At Obelisk Support, we receive CVs of returning lawyers regularly, most of them accompanied by notes explaining why they took a career break. Whether it’s to have a family, to join family postings overseas or for health reasons, these lawyers come back to the law with a fresh perspective on their professional career and a desire to succeed. Our recruiting team reads all of them and after reviewing them, arranges individual interviews to learn about applicants who want to become legal consultants with us. Based on our recruiting team’s experience, the CV tips below are guidelines to help returners show future employers that they are the right person for the job.
#1 Proofread your CV for typos and jargon
This may sound obvious, but basic mistakes can prevent you getting to interview stage. Fine tuning a CV starts with checking it for spelling mistakes, including typos in company names.
- Avoid shortcuts: acronyms or shortened names are not always obvious to everybody and might even cast a negative light on your CV if the reader needs to research their meaning. Use full names for companies, diplomas and professional accreditations.
- Get to the point: when looking for lawyers to fill a particular position, our recruiting team likes to spot their expertise and skills clearly on a CV. Reading through paragraphs of waffly, flowery language or corporate jargon is time-consuming and confusing. Make sure your CV is honest and factual.
#2 Explain your career break
Life happens and career breaks are quite common. They are nothing to be ashamed of. No matter what you have been doing, explain the reasons for your career break and most importantly, what you have learnt during your time away from the law.
What have you learnt? During your career break, you’re bound to have picked up useful transferable skills without even realising it. Brought up a family? You’ll have great budgeting and timekeeping skills, as well as be able to handle responsibility. Gone travelling? You’ll have learnt about other cultures and maybe even picked up a new language. Taken over your family business? You’ll have learnt a lot about running a company and how legal fits into the grand scheme of things.
- Explain any gaps. The following are good examples.
- A career break for childcare and for a posting to Singapore with my husband.
- Management role in my family’s entrepreneurial manufacturing company.
- Brought up my two children, lived in America for my husband’s job.
- Set up a business in Ecuador, teaching legal English.
- Traveled in South East Asia volunteering for nature conservation programmes.
#3 Sell yourself
It’s not easy to sell yourself with confidence when you’ve been out of the workforce for an extended period. However, you need to learn to sell yourself so you can win that role and get back to the law.
- Be a peacock! But be an honest peacock. Make sure that you can back any claim you make on paper with facts. Even if you don’t meet all the criteria of the job advert, you should feel confident that you can learn new skills on the job and still apply. Go ahead and be daring. Nobody can blame you for not knowing everything. With your solid training, you are able to look up answers to any questions once you get started. Let’s say it one more time: don’t under-value yourself.
- Tailor your CV. When applying for any role, the employer will be looking for a specific set of skills. If you can tailor your CV to the role you’re applying for, you are increasing your chances to succeed. It helps to be creative too. If an experience is relevant to the future job, prospective employers want to hear about it. An award you’ve won for volunteering or an online certificate you’ve just completed can say a lot on your ability to fit with the company’s culture.
#4 First impressions matter
Quite literally, the first look at your CV will decide whether or not the reader carries on. On average, recruiters spend six seconds reviewing individual CVs. If the company you are applying for uses machine-reading tools for CVs, review time will be even shorter. Hence the importance of placing the right words in the right places.
- Top is best. The top of your CV, like the top of your LinkedIn profile, is prime real estate to sell yourself. More specifically, it is where employers will look first (sometimes the only place they’ll look) so make sure the keywords and phrases from their job advert jump out at them from the top of the page.
- Learn about keywords. In a nutshell, keywords are magic keys that can unlock any recruitment or matching process. Keywords let the employer know that you are qualified for the job. If you are not sure what keywords should be on your CV, look at the job description. If a company is looking for a finance lawyer with capital markets experience, these very words need to feature high on your CV. A simple LinkedIn search for the position you are applying for can yield all the necessary keywords you need on your resume. Obviously and as pointed out earlier, make sure you can back any claims you make on paper. If you apply for a commercial role at a FinTech company, expect to explain your expertise on financial regulations and e-commerce during the interview.
#5 Keep it short
Some CVs we receive at Obelisk Support can be as long as six or more pages long, including many paragraphs with bullet-point lists of skills, achievements and more. Information overload comes to mind. Keeping your CV short leaves room for in-person explanations during the interview and makes the interviewer’s job easier.
- Two pages. The golden rule is you should keep your CV down to two pages, three pages tops. You don’t need to list all your professional career on a CV, as tempting as it is. Don’t waste precious space on jobs that are completely irrelevant to the post you’re applying for.
- Include figures. While it may be tricky to quantify some of your earlier experiences, including figures in your CV definitely helps prospective employers appreciate your achievements. Here are a few examples:
- Overseeing contract management for 100 companies.
- Advising on and negotiating legal agreements, including sole legal responsibility for EUR 500 million for UK venture capitalist fund.
- Leading a legal team of five in-house lawyers and external consultants with an annual budget of £800,000.
- Advised client on its leveraged acquisition of a family entertainment provider (£450 million, 2012).
Now you are ready to apply and restart your legal career with new goals in mind. You may experience self-doubt at some point and job-hunting might not be all plain sailing, but remember the wise words of Lady Hale: “The main thing is that you simply cannot let it stop you doing what you actually know you really can do, or at least, think you can do. Or, assume you can do it until someone does find you out – why not?”
Indeed, why not? Good luck and believe in yourself!