Too many applicants see their resume as an item to check off the list in preparing their law school application. Don’t be one of them! Here are top ten DO's and DON'Ts for polishing your resume to a brilliant shine.
1. Put contact information at the top.
Make sure that your mailing address is current and that your email address is a respectable one (I’m talking to you, firstname.lastname@example.org).
2. Emphasize your educational achievement.
You are applying to an academic institution, so your education, including degrees, activities, honors and achievements, should be listed first (after your contact information).
3. Format clearly and consistently.
Use a template if you need to ensure consistent formatting with bullets, margins and styles.
4. Keep it under one page.
Do NOT describe every activity and job in lengthy detail. Use your bullets and write punchy, pithy but substantive descriptions. I can only think of very few instances when your resume should be any longer than one page.
As the French philosopher Pascal wrote, “I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it short.” You have the time, so use it to edit.
5. Be mindful of tenses.
Describe prior experience in the past tense and current activities in the present tense. Be consistent with this and use precise dates for all schooling, work and activities.
6. Highlight goal-aligned experiences.
Emphasize the experience and activities that are germane to your stated academic and professional goals. If you want to be a legal historian, don’t bury your PhD in American History. If you are applying for a human rights scholarship, highlight your academic coursework and summer internships that demonstrate that this is a valid interest and not just a bald grab for free money.
7. Include leadership, scholarships, and honors.
Use bullets to highlight your leadership capabilities and concrete successes. List all those scholarships and honors and toot your own horn. This is the place for it.
8. Don’t be shy to list your non-prestigious work experience.
If you hashed at the school dining hall, ran a dog-walking business or waited tables to get through college, list it. Be proud of what you have done to support yourself. But you don’t need to spend a paragraph describing your waitressing (or poop-scooping) duties.
9. Keep it current and avoid the obvious.
Don’t list anything from high school (yes, that includes your exalted graduation from the Dalton School) unless it involved the Olympics or another world championship. Seriously. And don’t include any skills that are presumed of a person of relative competence in the 21st century (MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel).
10. List your interests.
Again, so long as they are respectable. These make you human - if you love playing your harp, running half marathons and raising rescue pups, let the people know! But do it briefly as a final line on the resume.