Resumes matter, particularly for lawyers who are seeking highly sought-after in-house positions. A recruitment professional takes about five seconds to decide how to act upon your candidacy. Your resume should look clean and organized and provide easy-to-digest, compelling information to land you an interview.
Each in-house counsel role requires considered thought for the content, highlights and formatting of your resume. For example, if you are handling corporate, M&A, securities, employment and governance work in your current role, and the role for which you are applying is more focused on general corporate and M&A work, then your resume should be tailored to emphasize that work and results achieved.
The five tips below are general rules to consider when writing your resume for an in-house counsel position.
- Align your resume with each position’s requirements. Use each job posting as a checklist for your own resume. If you are a law firm lawyer looking to move in-house, align your substantive expertise and experience. If you are a deputy general counsel seeking a general counsel position, your resume should show you have succeeded in handling the business aspects of your position. If you are a general counsel, include all subject matter oversight of your direct reports.
- Use highlights or headings to guide the reader and organize experience. The most impactful and easy-to-read resumes are ones that list experience and achievements in bulleted format. Adding bolded or underlined text or headings to highlight different practice areas, skills, and achievements will help your resume pop. This emphasis enables the reader to process quickly how you might fit into the company. Use the job requirements as a guide for the highlights and headings. As an example, if you are applying for a general counsel position of a public company, your headings could include: Executive Leadership; Shareholder Engagement & ESG; M&A Achievements; Employment Counseling; and Securities Compliance.
- Show achievements, results and impact of your work. Business leaders want to know how you will add value. Show the reader how you could help a company achieve its goals by describing not only your skills but also your successes. If your resume contains language such as “with responsibility for,” consider removing those words and replacing them with action verbs such as leading, motivating, or analyzing.
- Add white space and remove clutter. Resumes that have spaces between jobs, company names, titles, bullet points, and section headings are much easier to read and comprehend than resumes without enough white space. If your resume is cluttered, the chances are greater that it will be relegated to the bottom of the pile. We recommend adding spaces and removing or condensing older information that is no longer relevant. If your work experience is more than 10 years ago the space given to it on your resume should be considerably smaller.
- Summary and core competencies at the top. If you have worked in-house for many years, it may help to add a title to the top of your resume (e.g., Corporate Counsel; Compliance & Privacy Counsel; or Employment Counsel); a two- or three-sentence paragraph below the title that summarizes your experience achievement; and sometimes a bullet list of core competencies.
You should style your summary and core competencies using language consistent with the job requirements, and in a way that non-lawyers who may be screening your resume will understand quickly to compare you with other applicants. If you have worked only in a law firm, and your resume contains prominent subheadings, it’s unnecessary to add a summary. Only add a top section if it will add value.
A top-notch in-house counsel resume also needs to be error-free. Proofread your resume from top to bottom and then from bottom to top for both content and typographical errors. Then ask a friend to read it over for content and form. When you get the call for an interview, you will know your resume made a positive first impression. And you will be on your way to landing that coveted in-house counsel position.
Randi Lewis and Simon de Meo are experienced attorney search consultants with Major, Lindsey & Africa, the world’s largest attorney search firm. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.