best résumé you can.  Candidates should carefully construct the résumés to express their experiences chronologically to highlight those unique gems that set them apart and to fill the gaps while leaving good white space.  Forget about high school.  Double check for typos and keep in mind as you build your résumé that this just might be the first look that the admissions committee will have of you.  Make it count.

For more information, a transcript of the show or to sign up to receive more Law School podcasts visit http://www.lawschoolpodcaster.com.  Look for us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest news and insights into the world of law school.  I’m Diana Jordan with Law School Podcaster.  Thanks for listening.  Stay tuned for more shows as we explore another topic of interest to helpyou succeed in the law school application process and beyond.

Sample Resume of Paul Simpson from Richard Montauk, author of How To Get Into the Top Law Schools

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