Here's the second episode in a nine-part web series I recently recorded with PowerScore founder and author of the PowerScore LSAT Bible Series, Dave Killoran. You can also find it on the PowerScore YouTube channel.
DAVE: So let's move along, then, and talk a little bit about the résumé. Anne, I'll pass it back to you for that.
ANNE: Thanks, Dave. The résumé is definitely something that you don't want to spend a whole lot of time with, but you want to make sure that it is good. You want to make sure that it is good, concise, and easily readable, for a very specific reason: it is the one, single, one-page snapshot that the Admissions Committee has of you.
Consider how many applications get read on an average day by the Dean of Admissions [of a law school] or by an admissions staffer. You're talking in the hundreds. Obviously, they could spend time reading the personal statement, and all the recommendations, and looking at the grades, but what is the first thing they're going to look at in order to determine whether they do want to read the personal statement, and the application, and the grades? They're going to pull out your résumé.
The résumé needs to be engaging, it needs to be scannable, and it needs to be clear and quick. As you'll see in the third point, it actually says that it needs to be a 35- to 45-second read. That means that, automatically, this can't be three pages long, two pages long, four pages long. This is not not a curriculum vitae--it's a summary of who you are, and the most important and salient parts of who you are. This is your opportunity to tell the Admissions Committee, "This is my academic background, this is my extracurricular background, this is my professional background, and these are the most important parts in each."
In addition, you have to make sure to be clear. Don't assume that the Admissions Committee knows what a particular award meant in your college. Make sure that you tell them, [for example], "This award is only given to one senior, every five years, and it's determined on by the entire faculty." Make sure that you put down, "Yes, my GPA was 2.7, but guess what? The average GPA in my entire college was 2.5, so this is pretty good." You have to make sure that you explain every single aspect of your résumé. Don't assume, at any point in time, that the Admissions Committee knows what you're talking about on there.
In addition, take a look at what it's not. It's not a 3-page addition to the application, and we've talked about that. It's also not a substitute for completing biographical questions. I can't stress the importance of this enough. So many people believe that by just sticking a résumé in the application they no longer have to explain or complete any of the biographical information. You have to think about what kind of signal this sends to the Admissions Committee. If you don't spend the time completing your biographical information and just stick a résumé in there, you're essentially telling the Admissions Committee that you're okay with wasting their time by making them have to hunt things down. You have to be very much aware: Even with a single-page document you can send a completely wrong signal that puts a bad taste in the Admissions Committee's mouth. Make sure that you don't use the résumé as a substitute for your biographical questions.
Finally, it's not a traditional employment résumé. That's what everybody seems to assume. There are some things in the employment résumé that simply don't have a place [in the law school résumé]: you don't need to state what the purpose is (they know what the purpose is: you want to get into law school); you don't need to talk about computer certifications, or prizes that you won in high school, or your SAT score (definitely don't include that). It's certain things that simply don't need to be a part of the résumé. You need to be very clear--three things only: academic background, extracurricular background, and professional background (if you have it). And that's all that it needs to be.
It needs to be in bulleted form, and it needs to be easily and readily scannable.
DAVE: Let me just add to what Anne said there, about the résumé. First and foremost, when she says "scannable," she means somebody simply glancing through it and scanning it. [with their eyes]. It doesn't need to be scanned into a computer. [The résumé] is a quick glance, it's a quick overview of who you are.
The other thing is this: It's not that we're saying that you should eliminate all the abilities that you have [from the résumé]. Maybe they don't need to know that you're certified for certain Microsoft Office functions but, if you're thinking about going into international law, you might want to go ahead and put down that you know Spanish, French, and Farsi. Those kinds of things will actually work to your advantage. You have to take a look at what you're doing: if you have some sort of special, technical knowledge, and you're looking into going [for example] into intellectual property law, obviously that's applicable.
[Admissions staffers] are trying to get a quick overview of who you are. Yes, they are going to look more deeply into your application: they're going to look at some of the other elements we're going to talk about, like the personal statement and the letters of recommendation--but they want to know, "Who is this person, in a nutshell?" That's what the résumé is.