Having a good CV is crucial to making sure you get a high success rate when applying for a role. Together with our comments, it’s usually the only thing the employer has to go on to decide whether they should interview you.
In addition to providing this guide we invite you to give us a call to discuss what makes a good CV and how to go about setting it out. In this guide you will find:
- a draft CV precedent you can download [download draft CV shell], and
- a link to an example CV to consider [view example CV.]
We’ve tried to make this guide as simple as possible. There’s no one correct way to do a CV, but a good CV will contain all the information a potential employer will need to know about you before deciding to interview you, in a format that is easy to read and shows that the applicant is professional and appropriately skilled. Beyond that, however, it is important that the CV puts your case for interview forward in the best possible light and that it is tailored to each different role.
The CV should be in a professional font on white background with no borders and ideally no tables. (Agencies often cut and paste them, so tables only slow the process down.) It should look like it was produced by a law firm (although it should not contain any quirks of language particular to lawyers). If this is the first CV you’ve done since you started working, don’t start the CV by copying over the last file you did when you were in high school – click on our link to a draft CV shell and start from there!
A professional CV has an entirely different feel from the CV you would have done in high school. For a professional the focus is on demonstrating the skills and experience gained in the workplace, rather than demonstrating the pure future potential. The most recent experience that you have had (the last one to five years) in the workplace is the most important part of the CV and should be given close attention. The CV should also have plenty of information that is directly relevant to the particular role that you are applying for.
Throughout the CV headings should follow standard formats and be in the same font as the rest of the CV. The layout should look plain and professional, with plenty of white space. The CV should follow a standard format and be listed chronologically from most recent to least recent, (skip the cover page) with headings as follows:
- Contact details (As many telephone numbers as possible and particularly a number to get hold of you during office hours. If your work line is given you may want to put “please be discreet” next to it if you are concerned.)
- Education (include the years and institutions where you did your degrees, noting any honours or prizes)
- Legal Experience
This is the key section of the CV. List the employer, title, and the months you were there. Set out each employer as follows:
- A general introductory description of the employer, (particularly if it is not likely to be known) setting out the type of clients, practice group etc. and who you reported to and worked for (one paragraph).
- A description of the type of work you undertook, the autonomy you had and the tasks you performed and any client contact and any significant matters. Mention and describe the type of software packages you worked with and point out how much experience you have with each (one paragraph). Keep the details concise and avoid repetition.
When you finish your current employer go to the last one and do the same, working backwards, without leaving gaps of time in between employers without explaining them.
- Software Packages (list all packages and typing speed and level of competency, eg. intermediate)
- Other Work Experience (only include this if you are within 5 years of starting your professional career and make it brief unless it is particularly relevant to the role.)
- Achievements (this is your chance to pick out the best and most relevant of your current and past achievements, such as being a Prefect at school, positions you have held at work or similar achievements. Avoid anything that makes you cringe when looking back on it! Focus on the achievements that really stand out and feel free to leave this section out.)
- Interests (Include this as a list and keep it brief. Mention any sports, social interests and pursuits.) Although people often ask us whether they need to put this section in, remember that employers like their employees to be well-rounded and social as well as good workers.
- Referees (2 or even 3 professional would be enough. Don’t bother including personal references. To protect privacy and your referees being hounded make a note next to their names that permission is to be sought prior to contacting them.) Choose referees who are relevant and also who will be available to contact.
What Not to Put In
There are also a few things the CV won’t have. These are absolutes and non-negotiable, but all have been seen in CV’s by us on numerous occasions:
- Spelling errors and appalling grammar
- Mission statements, quotes etc
- Anything in cursive
- Photos of you (although these can be useful if you anticipate doing a telephone interview)
- Coloured fonts, things that flash, and floral or other borders
- Lists of contrived strengths (e.g. teamwork, leadership, empathy)
- A summary of your academics missing out any subjects or fails
- Lies or exaggerations (you will be caught out!)
- Information that would be a breach of client confidentiality
- Objectives (especially those that say “to go get some good experience so I can work overseas in 2 years time”)
Before sending out the CV to anyone, spell check it, print it out and view it on paper. It should be 2 to 3 pages in length, although more senior employees may have longer CV’s. Most roles are applied to by email, so make sure any email you send is properly addressed. Amazingly, as many as 1 in 10 CV’s we receive is addressed to another person.