If you’re a lawyer considering either a career change (or indeed seeking to enter the legal profession as a career changer or mature applicant), a return to practice after a break or changing specialism a skills-based CV (sometimes referred to as a ‘functional’ CV) is likely to be more effective in grabbing a prospective employer’s attention.
For career changers, a functional CV demonstrates what you can bring to a role in terms of transferrable skills / competencies and what you’ve learned through your achievements, where you may not already have recent and relevant experience sought by employers in your desired area. Whilst for returners, a skills-based CV enables you to shift the focus away from your employment timeline and potential gaps to the skills you acquired previously. What’s more, you can also showcase experiences gained during your period away from the legal profession eg volunteering, school governor roles, additional study, hobbies and interests.
If you’re looking to change specialism, you too can demonstrate transferable skills like building client relationships, problem solving, ability to manage and juggle priorities and identify key parts of your current role that will translate to the new practice area, as well as how you are building your technical knowledge in your desired area eg short courses or webinars attended.
Health warning: you should carefully consider whether this format is right for you depending on your circumstances.
What’s a skills-based CV?
Unlike a traditional chronological CV, a skills-based resume immediately focuses on your most relevant skills gained through past work and life experiences – and puts these at the top; the first half of the first page of your CV. It highlights to an employer the essential skills you have acquired that most closely match the role they are looking to fill.
With CVs often being scanned in less than 20 seconds it means you’re maximising the opportunity to underline your key selling points.
Step-by-step guide to putting together a skills-based CV
Before starting to draft your CV, you should carefully consider the key skills and experiences your target employer is looking for. These could be hard (eg technical skills gained in a particular area of law or sector, professional qualifications /accreditations, language skills, IT skills) or soft (eg interpersonal skills, problem-solving, relationship building, leadership and commercial awareness).
If you’re applying for a specific advertised role, start by carefully studying the job description and person spec first. If you’re applying speculatively look at previously advertised roles at a similar level for your relevant specialism.
Next, make a list of your key experiences that most closely mirror those on the employer’s shopping list.
This is really important no matter which type of CV format you use. Too many people compose their CV, then fire off the same version for every role and wonder why they don’t hear back. Constructing and tailoring your CV for each role can be time consuming but is likely to result in greater success.
Remember for a CV you write in the ‘smart 3rd person’ so ‘drafted’, ‘researched’ etc and ensure you use action verbs to describe your achievements.
Step 1: your contact details, including full name, location (full postal address is not necessary), nationality (this will enable the employer to determine if you need sponsorship), contact number, email and your LinkedIn URL (if you’re including LinkedIn you must ensure your profile is up to date).
Step 2: Bio
Draft a short profile / narrative specific to you and the role. Avoid over-used cliches like ‘hardworking’ and ‘highly motivated’. Explain who you are (eg a multi-lingual corporate lawyer with five years’ experience offering legal advice to blue-chip companies on mergers and acquisitions), briefly mention 2/3 key experiences / accomplishments and where gained, and finally what you’re looking for.
Step 3: The most important part!
This is where you list those all-important skills and experiences gained. What are the key requirements for this new role that you need to highlight? Group information under relevant headings eg technical skills, strong communication skills and problem solving. Ideally list 5/6 in total. Under each, in bullet point form, provide a few tangible examples to demonstrate where you have successfully used that skill. Include relevant experiences, accomplishments and results.
Provide as much factual information as you can to back-up the skills listed on your CV eg improved performance by X percent, type of deal worked on including size and value, number of people in the team you managed, size of caseload you handled.
Step 4: Your employment history.
This can be broken down into relevant and other work experience, depending on the amount of previous work experience you have gained. Given this is a skills-based CV, you don’t need to provide as much detail as you would in a chronological CV. List dates employed, name of organisation and a brief overview of each role. Remember, it’s not necessary to include every single role – only ones that cover significant periods in your life. Also, if you’re a mature applicant there’s no need to include part-time or holiday jobs from your formative years. And if you’re a returner explain any gaps in your CV by simply adding the phrase “Planned Career Break” with relevant dates.
All of the really important and relevant points should have already been mentioned in your skills section so make sure you’re not repeating yourself.
Step 5: Education & Qualifications,
Include relevant dates, place of study and overall grades achieved or predicted. For pre-university education it’s fine to include a brief summary and grades, rather than listing all subjects. If your education was gained overseas, ideally add a brief explanation of the grading system/context. Remember, here you can also include pending qualifications / on-going courses.
Step 6: Interests & Additional skills (optional)
Only include if there’s room and won’t make your CV too lengthy.
For 1-2-1 advice on CVs and job applications click here.