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How to write your curriculum vitae – a few tips to law students

September 29, 2012

Curriculum vitae is the most important tool in the life of any student, whether for internships, training, summer jobs or final placement. After 5 years of law school, applying to numerous organisations for internships and undergoing the rigmarole of recruitment process, I have gained some insight into how to write a good cv. In fact, till a few days back, I thought that the ingredients that make a good cv are fairly well-known to all since they are wisdom either handed down by seniors or readily available in the internet. However, when I came across a bunch of cvs of students of different law schools, I realised that the mistakes and their impact on the mind of the prospective employer need to be explained, especially from someone on this side of the fence.

Though aimed at law students, they are general enough to be used for students of other streams.

1. Spelling – You have no idea how many spelling mistakes I spotted in those cvs that I read. If you cannot perform a simple spell-check, you are sending out an idea that the drafts that you will prepare during your internship will also be replete with such mistakes. Not a very good idea, eh?

2. Grammar – Wrong English is another unpardonable mistake, especially since as a future lawyer, you are expected to know how to write correct sentences while drafting agreements, applications, petitions, letters etc etc. The profession of law demands a very good command over English grammar and you will do your own chances harm if you send out covering letters and cvs with such mistakes.

3. Frills, tables, highlights – When I looked at some of the cvs containing information in decorative tabular form with highlights, I wondered whether they knew about the brownie points that you can gain by converting the same into simple bullet points. Avoid excessive, unnecessary frills everywhere. Your contact details can be given in the header in a legible font and your academic qualifications can be expressed in short phrases, eliminating the need for any tables.

4. Length – You may be the super-achiever of your batch, but trust me, however amazing your cv is, no one will be amused to read a cv that is more than 2 pages long. So trim the content and include only the most important ones. Understand that your 3/4 NGO internships may not earn you anything extra if you are applying to a law firm. Similarly, all your corporate internships may not be necessary to be mentioned when you are sending your cv to a foreign university for summer school/LLM. Customise according to the ocassion and you will always have a 2 page cv to show off.

5. Academic Qualifications – Ideally, this should be the first part of your cv since this is what every prospective recruiter wants to look at first. Arrange them in reverse chronological order, since your college education is more important than your high school one. I thought this was the most basic thing about writing a cv till I came across one with the opposite. Always, follow one scheme – either write in order of importance or date; never mix the two in one cv.

6. Past Work Experience – The next highlight of a cv is your past internships. Having been there and done that, I know how a law student’s life revolve around doing as many internships as possible, so that he/she can spice up the cv for the final recruitment. Mention duration along with name of the organisation – a 6 week/4 week internship always carry more weightage than a 2 week one. Next most important point is how to describe what you did during your internships. DO NOT and I repeat, DO NOT be vague. If you write “researched on banking laws” or “conducted due diligence” or “assisted the lawyer in critical aspects of criminal law”, you will either be rejected for internship or jacked big time during the interview.  This is the place to mention how exactly you utilised your time in the internship and people will be happier to know that you “reseached on payment and settlement systems”, “assisted the team in due diligence of an infrastructure company” and “assisted the lawyer during trial of a rape case”. Of course, you cannot bluff here, since you will be expected to be very thorough with every single word that you write in your cv. If you did hundred assignments during an internship, mention the few in which you worked the most and are resonably comfortable with. Better be a master of four assignments than a jack of ten. Also, please note that proofreading documents during an internship does not merit a mention.

7. Academic Achievements – Do not write “topped the batch in Constitutional Law”, instead write “secured the highest marks in Constitutional Law”. Always mention whether E or O is the highest attainable grade in your college. Ideally confine the list of subjects to the ones where you got the top two grades.

8. Publications – Only those which have been published or accepted for publication can be mentioned under this head. No one is interested to know what articles are you currently writing! I noticed that now with the advent of a number of legal blogs, many students put blog posts in their cvs along with url. I can say with some confidence that recruiters usually read the cvs in paper format and will not like to see long urls in blue font spreading over the pages. Online publication is not considered important enough to fill your cv with. A mention that you contribute to so and so blog regularly will suffice.

9. Seminars, paper presentations, essay competitions – If you presented a paper at a seminar, please mention it. If you attended a seminar as an audience, please do not mention the same. All these unimportant items give out the impressiont that a) you did not do much worthwhile stuff to write about and b) you do not know which merits importance and which does not.

10. Moot court competitions – “Received a certificate of merit for participating in …” is definitely not the right way of putting it. Instead, only say “Participated in…” Understand which phrases are more apt in such scenario, where participation is considered an achievement.

11. Other interests – You may be a part-time model or an expert bartender when you are not slogging at the law school, but will you mention it in your cv? Think twice about it.

12. References – From my experience, it is not a good idea to mention references in your cv, especially if they are retired judges, diplomats or politicians. You can show your clout once you are asked to provide references, but do keep in mind that only those persons who have taught you or have mentored you in a professional setup qualify to be eligible references.

13. Formatting – Uniform font, legible font size, justified text, no highlights are some of the things which will make your cv clean, crisp and pleasing to the eye, which in turn will prompt the recruiter to read it immediately.

14. Covering letter/email – This will be the first thing that they will read and make sure you sell yourself well here. Do not mention stuff which are already in the cv, instead say why you are applying to that particular organisation. Do not say how you look forward to work with them, instead say how they will benefit by giving you an opportunity to work with them.

Hope this unsolicited advice helps at least a few law schoolers/ other students out there. All the best with everything!

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