Tailoring a CV for Job Applications – How Important is it?
in Careers Advice, CV Writing

Tailoring a CV for Job Applications – How Important is it?

We’ve recently received a CV from a litigation solicitor who was applying for a commercial litigation role. This solicitor has c.20 years experience and has been around the block, for want of a better expression.

Niche Area of Law CV

I am sure that the solicitor is quite capable of covering the commercial litigation role, but this CV has copious amounts of detail on one specific type of litigation and virtually nothing on everything else. The candidate’s particular specialism is very niche and he has obviously done extensive numbers of cases including right up to the Supreme Court. At the same time his caseload has included commercial litigation, although this was not visible on the CV particularly.

The CV has about two to three pages of information on his niche litigation area and about three words on his commercial litigation experience. This particular candidate has been registered as a locum with us for years, but to date I don’t think we’ve ever managed to find him an assignment.

Senior Solicitors – Major CV Error

It is quite common on senior solicitor CVs to have two word responses for specific types of work undertaken. So for example, we quite often see the entry ‘residential conveyancing’ for the work history of a solicitor with 40 years experience and if we ask for further information the solicitor will reply that this is unnecessary because they have written residential conveyancing on the CV and anyone worth their salt will know exactly what this means.

The same applies when a litigation solicitor applies for a role but does not actually think about what the role might entail, and simply sends across a CV detailing extensive amounts of information related to one particular specialism.

Suits You Sir – Tailoring your CV is vitally important.

Have a think about it from the employers’ perspective – if you are looking for a litigation solicitor who has experience in the High Court handling costs between £100k and £500k in a range of sectors, and is able to draft Particulars of Claim, deal with CPR rules and generally manage a case from start to finish, why would you want to use the services of a solicitor who, according to their CV, has spent the last 10 years undertaking (for example) contentious probate cases?

Litigation – General Experience Important

When it comes to litigation we often find that the most successful candidates are those who have general experience on the CV, but also are aware that quite a lot of the work they do, even if it is specialist in one particular area, is transferable right across the spectrum of litigation work. So for example, if you have been undertaking contentious probate work it’s very likely you will have been working extensively with CPR and therefore you are fully aware of the way they work.

If your CV does not indicate this and makes lots of reference to specific work types rather than to general statements about values of cases and the courts that those cases have been in, chances are you are not going to be getting very far with your applications.

Residential Conveyancing? There is Always More

In the example I’ve given above with the residential conveyancing on a CV, the same applies. If you simply state “residential conveyancing” rather than an explanation as to exactly what that residential conveyancing has related to, then chances are anyone looking at your CV will think that you have just done bits and don’t wish to tell anybody this so are being deliberately vague.

Conveyancing Examples

We need to know numbers of cases, types of residential conveyancing, whether it involves right to buy, stair-casing, leasehold, freehold, sales and purchases, development work, number of cases worked on at any time, number of completions per month, billing levels, size of team you worked in, case management system you used and anything else you can tell us about your residential conveyancing work, then chances are your application is going to get overlooked.

Tailoring a CV to a Specific Job

Tailoring a CV is even more specific than this, and although quite often it’s difficult to tailor a CV because the job descriptions can be very vague (particularly amongst smaller law firms), it is important to have a go wherever possible.

So if for example a firm are looking for a litigation solicitor able to deal with a mixed bag of partner disputes, contract issues, commercial debt and a bit of landlord and tenant and employment then your CV needs to have all of these things on if possible, and an explanation as to exactly what you did with them.

But its Already on my CV

Similarly, it is no good expecting a recruiter or firm to scroll through three pages to fish this information out.

You have a summary at the top of your CV (and if you don’t it is advisable to put one in), and in this summary it’s perfectly possible to include lots of information about your specific experience relevant to the application you are making. So in the example just given, you could indicate in your summary that you are a “20 year PQE solicitor with experience in a range of litigation work including commercial debt, landlord and tenant, employment, partnership disputes and contract issues, available for work across the UK as required.”

Don’t Forget the Three Second Rule

Working on the three second rule for CVs (most recruiters and firms will only look at your CV for about three seconds before making a decision whether to carry on reading it), you stand every chance of somebody reading your entire CV having read your summary rather than just pressing delete and ignoring it.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.ten-percent.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk