Creating a Resume

The first procedural step in your job search is preparing your resume. To the right you will find links to a number of sample resumes. Once you've completed a draft resume, make an appointment to see a counselor in CPDC who will help you fine-tune your resume to best reflect your experiences and your goals.

Before you begin drafting your resume, consider how to best "sell" your experience and credentials. Achievements in school, research and writing, public service, work experience, the arts or sports, or languages are all of great interest to potential employers. Whether you have worked for many years or recently graduated from college, your presence at Duke Law School means you have great achievements to include on your resume. Ultimately, your resume will be impressive enough to motivate a complete stranger to want to meet you, and later to hire you.

You should assume that a reader will spend no more than 30 seconds on the initial scan of your resume; thus, it should be neat, error-free and extremely easy to read.

How Your Resume Works for you:

  • Gives you the opportunity to paint a self-portrait highlighting your accomplishments and unique attributes.
  • Gives you your first opportunity to make a favorable impression on a prospective employer

Format of a Great Resume:

  • Your resume should fit on one page. (Information on second pages is often overlooked or lost.)
  • You resume should present materials succinctly.

Keeping this in mind, let's work our way from the top of your resume to the bottom:

1. Your Name

Center your name at the top of the page. While the substance of your resume should be between 10 to 12 pt. font, you may make your name slightly larger. If you go by your middle name, you should use an initial for your first name. For example, if your name is Eva Maria Gabrielsson and you go by Maria, you should consider using "E. Maria Gabrielsson." While you should not use a nickname such as Dave, if you go by a name that is very different from your full name, you may wish to include it on your resume. If you have a gender neutral name, or an unusual name from which it is difficult to ascertain gender, include your middle name if this makes it obvious or add "Mr." or "Ms." to your headings. Recruiters appreciate such an effort.

2. Your Address

Your local address should be centered beneath your name. If you decide to include both a Durham address as well as a permanent address, position the local address flush with the left margin and your permanent address at the right margin. A permanent address is recommended if you are attempting to establish a geographic connection to an area. If you do not wish to return to your home state, and if you can readily be reached at your school address, you should not include your home address, as employers will assume that you still consider it a viable geographic location for employment. Be sure to include your Durham telephone number and email address.

3. Education

The heading for this section, "Education", can be centered or flush with the left margin and the schools should be in BOLD, followed by the city and state. This section, as with the rest of your resume, should be in reverse chronological order. Beginning with law school, list your legal, graduate and undergraduate schools, city and state, expected or actual year and month of graduation, degree(s), honors and activities, and grade point average if you think it is a selling point. (Please see Section 7 below for further discussion of grades.) If you do include your GPA, you must round it to the hundredths (e.g., 3.22).

If you are a dual-degree student, you may include this along with your law degree (e.g., Candidate for J.D./M.A. English). Alternatively, you can list the school(s) separately. If you attended more than one graduate or undergraduate school, identify each as well as the years attended. You may also include fellowships, research projects, and study abroad programs here. If relevant, you may briefly describe your thesis or research projects.

If you are a transfer student, you want to include your original law school after your Duke University Law School education section and include the dates you attended and your GPA rank if applicable.

What about your secondary (high school) education? While this is not usually included, you may arguably mention this only under one of the following scenarios:

  • You were class valedictorian (make sure you also mention this fact on the resume);
  • You attended a well known or prestigious secondary school from which a member of a firm to which you are applying also graduated;
  • You want to establish roots in a community that are not otherwise apparent.

DO NOT include your LSAT score. The Law School Admission Council has issued a statement declaring this inappropriate. Also, do not include college scholarships awarded based on high school performance on a standardized test.

4. Honors and Activities

"Honors and Activities" should be listed under the respective academic institutions at which you received them. If your honors and activities are extensive, you may choose to create a separate "Honors" and "Activities" category under the appropriate academic institution. Similarly, if you are applying for a specific type of job (public interest or international, for example), you may want to group your honors and activities accordingly. For example, you may list Honors under your respective educational headings, but also create a Public Service Activities category as well.

No matter how you arrange them, be certain to include any honors that indicate a high level of academic performance, and explain their significance if necessary. Be sure to include any nationally recognized honors. Scholarships should also be included; if you received a scholarship or grant to pursue your law degree, be sure to include that under Duke University School of Law.

Finally, don't forget to include any significant college or professional activities, such as sports teams or the arts, in which you participated, as employers view this as an indication of your ability to cooperate and achieve a common goal. Do not underestimate an accomplishment's value simply because it does not seem "legal" or business related. Likewise, if you held any positions of leadership in university or community organizations, these should also be listed.

5. Experience

The next category is "Experience." If everything included in this section is a paid job, you can call the section "Work Experience," but if you have included internships and volunteer positions, you should simply call it "Experience." If this section on your resume is not particularly lengthy, you may be creative and expand upon relevant unpaid experience here, including teaching and research assistant positions, school-year internships, or significant community service endeavors.

Begin with the most current or recent position you have held and work backwards chronologically from there. Do not leave large gaps of time unaccounted for, as you will waste precious interview time explaining these gaps. Much as your academic entries were listed, typically the name of the employer and location should be on the first line, with the positions held and the relevant dates on the second. As shown below, this style will also allow you to list multiple positions at the same place of employment if necessary:

Andrews & Kurth LLP, New York
Paralegal, May 2005 - July 2006
File Clerk, January 2005 - May 2005

Following these two lines, you should include a brief job description. When writing a job description, be succinct and use action words. Complete sentences are not necessary, though phrases or bulleted points that function as a sentence, rather than as a listing of items, should always end with a period. Job descriptions end with a period, but listings in the academic section and listings of personal interests do not, unless they function as a sentence.) Phrases should be separated by semicolons or periods, or, if space permits, on their own lines with or without a bullet.

The text should be in telegraphic style, which means that you should not include unnecessary articles such as: "the," "a," or "an." This will make your description read more crisply. You should also avoid the use of personal pronouns, like "my" or "I." Avoid using phrases such as, "My responsibilities included writing...reading... researching..." Instead, try to use "drafted ... read ... researched..." and other action words. Use the present tense only if you are currently doing the job. Otherwise, all verbs should be in the past tense. Specific descriptions, like projects you completed or some other accomplishment, will demonstrate the value that you added. Most importantly -- remember that the more specific information you include, the more interesting questions employers can ask you in an interview!

6. Additional Categories

Following the Experience category, you may wish to include some other miscellaneous topics. If you have a particular language ability, you should include a "Languages" category. Indicate the level of competence, either "proficient" or "fluent." Be prepared to be interviewed in that language if you state that you are fluent.

If you have any particular skills that you think might be interesting, you can have a "Skills" category. In this section you might list SCUBA certification, a Black Belt in Karate, or other certified activities. Basic word processing and/or experience with Lexis and Westlaw should not be included.

If you have room, an "Interests" or "Personal" category can provide a good starting point for an interview. Use this category if you have a hobby that is out of the ordinary or demonstrates dedication, such as gourmet cooking, backpacking, running marathons, or Flamenco dancing.

7. A Few Final Tips

Sensitive Issues: Keep those activities that might portray you as a "party animal" or non-academic type, to a minimum. That does not mean that you should always leave off things like membership in a fraternity or sorority. Rather, you should consider carefully what value including your membership might add. If you had a leadership position within your fraternity, this might demonstrate leadership skills, commitment, etc. Likewise, take care not to overstate your political allegiances or membership in politically sensitive organizations unless you have extraordinary experience or interest in these groups. Remember, you have no idea of the personal likes and dislikes of the readers of your resume. Anything on your resume that may rub someone even a little bit the wrong way is probably enough reason to reject your application. A resume is not the vehicle for espousing your personal causes unless you are sure your views will be welcomed by your audience, or unless you would not be interested in working for the employer if he or she does not agree with your views.

Grades: A very good question is whether to include college and law school grades on resumes. There is no absolute answer to this question. It is clear, however, that employers are almost always interested in your academic record, and if you do not include your GPA on your resume, most will ask for a copy of your transcript before extending an offer. Many employers understandably express frustration when students submit resumes without grades, and may assume that you are unhappy with your performance. Moreover, if your resume contains your undergraduate GPA and not your law school GPA, this will look inconsistent. On the other hand, your resume is the opportunity for you to sell yourself. If your grades do not positively reflect your abilities, you may want to omit them. In this situation, you would hope to make a positive impression on the employer before he or she asks for your grades; students do have success with this method. If you are unsure how to handle the situation, ask someone in CPDC. As a general rule, if your GPA starts with a "3", include it. You might want to include it in other cases as well. If you do include your GPA, remember to round it to the hundredths (e.g., 3.22), not to the tenths.

8. Printing Your Resume

You should produce a professional resume. Variable font sizes and styles can be used to help you include more information (ideally, your font should be at 11 or 12 pt. for ease of reading), and the use of bold and italicized fonts will help you emphasize certain items.

Paper Quality: Your resume should be printed on white or a neutral color (ecru, very light gray) bond paper (24 lb. is very good). Be sure to purchase sufficient quantities of matching plain paper and matching envelopes for your cover letters, resumes and references. If you produce an original resume on regular copy paper and take it to print shops such as Kinko's, they can darken it a bit and print it directly onto your quality paper. Kinko-quality resume paper is perfectly adequate. You need not invest a small fortune in more expensive alternatives.

Edit: Perhaps most importantly of all, your resume must be error-free and consistent. Read and re-read it. Have someone else read it for you. One misspelled word can spoil your chances of landing an interview. Make sure that if you are emailing a resume as an attachment that it is in a final clean version without markups so that prior versions and edits do not show up.

For more information on conducting a job search, writing a cover letter, interviewing, etc., see our other Professional Development resources.