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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

March 6, 2019
Question

Should I include a Professional Summary at the top of my resume?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

If you’re not in the business of resumes, it can be very difficult for a lawyer to know the best way to craft an effective CV. What’s right, what’s wrong, what works, what doesn’t. So when faced with the task of creating or updating this document, most professionals break into a cold sweat….Cueing the procrastination dance. But when the music stops and a resume is required, lawyers often turn to what they believe as the resume “rules” to help guide them through the process.

One such “rule” is The Professional Summary: a narrative (of varying lengths) located at the top of the resume, which describes a professional’s background, accomplishments and greatest traits…in a nutshell.

But are these summaries effective? Are they persuasive? Is it really your best foot forward?

No. And here’s why:

Employers don’t read resumes, they skim them. They skim them because there is either a big stack of resumes to review; they are in a hurry, hungry, tired, multitasking or are pulled in 10 other directions. And because they skim, their first and most powerful impression of your candidacy comes from what they see on the first ¾ of a page. So your best stuff needs to be front and center. That “best stuff” is concrete data – and employers take their first impression from it: The quality of (1) employers; (2) educational background; and (3) work experience. Not from a narrative. In fact, most employers don’t read the Professional Summary in a legal resume. They skip over it – quickly moving their eye to “meat” (education or most recent employer). If they do take a quick look, the information is quickly forgotten after assessing the key information that follows. More importantly, the summary occupies prime real estate on your resume – taking up valuable space for other information that could prove to vital to maximizing that first impression.

If showcasing your accomplishments, practice specialties or special qualities is important to you, I encourage you to create a separate document (at the end your resume in the same soft copy doc), which can be assessed independently. This will allow you to feature this material without elbowing out great information that might be better off on Page 1.

Of all the legal resumes I review, a good portion of them include professional summaries. So I know there are lawyers out there who will disagree with my assessment as to its value and importance. But of the thousands I have drafted, revised, written and re-written I have yet to read…or skim a summary that provides much lift to a first impression on paper.

The Professional Summary on a legal resume is not terrible or wrong. It’s not fatal. It just doesn’t add much, if any value to the marketability of your candidacy. So if you’ve got limited space to make a great first impression on paper, I recommend using that space more wisely…and forget about the rules.

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Comments

K.C. Victor, Principal, Victor Legal Solutions

Additionally, Professional Summaries tend to include adjectives, such as "smart, accomplished, and efficient", which, because the Summary is written by the candidate, come across as egotistical. Legal resumes should have very few adjectives.

Scott Weber, General Counsel, Lumina Networks, Inc.

I agree completely as well! Thanks so much for the practical, succinct and always sound advice on this and so many other topics. You are clearly a lawyer mind reader as well as whisperer!

Lass Evans, VP, Deputy General Counsel, Fortune 500 Company

I totally agree. I always skip over this section when reviewing resumes. It's a total waste of space.

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