Drafting a CV you can be really proud of is extremely time-consuming and may take several attempts to get right. So blocking out time in your diary for CV preparation is vitally important.

Recruitment consultants don’t expect potential candidates to have ready-made CVs but if you have a draft or skeleton version, albeit one that’s slightly out of date, then that’s a good starting point as it should save you time going forward. Also, if you approach a recruitment consultant with a well-prepared CV you’re more likely to create a positive first impression, which is critically important in a competitive jobs market. Especially because most recruiters typically spend a few seconds reviewing a CV that pops up in their inboxes and if it doesn’t pique their interests immediately then they won’t prioritise making contact with the sender.

The appropriate length, format and content of a CV will differ depending on your sector. For instance, unlike other industries, lawyers at every level of post qualified experience (PQE), especially ones who have just qualified (NQs), are typically expected to place their academics right at the top of the document.

When preparing a CV put yourself in the shoes of a busy recruiter, partner or HR professional. How easy will it be for them to skim over your CV on a computer screen or tablet to identify your qualification date, current employer/position and representative experience on deals/cases? For most legal recruiters the length of a candidate’s CV is not massively important provided it’s easy to follow and only includes relevant information.

Key headings to include in your CV are as follows: Academic Achievements; Career History; Representative Matters (this should be split this into each seat – see below); Business Development Initiatives, Published Work; Other Relevant Experience; Languages; Hobbies and Interests (only include if there’s space). Career changers or mature students may also wish to include an additional section on Early Career History.

Most of the sections referred to above are fairly self-explanatory. The key with Academic Achievements and Career History is to ensure that all ‘unusual’ gaps are accounted for. Whether or not you include every single job, vacation scheme and mini pupillage will depend on how historic and relevant they are to the role you’re applying for.

Representative Matters is by far the most important section so this is where you should concentrate your efforts. On a rough piece of paper jot down the most significant deals and/or cases you’ve worked on recently. For NQs these should be further broken down into matters handled in each of your seats and eventually listed in your CV. How you list Representative Matters is entirely up to you but the most preferred method is in reverse chronological order so that the work handled most recently sits towards the top. Alternatively, you can list in order of relevance or significance. Either way will work but if in doubt then get a second opinion from your recruitment consultant or a senior lawyer contact with experience of recruitment.

Provided your firm’s involvement on a deal/case and its value are in the public domain then it should be fine to include the client’s name. The temptation for many candidates is simply to add a long list of deals/cases to their CVs. But what recruiters and hiring partners are looking for is your specific involvement on these matters that goes beyond process. For instance, did you play an integral role and get involved in drafting and negotiating or were you stuck on a massive due diligence, verification or document review exercise? The most effective way to showcase your experience is to use action verbs such as achieved, developed, drafted, managed, negotiated and researched.

The more evidence you include that showcases your technical development and client skills the stronger your chances of securing an interview. And remember that you don’t have to include every single matter you worked on because as they say less is more. Related to this, you should be confident discussing any deal/case you mention in your CV at an interview.

By Husnara Begum, Associate Career Coach and Contributing Editor