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Articling Students Resumes and Interviews - Dos, Don'ts, and Pitfalls to Watch For

This month, I am going to write on something a bit off the beaten path for the commercial litigation blog.  But it is a topic I often give advice to students on:  resumes and interviewing. 

This is especially timely, given that the Articling Week for 2011 students has just completed and the Articling week for 2011 Summer Students is fast approaching.  What follows is not meant to be exhaustive.  It is a handy guide to help students out. 

Part I:  Resumes

1. Proof Read Your Resume!!!

This sounds obvious.  From reading hundreds of resumes though, I can tell you not everyone does it.  Really?  Yes, really.  Nothing causes raised eyebrows like a spelling mistake, grammatical error or blatant typo.  This is usually your first chance to make a positive impression on a firm - press spell check!  And, if you cut and paste, at least make sure you get the firm name correct!

2. Humour is Subjective

Much like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so too is humour.  The resume is not the right place for a written stand-up routine so take it easy, Chris Rock.  Can the jokes, witticisms and obviously edgy, “personality” injectors.  Save your sparkling personality for the interviews.

3. Hit the High Points!

The resume should include only significant events/achievements/milestones.  Volunteering for one hour at a bake sale, your grade 10 Passport to Education or elementary science fair trophy for the baking soda volcano should not find their way into your articling resume.  If it is not relatively current, omit it - that means no childhood 4-H awards.

4. This is a Resume for a Law Firm, not a Student Summer Job!

Hit the target audience.  The fact that you have a St. John’s Ambulance certification is not a law related employment skill - I am not hiring a life guard for the community pool. 

5. How Can You Not Have Extracurricular Interests?

Yes, we are hiring prospective lawyers, but, we are also hiring people.  People have interests outside of the law - music, reading sports, hobbies.  Put the important ones down; if you love cooking, let us know - we probably do too (or, at least eating) and then we have a common interest to discuss should you get an interview … perfect segue to Part II.

Part II:  Interviewing

1. You need to "Bring It"

Although this is not American Idol, I am still using a Randy Jackson tag-line.  You need to be “on”, you need to engage, you need to “make it your own.”  Well, maybe not the last one.  But, seriously, this is not the time to switch-off.  This is your 30 or 60 minutes to shine.  So, speak up and do not make your interviewers have to carry the conversation. 

2. It's a 2-Way Street

Have some questions for the interviewer.  And, do not make them pat - i.e. “What did you do today?”  Boring - cue the crickets.  There is nothing wrong with asking a challenging question that makes me think.

3. "Stay-Away" Topics

It is obvious that a politically incorrect joke is a complete no-no for an interview.  But, what about other potential debate-starters like politics or religion?  You do not know my views on these topics, and for the interview, I would rather not know yours.  Play it safe on this stuff.  Think of the pros and cons of raising any clearly controversial topic.

4. Know the Time!

If you tell me you are super interested in pursuing a career in criminal law, here is my response - “Why are you interviewing here?”  We do not practice in that area!  Do your homework. 

5. End on a High Note!

I think this was the subject of a Seinfeld episode, but, it is true.  When the interviewers say, “Well thanks for coming in” or “Would you like a tour?”, that is the signal that it is time to draw the interview to a close.  You do not want to be the one hanging on after it is clear it is time to go. 

Bonus Tips:

  • If you put something down on a resume it is “fair-game” to ask questions about.
  • Slow down when you are speaking.  I know you are nervous, but slow down!
  • Stop name-dropping.  It is ok to mention that you may know someone at my firm, but, I do not need to know everyone on your Contacts List.
  • There is nothing wrong with humility.  I know this sounds obvious, but, the 82% you got in Corps does not mean you know just as much about corporate transactions as the 25 year call sitting across from you. 
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