Let’s say it’s been a while since you practiced law, and you’re not sure you want to go back to it. You’ve gotten some non-legal experience under your belt, either paid or unpaid. How should you deal with it on your resume? Hide it, or flaunt it? My advice is to flaunt it by framing it carefully to show off your portable talents and skills.
Let me show you what I mean. On Monday, two people gave me resumes. One came in my actual home mailbox, hand delivered by an out-of work lawyer who would “love to work with my firm” but who must not know that I help people leave their law careers. His research skills aside, what stood about his resume was the yawning gap between his last job (in 2011) and now. Even if I had a job open, I wouldn‘t give it to someone whose resume sparked so many questions at first glance.
The other resume also came from someone who hasn’t practiced law in a while. I knew more of her story because I counseled her a few weeks ago. This dynamic young woman had taken a job with a social service agency immediately after law school. She deferred the bar exam while she set up and ran a legal services clinic for the agency’s clients. The funding fell through after a year, leaving her out of work and seven months from the next bar exam. So she started a new a business with her husband. Their dog grooming boutique is now doing quite well, but it’s not what she wants to do for the rest of her life. She has a passion for helping people, and wants to use her training toward that goal. I advised her to showcase, rather than hide, her entrepreneurial experience on her resume.
Here’s an excerpt from her new resume entry:
Founder/Co-Owner: Founded a boutique retail store with a focus on canine health. Conducted significant research and developed a network of canine professionals, including veterinarians, dog behaviorists, professional photography and local animal rescue organizations to create a unique business in the area served. Designed website and built a strong customer base through various channels, including social media networks and targeted mailings.
This entry serves her well. It shows off her initiative and drive, especially when paired with her previous job creating the legal services clinic. It highlights her research, marketing, and collaborative skills, and shows tangible results, which any career counselor will tell you is a great way to rev up your resume.
Explaining non-traditional work experience is important, and not just because it fills suspicious gaps. It’s important because it gives you another opportunity to shine. Writing up your non-legal experience focuses potential employers’ attention on the experience, skills, and results that make you an attractive candidate and a valuable hire – no matter what you plan to do next.