It’s a truth universally acknowledged in legal recruitment that, when trainee solicitors start applying for NQ roles, their greatest mental barrier tends to be the prospect of updating and fine-tuning their CVs.
It’s a tough brief to meet: a legal CV needs to be carefully drafted and contain all the information a prospective employer is looking for, without being overly long or containing unnecessary details – but getting it just right can mean the difference between securing an interview and losing out to another candidate.
Today on the NQ blog, we’ll spend some time taking you through our ultimate CV checklist: a rundown of the essential and recommended information you should include on your NQ CV, plus a list of the final checks you should always make before submitting.
Still struggling to get your NQ CV just right? Contact us for further advice on writing a legal CV – we’ll help guide you through the process to create an application you’re proud of.
Include all your necessary personal contact information, checking that your phone number is correct and your email address is suitably professional.
List all your appropriate academic qualifications, along with their dates, awarding establishments, subjects and grades.
Your CV should give details of your current position, dates and experience, set out in seats. This section should include:
- A short description of the department and its clients
- Details of the range of work you have been involved in
- Tasks, responsibilities and roles you have performed
- Marketing, networking and business development activity you have been a part of
List some of your relevant previous employment roles – even if these were in positions outside of the legal industry, they help prospective employers to form a rounded picture of your skills and abilities. Your previous employment details should include:
- Job title
- Key tasks, responsibilities and roles
- Experience gained and its impact on your career development
Additionally, if you have any professional memberships or accreditations in the legal field these shouldn’t go unmentioned – they demonstrate commitment and dedication to your profession.
We recommend you include a selection of your additional achievements and positions of responsibility you have held, such as academic or professional awards, committee memberships, roles you undertake in the community, and so on.
If you speak any additional languages you should include this information, along with details of your level of proficiency.
Additionally, giving a (brief!) overview of your interests outside of work can be an effective way to differentiate yourself from other candidates. We recommend you pick your phrasing carefully: ‘reading historical fiction and political biographies’, for example, tells the reader much more about you than if you had simply written ‘reading’.
Finally, it’s useful for prospective employers to know if you have a full driving licence.
Avoid generalisation at all costs. Your CV should be an objective record of your experience, not an extended personal statement about your suitability for a role – you’ll have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate this at interview! Support your statements with verifiable evidence; for example, if you’re keen to emphasise your skill in a particular field then have something to substantiate this claim with, such as a high mark in that particular study module. This is worth much more to a prospective employer than an empty statement about your passion and commitment, which you’ll be able to demonstrate much more effectively in an interview, anyway
Write your CV in clear, unambiguous language which gives an accurate picture of your experience and suitability for the role; a lacklustre application won’t be made any better by being dressed up in elaborate syntax. Keep your descriptions concise and to the point – and if you suspect a sentence is too long, it probably is.
Structure and formatting
Stick with a logical, consistent structure for your CV, with experience of each kind (education, employment history and so on) clearly grouped. Aim for a chronological layout, starting with your most recent experience and working back through your record.
If possible, any gaps in your work or training history should be accounted for. If there are unavoidable gaps then it’s best to be honest but positive about why these occurred: a gap year or a career change, for example, can be looked at as a learning experience rather than an unfortunate lacuna in your employment history.
Use simple, consistent formatting throughout your CV, using structured headings, short paragraphs and bullet points to section up the text. As we pointed out in our last NQ blog, there’s no need to go overboard with styling the document: most recruiters edit candidates’ CVs to fit a ‘house style’, so it’s unlikely your application will look the same by the time it reaches a prospective employer.
Are all your dates of employment and education correct?
Have you included all the necessary factual details, and substantiated them with evidence where necessary?
Are your contact details present and correct?
Is your employment information fully up to date, including your most recent experience and responsibilities?
Have you reviewed your CV for spelling and punctuation – and, if possible, asked someone else to check it, too?