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The perfect associate CV

Published on: 1 Jul 2021

So you’ve decided it’s time to get a new job.

The first step is the CV. But it can be one of the worst bits. It’s time-consuming, dull and self-promotion was never your strong point. All the advice for writing great CVs seems to focus on outstanding candidates who merely need to present their exemplary work record a little more neatly.

Maybe you have a couple of employment gaps, or your academic credentials were always a sore point. You may fear that even your solid performance in your current position doesn’t quite make for a CV that will stand out from the crowd.

So how should you approach this critical document? Here are ten tips that might just help.

  • Be your own advocate. Go through all your experience and pull out the positives. Don’t underestimate your achievements. Remember most candidate CVs will have strengths and weaknesses – you just need to make sure your plus-points stand out. The ability to overcome poor academics to find a role with a decent firm may impress.
  • Be honest. In a competitive environment, it can be tempting to over-inflate certain experiences, gloss over awkward truths (just using years instead of months to cover up employment gaps), or plain make things up. Don’t. Recruiters will have long experience of spotting discrepancies and will either dismiss your CV straight away or make them the immediate focus of an interview. If you have gaps, show them and provide a very brief explanation up front.
  • Think about the interview. A CV is a way of getting to interview stage. But remember it will also be the primary basis for discussions once you’re there. Don’t include anything in your CV that you can’t discuss in detail.
  • Don’t worry about length. Two-page CVs are unlikely to cut the mustard at associate level. Three to four pages is fine.
  • Be clear and succinct. An obvious one but often difficult for associates that have lots of detail to include. Use bullet points, and clear headings. Don’t include objective or mission statements, or a photo. Avoid long sections of text and executive speak like ‘ambitious self-starter’. Remember you’re appealing to lawyers, not Lord Sugar.
  • Be specific and thorough. Group work experience logically – for example, by industry sector or legal specialism. Briefly detail each matter/deal you have worked on, including your own role and responsibilities – and present it within the experience section of your CV, rather than as a separate deal sheet.
  • Other ‘soft’ skills. If you contributed to business development or marketing in your firm, or collaborative team-building activities, then make sure you mention it. These skills are increasingly vital in today’s legal business.
  • Include hobbies, interests and outside achievements. These can still provide an ice-breaker in interviews and may give one of the few opportunities you’ll get pre-interview to present some personality. Don’t bother, however, if you’re only interested in ‘reading’.
  • Avoid lots of different versions. A CV should be a snapshot of the real you, not the bits that you think best fit each and every role. Think about what kind of firm and role would suit you best and target your CV accordingly. But then keep it simple and spend the time creating a core CV that presents you at your best. This will also give you confidence to perform at interview stage.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. Enough said.

Final bonus tip: Your CV was once the only information recruiters would have about you. But with social media, a whole new world has opened up and you can use it to your benefit.

Think about developing a ‘personal brand’ online:

  • Interested recruiters are increasingly going online to check out candidates either before or during the interview stage. Use LinkedIn and Twitter to build a strong online professional profile before you start job-searching.
  • Use blogs, comments and updates to develop an expert, professional online voice. Avoid running commentaries about your social life and don’t post embarrassing pictures of yourself anywhere.
  • Join legal groups, follow industry experts, and network. Success is still so often about ‘who you know’ as opposed to ‘what you know’.

A lot of lawyers still overlook this channel, so it remains a great means of differentiating yourself and getting known. It can also help pull a recruiter’s attention to your skills, abilities and personality in the here and now, and away from increasingly irrelevant details from your dim and distant past.

It’ll take a bit of time if you haven’t already started, but you can build a social media presence far more quickly than you think.

Now knuckle down

CV writing is rarely fun. But time spent getting it right now can make all the difference. A good CV will not only open doors, but it’ll give you confidence. Not least it can help remind you of all your career positives that are easy to forget if you’re unhappy in a job.

Call it therapy. Call it your passport to fulfilment/wealth/shorter hours/whatever. But it has to be done to move on.