If you’re a lawyer looking to jump off that sinking ship and break into a new career, it can be difficult to know where to start. After all, if you went to law school straight out of undergrad, chances are you haven’t had to go on the hunt for a serious non-legal job. Even if you spent some time in non-legal work before attending law school (as two thirds of lawyers do), your old resume may be out of date or unrelated to your desired industry.
Even if you didn’t go to law school,
you may have hit a career wall or just simply want to try something that lights up your soul.
As an ex-lawyer who pivoted into six different careers and eventually forged a career in blogging and coaching others on how to do the same, I speak from personal experience when I say that changing careers is a daunting task - but one that anyone can take on with enough determination and preparation.
The first step to gaining a foothold in a new industry is to polish your resume. Without a strong resume that’s tailored to the work you’re now pursuing, you’ll have a hard time making it to the interview stage, let alone getting the job. In this article, I’ll lay out seven mistakes lawyers and career-changers make when putting together their new resumes, and how you can avoid them when you’re writing up your own.
The 7 Career-Changing Resume Mistakes
1. Submitting the same resume for multiple jobs
NEVER do this, even if it’s for a similar job! Every company is different and emphasizes different requirements. For example, an established company in a stable industry might emphasize credentials and previous work experience in the industry, whereas a startup in a volatile industry might prefer applicants with a more varied set of experiences and skills.
Each resume you submit should have a custom “Objective Statement” that briefly describes how you have the exact experience they want. Recruiters look at hundreds of resumes for each job, so you want to make it easier for them to get to know you. An objective statement or quick list of highlights will make it easier to see how you’re qualified for the job in question. It also shows that you’ve looked carefully at the job posting and put serious effort into your application. Remember, every job description looks different. So every one of your resumes should look different, too.
2. Not using your network before applying
Always, always, ALWAYS check if you have any connections to the company or direct hiring manager. Check LinkedIn and post to your social media or professional networks to find out if you or your contacts know anyone who works there. Having a direct connection or even just a referral increases your chance of getting an interview. Even if you don’t have a strong connection to someone at the company you’re applying for, chances are the company offers them a sweet referral bonus. They have an incentive to help YOU!
Also, according to the Harvard Business Review, your “weak ties,” or people whom you don’t know that well, are more likely to lead to your next job opportunity than your close friends or contacts. That makes reaching out to people you barely know all the more important for your job search!
3. Not researching the recruiter or hiring manager
Avoid starting a cover letter with “Dear Hiring Manager,” as it reads as impersonal. Instead, do your research to see who will be reading your submission. Look for a staff directory on the company's website, search LinkedIn, or even call the company if you have to! Address him/her/them directly, and make sure it gets to them by sending a follow-up email or submitting directly if allowed.
Alternatively, if the Human Resources department is overwhelmingly large, then you can address your application to the person you would be reporting to, as in “Dear Mr. Chen or Hiring Manager.” This shows that you’ve done your research on the company and are serious about the role.
4. Using jargon instead of the keywords in a job posting
Make sure you not only identify the keywords (the words and phrases listed under the job responsibilities and skills) that an opening highlights, but be sure to also USE THAT EXACT language on your resume. Don’t try to put the job posting’s language in your own words. After all, recruiters want to know how you fit their requirements as they understand them, not your interpretation of them. Instead, translate legal jargon into the terms of the job posting. Check out a real-life example I used for one of my clients in this free guide.
To prepare your "Objective Statement" or cover letter,
you can even simply copy and paste the job posting and fill in the details of your specific experience and qualifications.
So, if you’re applying for a job where you’d be busy with “event planning, fundraising, and liaising with the organization’s partners and sponsors,” you can say, “I gained extensive experience with event planning, fundraising, and liaising with partners and sponsors while serving as the Vice-President Events at my law school’s student organization” (or whatever the case may be) and go on to spell out the specifics. This will not only save you time on the job hunt, but will also make it easier for recruiters to check your resume against their job posting and see how you fit what they’re looking for.
5. Only considering your “job experience” to be relevant to the position
Don’t forget: what you do in your community (at church, in bar associations, at your child’s school) counts! Highlight this experience in your resume and show how it applies to the job you are applying for (not to mention how it’s made you more interesting than other job applicants). For example, if you act in productions put on by your local community theater group, you can highlight how this experience has helped you develop public speaking skills and a capacity for teamwork. Or, if you serve as the treasurer for your neighborhood’s community league, you can detail your responsibilities in that role in terms of the keywords found in the job description.
One of my clients included their volunteer role as a board member and the Chief Financial Officer of a local nonprofit on their resume. In this role, they conducted market research and trends to assess homeless demographics in Silicon Valley. They also attended monthly board meetings and prepared all legal documents, and eventually led the company dissolution legal process. Although this role was unpaid, it demanded a considerable time commitment and extensive use of my client’s legal expertise, as well as other skills like marketing. As such, it showed recruiters that they already had a life outside of the law and were prepared to put their skills to use in novel and creative ways. You can see how she highlighted this experience in her resume here.
6. Not including your personal struggles, personal development, or personal story
Remember, recruiters read generic resumes ALL. DAY. LONG. They want to feel a connection with the person they hire, and you definitely want to stand out from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to share a story about how you overcame adversity and apply it to a requirement of the job. This can be communicated in your objective statement, in the bullet points of your job experience, or even in a separate section titled “Community.”
For example, one job posting for a large tech company that a client of mine answered specifically stated a need for someone who can “overcome obstacles” and “think outside the box.” In my client’s objective statement, they discussed how their personal experience facing obstacles to law school demonstrated the qualities the company was looking for. Take a look at the actual language she included in both her resume and cover letter.
7. Not applying to a job because you lack a certain skill set
This is always a shame to see, because honestly, employers hire employees without experience All. The. Time. What they care about more is your willingness and ability to learn. Even within my own family, I can list three examples of getting hired without experience off the top of my head:
First, my dad sold cars for over 30 years. He didn't have ANY experience with the mechanics of a car, but he was around them all the time and knew the industry. So he applied to be a service manager at a dealership. He got the job because he expressed his passion for learning the ins and outs of something that he only had experience selling. The hiring manager was impressed by his straightforwardness, his work ethic, and his willingness to learn new things at over 50 years old. He got the job!
Second, my first job after my lawyer job was a marketing and business development role at a class action administration firm. The only things I knew about class actions were what I had to learn for the bar. The only marketing experience I had was selling bar prep courses on my law school campus. My boss, who wasn't even an attorney (but who was revered in the industry for her ability to get new clients), hired me without looking at my resume. Going to law school and being good with people were enough for her.
Later on, I worked as a tech recruiter in San Francisco. I knew nothing about tech. I had ZERO recruiting experience. But it was a commission-based job, and they just wanted hard workers who were willing to learn about the tech industry.
My point is that there are A LOT of jobs that you can do, especially if you are passionate about a certain industry. Don't let one requirement on a job listing deter you, especially when you have eight out of the 10 skills they are looking for!
So, when my clients come across job postings that include a skill they don’t possess (yet), I tell them to ask themselves:
Is this a skill that I COULD develop?
This answer is almost always "YES" given your intelligence and work ethic. ;)
Is this a skill that I WANT to learn and will WORK HARD to develop?
This is a harder question to answer, since it depends on your own attitude and interests. Don’t apply for a job you wouldn’t want to do well at anyways. But if the answer is “yes,” then you’ve got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain by stepping out of your comfort zone and sending in that application.
To sum up, if you are trying to change careers, you need to use a different resume for each job, one that uses the job posting’s keywords to make a connection between your experience and skills and the company’s vision. You should also include information about your non-employment experience and, if appropriate, your own personal story. Show that you have other experience to bring to the table besides your previous, paid job experience. It’s best to find out who will be assessing your application and address them by name in your application. This establishes a personal connection and shows that you’ve done your research.
Aside from polishing your resume itself, it also helps to tap into your social or professional network to find out if you have an existing connection at the company you’re applying to work at. On top of that, don’t be afraid to apply for a job that you’re not 100-percent qualified for. The skills and attitude you do have might be just what the company really cares about.
Pulling off a career change is no mean feat. It takes time, effort, and more than a bit of savvy. But crafting a strong and specific resume makes this feat a whole lot easier to pull off. Invest in yourself and start the process today with this free guide!