Curating a showstopping CV – advice for freelance lawyers and paralegals

Your CV – 3 ways to make your CV be the best

We were delighted to host our first “Move the Needle” event for our Obelisk Consultant Community in February, sharing tips and advice to help our consultants present their best possible CVs to prospective legal clients. Here are some of the insights we had to share.

So that your CV looks at its best…

Consultants often ask if they should include a photo or headshot in a CV. Our advice is to save this for your LinkedIn profile, for two reasons. Firstly, these days CVs are often read by machines as well as humans, due to the rise in automated recruitment. A headshot uses up valuable space on the page, yet contributes nothing in an automated process. Secondly, whilst in some industries a more creative design may be appropriate, for legal clients we strongly recommend a traditional format for your CV, following these golden rules:

– Have plenty of white space on the page
– Don’t fill more than two A4 pages, three maximum
– Use a simple, sans serif font and don’t use font that is smaller than 11pt
– Use headings and italics in moderation to call attention to key points
– Avoid images, photographs, panels or other design elements that distract the reader from your skills and experience.

So that your CV reads at its best…

Clients are typically time-poor, that’s why they’re looking for extra help. To stand out from the crowd, it’s important to create a CV that is easy to read and puts the information they are looking for front and centre.

A showstopping CV will include an executive summary that showcases your expertise, show a little bit of your personality, your key qualifications and shares what you are looking for in your career.

Including keywords relevant to your practice area is essential. Both machine and human readers will look for keywords related to:
– Documentation suites that you use in your practice area, for example JCT for construction lawyers
– Software that you may have to use, for example One Trust for data privacy compliance
– Courts or other third-parties that you might have to work with, for example ACAS for employment lawyers
– Practice-area specific terminology, eg NDAs for commercial lawyers
– Evidence of multinational experience
– Key stakeholders that you might have to work with, such as C-suite executives or commercial teams.

We always recommend presenting your career history in reverse chronological order, giving most attention to your most recent roles and making sure you highlight two or three major achievements for each role. If you’re at the start of your career, you will have less roles to include. That’s fine, employers expect this, so if you are getting started as a paralegal, include relevant non-legal work experience that shows you have transferrable skills or your qualities as an individual.

So that your CV presents you at your best…

A showstopping CV will focus on achievements and show your reader relevant experience and expertise, without overwhelming them. If you have taken career breaks or time away from the law, include these with the relevant dates and a brief description (you can find more CV advice for legal returners here).

If you have lots of previous roles to talk about, or have done lots of short roles with gaps in between, make it easy for the reader to understand this by grouping roles together within a period of time. For example, you may group the early roles in your career. Or you may have an entry labelled “Freelance legal consultant, March 2019 to present”, where you highlight different projects and achievements from a number of roles.

Remember, the aim of the CV is to secure you a meeting with the client. You’ll then have an opportunity to expand on your experience in detail in conversation. Be prepared to tailor your CV to help you win specific briefs if you need to. You can also supplement the information on your CV by investing some time and effort in your LinkedIn profile , where you can share articles, posts and comments that showcase your expertise and interests in more detail.

In conclusion

Investing time and effort in keeping your CV fresh and relevant will pay dividends, whether you’re established in your career or just starting out. Block out time to update your CV at the end of every project, so that it shows future clients just how amazing you are!

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