January 23, 2024
2024 Legal Resume Best Practices and Trends
The average growth rate for all occupations is 5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For lawyers, it’s double the average, at 10% through 2031. When it comes to paralegals and legal assistants, the job outlook is even stronger, with 14% growth expected through 2031. That’s great news for recent graduates, young professionals, and those interested in a legal career.
With plenty of opportunities for career growth, now is an ideal time to be sure you make a strong first impression with prospective employers. Your resume is likely their first impression of you, and you don’t get much time to make it; 40% of hiring managers spend less than a minute reviewing a resume. With that in mind, how can you stand out in a crowded talent pool? Consider these emerging resume trends, and a few tried-and-true best practices, when beginning your job search.
Best Practice #1: Format Your Resume Correctly
When it comes to legal resumes, you want to get noticed—in a good way. While formats differ across industries, the legal profession leans toward a clean, well-organized layout. Still, simple doesn’t have to be boring. Your format can lend itself to a subtle sophistication with the right components. Resume trends show an increase in graphic elements, such as a chart or table, that summarize qualifications. We recommend using the standard resume format over Curriculum Vitae (CV), but if you’re a recent graduate with more academic accomplishments than work experience, a CV is also permissible.
Best Practice #2: Count Your Words
Resume length is arguably one of the most discussed trends among job seekers and hiring managers. While this is good news for those with a long career history, keep in mind the attention span of your audience. As a reference point, the average resume is just under 500 words long and single-page resumes should have no more than 380 words. While the traditional single-page rule is slightly outdated, you should stick to it if you have fewer than 10 years of experience or if you’re able to convey your career history and accomplishments without crowding the space. Keep in mind that font size matters—anything smaller than 11 pt. will be difficult to read.
Also, don’t be afraid of white space. An overly crowded resume can be difficult for hiring managers to skim. Your resume should tell a condensed, but compelling, story of your professional history. Make quick work for prospective employers by highlighting the most important elements. Remember that every detail should count. If it’s unrelated to the job for which you’re applying, leave it out. When it comes to voice, stick to first person, but avoid using personal pronouns.
Best Practice #3: Choose an Appropriate File Name and Type
The last thing most job seekers think about is the file name of their resume. That needs to change. The sheer number of resumes sent via email to a law firm makes them difficult to organize and track. Anything you can do to make their job easier will help to make your resume stand out. Consider how a hiring manager might organize all the resume documents received. File names such as “2022 Resume” or, worse, a long string of characters and numbers, only make it more difficult to tell your file apart from others. Instead, create a file naming convention that will likely make sense to the recipient. Include the name of the law firm, your last name, and the date: Lawfirm_Lastname_2-15-22. That way, the recipient can gather necessary information before even opening the file.
And remember to double check the file type(s) requested by a prospective employer. A surprising 43% of resumes are submitted in an incompatible file type. When in doubt, send a word doc as well as a PDF.
Best Practice #4: Consider Strong Keywords
A LiveCareer study found a significant gap between the number of skills listed in job postings (21) and those listed in resumes (13). While you don’t want to “stuff” your resume with too many buzzwords, including a few well-placed keywords helps to illustrate your knowledge of the industry. And considering that about 75% of large companies rely on an applicant tracking system (ATS) to sort, scan and rank resumes, including the right keywords can help your resume make it past ATS software. Just as you customize each cover letter for the appropriate company, you should also pepper your resume and cover letter with language used in the job posting to which you’re applying. This will help convey that your experience and skills are a strong match for the requirements and qualifications listed.
Best Practice #5: Before You Hit ‘Send’
It’s worth noting that there is one particular resume requirement that hasn’t changed in decades. About 80% of hiring managers list spelling and grammatical errors as a top deal-breaker when evaluating a candidate’s resume. It’s critical that you have a second—and even a third—pair of eyes look over your resume to ensure you’ve not missed anything. Even the most careful editors and those with strong written communication skills can miss a typo after looking at the same document over and over again. There is a science behind this theory—our minds read what we want to see, not what’s actually there. Bringing in a proofreader is not a sign of weakness but a sign of intelligence.
Trend #1: A Rise in Soft Skills
Along with hard skills you want to highlight, remember that soft skills, including problem solving, communication, time management, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence are what will likely set you apart from your competition. You may not think they’re as critical, but they’re more important than ever, thanks to hybrid and remote work environments. Key soft skills in the workplace are at the top of many recruiters’ current wish lists. Not only that, but HR pros cited a lack of soft skills as the leading cause of recruitment struggles in a recent SHRM study.
Trend #2: Additional Resume Sections
In addition to the standard sections on your resume, the majority (68%) of job seekers include at least one additional section on their resume to paint a fuller picture of their career and help them stand out among candidates. A few to consider: languages, additional activities, certificates, software, licenses, publications, awards, and volunteer work.
Trend-Turned Best Practice: Virtual Recruiting
More than 90% of employers and nearly eight in 10 recruiters use LinkedIn regularly, so if you’re serious about finding your next position, make sure your profile is up-to-date. Upload a clear, professional photo to your bio and be sure your profile accurately reflects the skills, experience, and roles listen on your resume. Last year, 50% of hiring managers used LinkedIn skills data to fill roles, so be sure not to leave anything out. And keep in mind that over half of employers have rejected candidates based on what they see on their social media profiles, so keep it professional. Spend time on the platform reading content, networking with industry peers, and following influencers. More than 58 million companies have a presence on LinkedIn, so there is no shortage of potential employers to check out, and many of them have Careers pages where you can find open positions and learn about company culture.
Finding the right position can be stressful and time consuming. If you’re searching for the perfect career opportunity in the legal industry, JurisTemps can help. We’ve been serving St. Louis’ legal community for more than 20 years. Our long-time relationships with St. Louis-based law firms and enterprise companies can give you an edge on the competition. If you’re serious about making the right career moves, we’re serious about helping you find and successfully apply for your next position. Contact us today—we look forward to assisting you!