As law firm libraries are being downsized, virtualized or distributed across practices, law firm librarians are rolling with the changes. Legal information professionals are finding opportunities across a variety of library settings, not only firms but law schools, government agencies, courts and the legal departments of businesses and associations.
But these jobs can be competitive, and candidates searching for a new legal research position must stand out from the crowd. One way to do that is with a killer resume that both showcases your professional qualifications and catches the eye of the reader—whether they’re a recruiter or hiring manager. During my years as a recruiter for librarians, I’ve seen many resumes, good and bad. I’d like to share some tips for ensuring that your resume presents you in the best possible light.
Focus on work accomplishments
I’ve seen many job seekers make the mistake of focusing on their skills and behaviors rather than their accomplishments and work. Unless you’re right out of school, you should be highlighting what you’ve actually done in a position, using objective measurements as indicators of your success. To a potential employer, the best predictor of your future success is your past performance.
Here’s a simple example that demonstrates the difference between a skills-focused statement and one that highlights an accomplishment:
- Skill-oriented: Possesses excellent oral and written communication abilities
- Accomplishment-oriented: Applied communication abilities to deliver a legal conference presentation that received a 5/5 quality rating from attendees
It’s one thing to know how to do something (a skill). It’s another to show how you turned that skill into a tangible accomplishment that provided value to another employer.
If you lack specific law firm or other legal experience, it’s important to translate your accomplishments from other settings. For example, perhaps you’ve gained subject matter experience in a topic or industry that would be highly valued to a law firm with clients or a practice area in need of that knowledge.
Be concise and relevant to legal employer needs
Your resume should quickly and convincingly tell the employer why you are a suitable match for the job. Avoid the mistaken belief that the more details you include, the more impressive you appear. Remember that a recruiter or hiring manager may just scan your resume, and what they’re looking for is only the pertinent information that is most compelling and relevant to the job requirements.
Does this mean that you need to customize your resume for each position that you apply for? Absolutely. A legal librarian position in a private practice will be different than one in Big Law or a government agency or inside counsel office or court. It’s up to you to tailor your resume to the requirements listed in the job description. Again, include only what’s essential and relevant—potential employers don’t want to know about your marital status or religious affiliations; however, they do want to know if you’re familiar with the legal technologies they use within the firm, such as applications for knowledge management or content management. As for volunteer activities, only include them if they are somehow related to law and legal matters, or to the firm directly. For example, you may discover that the firm supports the same cause you do, which could be an interesting tie-in.
Stick to simple formatting
For most legal library positions, your resume will be initially screened by either an applicant tracking systems (ATS) or a recruiter or HR staff. While tracking systems have improved dramatically in their ability to scan and parse resumes, it is still possible for your resume to get rejected before it even gets a chance, simply because the ATS can’t read it.
To help your resume make that important first cut, consider these pointers for maximum readability by both recruiters and ATS technology:
- Be very selective about using pre-formatted templates, such as those provided by Microsoft Word, or avoid them altogether. Yes, they look great, but all that formatting will confuse an ATS and could annoy a recruiter.
- Stick to conventional fonts and standard bullet points like circles or dashes.
- Avoid graphics, images, tables, columns and text boxes. Again, they look good, but they could possibly get mangled, by the system. Remember the legal industry in particular is accustomed to plain text.
- Use standard section headings, such as “Experience,” “Work History” and “Education.”
- List everything chronologically and use the same order for information like company name, dates of employment and position title.
Think about legal keywords
Both an ATS and a human recruiter or hiring manager will be looking for certain keywords in your resume. Keywords can be nouns or short phrases describing skills, abilities, knowledge, education, training and work experience. You can include a separate “Skills” section where you cover certain keywords, but it’s better to incorporate keywords and industry terminology organically in your text—and make sure you include all legal systems and technologies you’ve used, such as LexisNexis, Westlaw and Bloomberg—especially those that are in the job description.
You can usually glean the keywords from the job description, but you can also add keywords based on your knowledge of what’s important to employers of legal librarians. If you’re working with a recruiter for a library position, your recruiter can also provide guidance into which keywords will have an impact.
Should you include a cover letter?
I can’t think of a more debated question in recruiting today than whether a cover letter is still needed. I can tell you that most recruiters don’t bother reading cover letters—they want to get straight to the resume to determine whether the qualifications are a fit for the client’s position. However, hiring managers do read cover letters. If you’re not working with a recruiter, then I’d recommend writing a customized cover letter for each position you’re applying for. It can’t hurt, and it could help. If you’re working exclusively with a recruiter, that person will be presenting your best qualifications to the client, so a cover letter is not necessary.
My final bit of advice is to spend the time to thoroughly proofread your resume. As a legal information professional, you know the importance of accuracy in everything you do, so I probably don’t need to belabor this point. But I will say that it still surprises me to receive resumes with grammatical errors and typos. Don’t rely on the word processing app you’re using—do the final check yourself and even have someone else read it for you as well.
If you’re currently looking for a new library position, I encourage you to monitor our job board for the latest openings. Currently, we’re recruiting for these law library opportunities:
- Experienced Law Librarian for a part time role with a federal agency in Alexandria, VA.
- Legal Research Analyst to provide weekend coverage to our clients. Virtual/remote.
- Qualified librarians and researchers who would be interested in relocating to the San Francisco area for full-time positions.