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There is no hard and fast rule. Forget the old “keep to two sides” recommendation, which is outdated. A CV should be as long as it needs to be.
That said, when it comes to CVs, less really is more. Your CV should only include key information that will impress partners and HR staff and encourage them to invite you to an interview. Unnecessary material will serve only to reduce the impact of the good stuff.
When writing your CV, put yourself in the partners’ shoes. Keep in mind that they see an awful lot of CVs and have limited time to read them. So, if you want to be singled out for an interview, it’s imperative that you make an impression – and make it quickly.
Remember, this might be your only chance to make an impression. There is, moreover, no right of appeal!
Firms want to see a clear and concise layout of your education and work experience including:
Personal information: Insert your full contact details and, where appropriate, visa status. As a result of age discrimination legislation, it is not necessary to include your date of birth (although some firms require this information for the purposes of their internal equal opportunities monitoring). The same holds true with regard to ethnic background.
Education: Make sure you add all relevant dates and explain any gaps. Start with your degree (university, subject and overall grade). There is no need to break it down into every mark received in each year. Follow this with A-levels (subjects and grade) and GSCE grades. There is no point in omitting poor grades – firms are well versed in spotting omissions. If you are an international lawyer, firms will often require a copy of your academic transcripts. Our advice is to be open, honest and comprehensive.
Work experience: List all of your recent experience, starting with the most recent and working backwards. Keep this relevant to the role you are applying for. If you are applying for, say, a corporate position, then provide as much detail as possible of the transactions you have worked on. Likewise, with a litigation role, detail the cases you have worked on, explaining what the case concerned and your involvement in it. Omit nothing.
Where appropriate, use bullet points (rather than verbose paragraphs) and employ sub-headings to break up the different areas of your experience. Each bullet point should include full details of the matter you worked on (names or descriptions of clients, headline details of the matter and value) and then explain your role in the matter and the duties you performed.
If you are a junior lawyer, list all of your training seats but keep this information brief. The same applies for summer/university jobs. If you have had a previous career, then provide details of it, together with your reasons for moving into law.
Business development: Detail external and internal articles, seminars and any other client events you have been involved in. If you have had repeat referrals or built a client following, provide details. Firms are very interested in your marketing and client generation activities.
Outside interests: List any sporting or other achievements and include any hobbies. While your experience, career and academic history will be of greater interest to firms, it has been known for partners to grant interviews after something in a CV piqued their interest.
Referees: There is no need to add the names of referees to your CV. If you should be offered a position at a firm, the HR department will in due course ask you to provide details of two referees.
One advantage of omitting referees from your CV is that you will not have to worry about any of your referees being contacted before you have accepted the new position and resigned from your current one. While this doesn’t happen in practice, omitting referees gives you a further layer of protection.
If you already have excellent references or strong appraisals, include them with your CV.
Once you have finished the first draft of your CV, take the time to review it.
- What does it look like overall?
- Is it too long? (See above)
- Is it too short? (Your CV should have enough detail to ensure that potential employers can understand your level of experience.)
- Keep the narrative broken up with sub-headings and avoid lengthy paragraphs.
- Avoid the temptation to start with a long paragraph describing you and all your attributes. (Firms will gauge your skills from the level of experience demonstrated in your CV rather than a list provided by you.)
- Tailor your CV for each position you are interested in. (Your experience should be listed in order of relevance to your target firm’s practice, highlighting similar clients and other synergies.)
We Can Help
We know what hiring managers look for and want to see. You get one change to get your CV right and that's where we come in. We offer a personalised CV appraisal service upon request. We will work with you to ensure that your CV represents you in the best way.