Your opportunity to make great a first impression does not end with the identifying information at the top of your resume. Once through this section, your next step is to decide what comes next. You have three options:
• Moving directly to Education or Experience
• A Career Objective
• A Profile or Summary of Qualifications
Moving Directly to Education or Experience
I do not recommend this, even for new law school graduates. Moving immediately to the meat of your resume misses the chance to gain some extra points and exploit an opportunity to impress an employer and differentiate yourself some more before s/he gets to the heart of the document. You give up a great deal if you do not take advantage of this “separation opportunity,” especially one so close to the top of the resume when the employer is still alert, reasonably fresh, paying attention, and hopefully still has an open mind about your candidacy.
A Career Objective
If you seek a “mainstream” legal position (i.e., a traditional position in a law firm or law office where you would be practicing law), you don’t need a Career Objective. Every employer will assume that, once you graduate from law school, you want to work as an attorney or continue in that profession. Like your identifying information, this is another one of those “danger points” in a resume that can do you more harm than good.
Woody Hayes, the legendary Ohio State football coach, used to rage against the forward pass for reasons similar to the very valid concerns you should have about including a Career Objective: “When you pass the ball,” he said, “only three things can happen—a catch, an incompletion or an interception—and two of them are bad.” Much the same can be said about the Career Objective. Again, three things could occur, and two of them are negative: (1) it could be completely irrelevant and unnecessary, just taking up valuable space and clutter your resume with unnecessary information; or (2) it could be so meaningless as to be off-putting to the employer and become one of those distractions that obsess him or her to the point where what you want to get across is lost in the process. Classic examples of such Career Objectives abound, e.g.,
“To work for a dynamic, forward-looking organization where I can apply my talents to help it achieve its goals.”
Career Objectives like this are just so much blather and carry with them a very high annoyance factor. Many legal employers view a Career Objective like this with disdain bordering on contempt. Employers universally find this kind of language offensive, off-putting, and irritating. They come away from reading this nonsense angry and skeptical of you and your candidacy, precisely the opposite of the impression you are striving to make. Don’t waste your time or resume space on something this inane and self-destructive.
There is, however, one exception: If you are going in a new career direction—outside of mainstream law—it is a good idea to inform the employer of that goal up front. You do not want an employer reading through your resume to keep asking the following question and getting no answer from your presentation: “Why is this person applying to us?” In this case, a well-written Career Objective specifying what you intend to do with your legal training will obviate this question and be appreciated by the employer.
If you are embarking on a major career change from mainstream law, your Career Objective should indicate (1) that you are changing direction, and if possible (2)why you are taking this route.
Profile or Qualifications Summary
Unless you are deviating from mainstream law, your alternative for what comes next should always be inserting a Profile or Qualifications Summary, titled as such. A Profile is always useful and can do much to advance your cause. It is also an extremely flexible device. You can use it to:
Grab the employer’s attention immediately and entice him or her to read on. Absent something compelling here, employers are likely to dispense with the rest of your document or read it with decreasing attention.
Bring key points that may be buried deep down in your resume up close to the beginning of the document where they will be seen early on in the examination process. Foreign language skills, for example, are always good for this kind of up-front treatment. If your Education section will follow Experience, then this is a good place for announcing that you attended prestigious academic institutions and/or performed brilliantly in school. This way you can make certain the employer sees your important selling points at the outset.
Emphasize your most compelling selling points regardless of where else they might appear. It never hurts to inform someone more than once about your triumphs.
Imprint your distinctive qualifications on the reader. This is a great place to tout your Nobel Prize or Olympic Gold Medal.
Keep your Profile succinct and to the point. A few lines and sentences will do. Your Profile is no place for a long-winded commentary. Avoid subjective statements such as “outstanding legal researcher.” A subjective statement is difficult to verify. Experienced resume reviewers are usually somewhat skeptical and cynical people, made that way by having read hundreds of resumes and having been subjected to thousands of bloviating, exaggerating and over-the-top assertions. Their constant internal blow-back phrase while reading through resumes is “prove it.”