What should I include on my legal CV?

At Harvey John, we work with talented lawyers at all stages of their careers, from trainees and NQs through to partners and heads of department, and if there’s one task that seems to bring them equally to grief, it’s updating their CVs. We spend a lot of time chasing candidates for their CVs – and we know it’s not a matter of laziness, complacency, or obtuseness that causes the delay – it’s simply a real pain to know what to write.

Part of the difficulty probably lies in our ‘Britishness’ – our reluctance to show off and boast about ourselves and our achievements. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to solve this large cultural tendency with a single article! What I can do, however, is offer you some tips to hopefully make writing your CV a little less daunting. (Are you an NQ? Check out 7 Tips and Tricks for Writing your NQ Legal CV)

Detail, detail, detail

My first and probably most important tip is to be as detailed as possible. This may feel counterintuitive; after all, most of us have gone through life hearing epithets about ‘less being more.’ But while brevity may be the soul of wit, it’s important to go into sufficient detail to ensure that anyone reading your CV gets the full measure of your experience and expertise.

You may have heard your CV shouldn’t be longer than a page, but as long as you’re not repeating yourself, or including lots of irrelevant information, then write as much as you can. Don’t worry if it looks or feels like too much – remember that we’re working with you. We’re going to go through your CV thoroughly before it reaches any firm you’re applying to. If we do think you’ve gone into too much detail, or included something irrelevant, then we’ll cut it down; it’s in our best interest to present you as positively as possible. So why agonise about what you should and shouldn’t include? Give us as much detail about you and your career as possible, and let us be your editors.

Brag and boast

I don’t mean here that you should include a lot of empty adjectives about your dynamism, team-working ability and general excellence. Rather, give concrete examples of any impressive experience. This can include work you’ve done on any particularly high-value or complex transactions. Similarly, describing work you’ve done with high-net-worth clients shows larger firms that you’re capable of dealing with their client base. If you’ve billed a particularly high amount or exceeded your targets, this is also a great detail to include, as it makes you a more attractive proposition to any firm that may wish to hire you. Other information to brag about includes business development and following. If you’ve personally generated any big new clients, be sure you make this clear. If you think they might follow you, then even better.

Highlighting this kind of information on your CV shows how you stand out above other candidates, and is far more effective than what you might traditionally think of as boosting your CV.

Clarity and formatting

It’s important to present this detail and information clearly and with a logical structure. Be sure that we can understand it, so when we’re selling you to the firms we work with, we can get our information right.

However, don’t waste time worrying about any snazzy layouts or formatting. We’ll take the information you give us, and put it into our own neat and professional Harvey John template.

Work with us

Crucially, remember that we’re working with you. You don’t have to get your CV perfect before you send it to us; it’s a collaborative process, and we’re happy to help you get it right. If it’s years since you’ve written a CV and you don’t know what to put, then ask our advice! If you’ve got a draft and you’re not sure if it’s any good, send us what you have and we can help you get it where it needs to be.

It’s also important to note that your CV is not the be-all and end-all. Rather than solely basing our impression of you on a few sides of A4, we’ll take the time to have a conversation with you, understand your experience and motivations, and form a rounded picture of you. When we put you forward to the firms we work with, we’ll talk them through your profile, passing this detailed and personal insight on to them. (If you want to meet us in person, then even better! Check out our blog “Meeting a recruiter is worth your time and here’s why…“)

Hopefully, these tips make the prospect of writing or updating your CV a little less daunting – but if you still have questions, then get in touch with us at Harvey John! Our legal recruitment team are expert in getting your CV just right.

Hayley Rose is a Director in the Legal Division at Harvey John.

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