Dumbing Down Your (Legal) Resume

So the question of whether to dumb down your resume came up on the Career Track chat on washingtonpost.com. Specifically, the question was whether to leave off advanced degrees.

Here’s the short version of the debate:

I was having trouble getting a job and so began leaving off my MA thinking that employers would think I’m too young to have one (I was 23). Long story short, after doing so I received 5 offers for interviews and got a job. Few months later I told my boss about that casually and he laughed and told me I never would have been hired if he knew because he would have thought I’d want too much money. Unfortunately our society punishes very educated individuals sometimes.

When you are transitioning as a lawyer to nearly any other career field, you’re going to have to tackle this beast: Employers fear that you’ll want too much money, simply because you have a JD. I definitely ran up against this. It is now easier to at least get some interviews, now that I am four jobs deep in publishing—I’ve been out of law practice so long, even the more clueless employers probably figure I can’t easily go back to practicing law.

But boy, I wish I could have figured out a good way to leave off that JD when I was transitioning out of law. Even with functional resumes, which I think are a must for career changers, there’s going to be this three-year gap between college and your first real job (assuming you went full-time to law school. If you went at night, it would be much easier to leave off the JD). I suppose if you listed summer jobs during those years, it might not catch a hiring manager’s eye.

[To digress: that’s the weird thing about resume reviews. On the one hand, all the “experts” say that potential employers only spend 60 seconds, max, looking at a resume. And yet, a tiny typo toward the bottom of the page is supposedly the kiss of death. The truth is somewhere in between.]

One strategy I did use with some success is to include a professional summary at the top, emphasizing things like analytic skills, strategic thinking, quick learner, etc. Next, I had a section called “Representative Achievements,” which discussed results and specific projects, not job titles. So something boring to other attorneys, like supervising a document review, was retooled into “Supervised team of attorneys and paralegals to review 100+ boxes of documents in three months, coming in before deadline and under budget.” Definitely corporate-speak, but much better than legal-speak for job-hunting purposes.

Anyone else with some good ways to emphasize transferable skills and downplay degrees? Please post in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.

4 thoughts on “Dumbing Down Your (Legal) Resume

  1. Emphasize skills that transfer to the functional areas that you will need at your new job. For example, the document review project could arguably be framed under project management and team building. To do this, think about where you want to land. Are you interested in human resources? Emphasize work that you did for associate development, summer associates’ programs, your work in mentoring, etc. Mark Hovind’s concept of the value proposition can also help. Attorneys save and make people money. They mitigate risk. How have you done that for your firm/company? If you emphasize transferrable skill sets and concentrate on your “value proposition” you will be ahead of the game. Many professional resume writers trying to help lawyers to make the transition are not even able to do this.

  2. My resume mentions that I’ve had legal experience for 19 years, but I feel this is hurting my career change because prospective employers probably feel I will demand higher pay or that I am “over-qualified for the job”, which is just another phrase for saying we don’t want to hire you because you’re too old. What should I do? Thanks

  3. Pingback: Resume Confidential » Blog Archive » Resume Integrity – The Truth and Consequences of Dumbing Down Your Resume

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