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    « The 6-Second Treatment »

    Legal employers used to tell me that they gave each resume they picked up 20-30 seconds to make an impression.  When I first heard that, I was shocked.  Nevertheless, taking what they said to heart, I urged my legal career counseling clients to take great pains to make sure that all of their “grabber” information was “top-of-the-fold,” in other words appearing on the top half of the first page of their resume.

    Now, a new survey by, an online job site, has blown my 20-30 second strategy out of the water.  The survey results reveal the following dispiriting finding:  The average recruiter spends six seconds scanning a resume for something that makes them want to set it aside for a later, more in-depth review.

    That does not give you a lot of time or resume space in which to make an impression, much less a great first impression.

    Whether this foreshortening of the already severely limited time recruiters accord resumes from job candidates is a result of the general diminution of American attention spans (political commercials now average 9 seconds, because studies show that confronted with anything longer than that, audiences “zone out”) or is the consequence of being besieged by a barrage of resumes is beside the point.  What this means is that you have to adjust your resume strategy accordingly. used eye-tracking technology to observe 30 recruiters reviewing resumes and online profiles over a 10-week period.

    So, What To Do?

    First, make sure that if you have something arresting to present at the very top of the resume, you do that.  For example, say that in addition to your JD, you have an undergraduate degree in finance and are applying for positions in the in-house counsel office of a bank or other financial services company.  Your very first line might read something like this:

    Jane Doe, BA (Finance), JD

    Or, if you have a credential that supplements your JD and makes you that much more interesting a candidate, try something like this at the top of your resume:

    John Smith, JD, CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner)

    The goal should be to differentiate yourself in any way you can from your competitors for the position.

    Another way to achieve that is to begin your pitch (after your identifying information, of course) with a Profile or Summary of Qualifications, where you bring to the fore your key selling points.  For example:


    Strong background in diverse areas of intellectual property law, including: patents, trademarks, technology licensing and intellectual asset management.  Member of Patent Bar.  Fluent in German.  Degrees from Duke, Cornell Law School and Rockefeller University.

    Another tactic that will quickly attract the recruiter’s eyes is the use of boldface headings as lead-ins to describing your work accomplishments:

    Complex Commercial Litigation

    Government Contracts

    Other Transactions

    Beneath each of these headings, you would then list your achievements preceded by bullets, which also attract the reader’s eyes.

    Avoid the “Sizzle”

    Keep your resume simple, clear and to the point.  Omit “bling” like your photograph or fancy graphics.  These are far more likely to annoy and fixate the reader than help your candidacy.  Resume bells and whistles are an irritant. 

    Legal employers are not like any others.  They abhor anything that strikes them as inappropriate for a conservative profession like the law.  Consequently, even if your politics tend toward Trotskyism, make like a mainstream “suit” when crafting a legal resume.