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Your Law School Resume vs A Job Search Resume

by David Mainiero

Most people make the mistake of thinking that you put together a resume and then you use and reuse it for everything you apply to. They are wrong. A resume is not a monologue – it is a dialogue. It is a conversation between you and your specific reader. You must design it specifically with that reader in mind. For every unique reader, you must have a unique resume that can speak to their desires (“Is this the applicant I want?”) and concerns (“How can I be sure?”).

This means that your resume for applying to law schools should be different from your resume for applying to business schools, and very different from the “CV” format you might use to apply to PhD programs. It even means that the resume you use for applying to Harvard Law School might accentuate different experiences and credentials than the resume you submit as part of your application to Yale Law School. However, before we zoom into that level of sophistication, we need to start with the more basic premise that college or graduate school application resumes should be different from “job-seeking” resumes.

Although the tenets of good resume writing (prioritizing relevant skills and experiences and conveying them in a concise and compelling manner) are necessary, a school application resume serves more as a table of contents for your entire application (except that it doesn’t necessarily appear at the beginning). It will contextualize both what your readers have read so far as well as what they will read next.  It gives them a sense of what you think is important about yourself and how you package yourself. Your resume serves both as a vehicle for your reader to make a snap judgment about you and as a prism through which they will assess your entire candidacy.

The three major differences between the formats that your school application resume should embody are:

1. You MUST ensure consistency with the rest of your application –  If you list yourself as “Student Council President” on your resume, it will look a little odd to mention your co-president in your personal statement for business school. It might be confusing, or – worse – suspicious. If you spent a year as a research assistant for a professor, you better make sure that that professor speaks about your position as research assistant in her letter of recommendation. If she refers to you as her secretary instead, you are in trouble. If you indicate that you took graduate coursework on your resume, make sure it is also reflected on your transcripts.

2. You may submit a resume which is longer than one page without violating convention (unless otherwise specified in application requirements) – This gives you the opportunity to add more context to some of your activities using bullet point descriptions starting with vivid action verbs. This can be very important in light of the character and word limitations of certain application forms. You want to add complementary context and information rather than being repetitive, and this takes serious thought.

3. You want to build a thoughtful structure – New categories (Education, Leadership, Writing/Publications, Musical Training, Global Service) also allow you to better frame your story. You are able to show the connections between your various activities and experiences in a more direct, efficient and meaningful way. Obviously, don’t overdo it. You don’t need a separate category for each item on your resume. It would totally defeat the purpose. Categories are there to help you (a) connect the dots for your reader, to demonstrate the relatedness and purposefulness of your many activities and interests and to (b) determine the order, structure and emphasis of your various experiences.

Unlike the resume you submit as part of a job application, the resume you include in your law school application is just one part of a larger whole. It should be carefully constructed to ensure that it fits with the information you are giving to the admissions committee and continues to portray the message that you would be a good fit for their school and this program.

David Mainiero graduated from Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School.