Can Your Resume Pass the Six-Second Test?

A 2012 report by The Ladders found that job recruiters spend only six seconds evaluating a candidate’s resume before determining whether or not they are a fit for an open position. The report was based on data from an eye-tracking study of 30 professional recruiters monitored over a 10-week period as they reviewed resumes and candidate profiles online.

Here are a few tips to help your resume pass the Six-Second Test:

Create an “Information Hierarchy”

The report showed that recruiters spent 80% of their time reviewing data such as:

  • Name
  • Current or most recent company, title, and start date (as well as end date, if applicable)
  • Education

Other information relevant to legal employers would be:

  • Bar Admissions (including USPTO)
  • Other Certifications (CIPP, CFA)
  • Languages and level of fluency, e.g., “business fluent”, “native”, “proficient”

Use bold, capitalizations, bullet points, and italics to draw the eye to titles, employers, relevant experience, and start/end dates. This makes your resume easier to read, and the reader will spend less energy navigating it.

Your education information should go at the top of your resume if you are a recent law graduate (i.e., graduated law school less than two years ago). Your most recent work experience should be at the top if you are not a recent law graduate.

Is Your Resume Control-F Proof?

Aside from reviewing the data above, potential employers spend the rest of their resume review time doing a Control-F for keywords which match important language in the open position description.

This means that you will have to alter your resume before you submit it for a specific role, and pay attention to the language of the job description.

For example: if a role calls for experience drafting ISDA documents, your recruiter will be doing a Control-F for “ISDA,” “ISDA Master Agreement,” “CSA,” “Credit Support Annex,” and any other terms that the job description may contain.

Data Counts – Be Specific!

When it comes to describing your work experience, rely on numbers and specific examples to showcase your experience.

Making a list of the agreements you’ve drafted is helpful, but if you’ve been churning out contracts at a high volume, don’t keep that to yourself. One candidate I spoke with drafted over 200 vendor, licensing, and SaaS agreements in a year – a number that should belong in her resume.

If there were a project or matter which took your skill set a “level up”, or one that you are particularly proud, devote a bullet point to describing this project or matter as well as your specific role on the team.

If you run a team, make note of this in your resume as well as the number of attorneys and non-attorney staff who report up to you.

Devote Ink on the Page to the Important Stuff

What experience prepared you most for the role to which you are applying? Where did you gain the bulk of your most relevant experience? Those are the resume entries that should be explained in the most detail and with the most bullet points.

This may mean that work experience prior to law school, or experience early in your legal career, should be limited to one or two bullet points/sentences unless there is some nexus, for example, industry.

And, please, keep your resumes to two pages (one page if you are less than five years out of law school).

The Best Piece of Interview Advice I Ever Received

You’ve blasted your resume to tens, if not hundreds, of open roles. After waiting (wading?) through the mire of uncertainty, you get a call or email from one of your target potential employers.

They want to bring you in for an interview!

You do a celebratory fist-pump into the air and start practicing your slickest sales pitch. Starting from college graduation, your accolades and credentials spool through your mind. How can they not want to hire you? You’re perfect.

You enter the interview room high off hopes and espresso, and leave buoyed by the sensation of knowing you’ve done your best work. That gotcha question about naming your biggest weakness? Nailed. How to find a needle in a haystack? Hit out of the park.

Yet, after two weeks of radio silence, a form rejection letter comes in the mail. You don’t even get a second bite at the apple.

Has this happened to you? It’s happened to me probably more times than I’d care to admit. And it would have continued happening to me if I didn’t internalize this one piece of advice, which was probably the most crucial piece of advice I have ever received about interviewing:

When You’re Not Talking, You’re Winning.

Let me repeat that.

When You’re Not Talking, You’re Winning.

But-but-but-but-but how am I ever going to sell them on my experience? I’ve worked at two AmLaw 100 law firms as an M&A attorney, then went in-house to a Fortune 500. After taking three years off to focus on starting and growing my own company, I transitioned back….

You sell an interviewer on your experience by answering only the questions asked. If your interviewer says Tell Me About Yourself, you can give a one-minute birds’ eye overview of your experience that is MOST GERMANE TO THE ROLE FOR WHICH YOU ARE INTERVIEWING.

Aside from that: When You’re Not Talking, You’re Winning.

Why? (1) People love to talk about themselves, and (2) People hire those they like.
If you’re talking, you have about a 50-50 shot of impressing the person you’re talking to. For every person who thinks I’m a fantastic conversationalist or interviewer (and the best interviews are conversations), there are many who think I’m just okay, and maybe one or two who think I’m rather crummy.

If I let the other person talk as I ask strategic questions which demonstrate that I’m actively listening, there’s an almost 100% chance that they will like me.

People, especially the types of people who run the hiring process, love to talk about themselves. Give them that opportunity. Active listening is such a rare skill that a few strategic questions can often impress someone more than a pre-rehearsed data dump of a sales pitch. Through listening and asking the right questions, you can find out:

  1. What the company is looking for in this next hire
  2. What your role will be, including what you would be doing daily
  3. Why the interviewer joined that company over taking other opportunities, and stayed long enough to become part of the hiring and recruiting process
  4. How the legal team interacts with other business divisions
  5. Whether the role is right for you.

You should still study your resume and be prepared to answer questions on anything written on it, especially questions that are aimed to judge whether your skill set is appropriate for the given role. You still need to articulate why you want this specific position – convince the interviewer why you’re in that chair.

But, the last piece – whether the interviewer will like you enough to pass you along for a second round – can’t be won with the hard sell.