The first step to a successful job application is creating a tailored CV. This will give the hiring manager all the information they require so you stand out in the application process.

Here are 5 top tips to help write a successful CV.


1. Tailor your CV 

Hiring managers typically give a CV between 5 and 30 seconds of their time when they first read it. So, the last thing you want to do is make it hard for the hiring manager to find what they are looking for in your CV. Make sure it’s easy to see how you meet the requirements of the role by describing the responsibilities you have held in past roles using terminology that aligns with the job ad or position description. This will increase the chances that your application gets attention, especially if the compelling evidence of your suitability is clear and appears early by ensuring that you do the following:

  • Information about your education should appear immediately after your name and contact details, even before you provide details of work experience and other information. Your legal qualifications are fresh and current, and the first ‘box’ the employers wants to check when hiring at the graduate/new lawyer level.  
  • Make sure to provide examples of how your experience and skills align closely with what the employer is seeking. Do you have experience performing duties that are similar to those listed in the job ad? Then list those examples first when you outline the responsibilities of each job that appears in your CV. These are also the experiences and skills you should provide the most detail about, as they speak directly to what the employer is hoping you can do for them.  
  • You should minimise less relevant information. You may be proud of your early high school achievements or your extensive experience in an unrelated sector, but unless this information speaks to the requirements of the role you are applying for, you should de-prioritise this information. If your CV is more than two to three pages long, then you should consider removing it entirely. 


2. Check and Re-Check Spelling and Grammar  

This may sound obvious, but it’s often the difference between a CV being shortlisted or being marked ‘no’. Use your spell checker AND your eyes to proofread, proofread, proofread! And if possible, ask someone else to check your CV as well.  

  • Don’t just rely on spell checkers. Be careful with words that, when spelt incorrectly form a different, but correctly spelt word. Common mistakes happen with words like Project Manager, Public Relations or Shift Manager. Digital spell checker won’t pick up some errors with these words – often your keen eyes are the only tool to pick up typos.  
  • It’s helpful to read your CV aloud for one final check of the grammar and to hear how it flows. Beware the risk of the ‘Frankenstein paragraph’, where various sentences may have been cut together from previous versions. These can sound clunky and repetitive. 
  • Use strong action verbs to describe your responsibilities but watch your tenses and be consistent. When describing your current job responsibilities, use the present tense (e.g., Responding to,.., Providing advice… ) but when describing responsibilities from a past role, use the past tense (e.g., Responded, Provided). But most importantly, be consistent. As a legal graduate, you are expected to have great attention to detail and strong written skills.  


3. Avoid ‘Fluff’ – describe concrete experiences and achievements 

Every centimetre of your CV is a scarce resource so filling it with “fluff” is a waste and is guaranteed to lose the hiring manager’s attention. This means avoiding statements or skills lists that simply describe your attributes or talents without evidence of how you have demonstrated them. A CV displays your qualifications and experience – what you have done and the skills you have learnt while doing it.  

So remember:  

  • Don’t use up valuable space in summary paragraphs that state information already provided.  
  • Avoid including a ‘Career Objective’ – save this information for your cover letter or application form and tailor it to reflect the opportunity on offer. 
  • Don’t just make claims about your skills, show the evidence! For example, instead of stating that you’re a team player, show the recruiter you have worked successfully in teams by including details about teams you were part of, what you were responsible for and what was achieved within your work experience or extra-curricular information. Remember, a mere assertion doesn’t make it true – anyone can say they are great at something (and so many people do)! 


4. Emphasise the positive BUT be accurate 

Don’t lie or exaggerate in your CV, even unintentionally. Always include accurate dates and put the right type and amount of details under your work experience. Remember, if you get an interview, you’ll be asked to elaborate on your CV, you don’t want to have misrepresented your level of experience.  

  • Always provide specific dates for your past experience. For example, if you worked a summer job at McDonalds, provide specific dates like this ‘December 2018 – January 2019’. Don’t be tempted to put ‘2018 – 2019’ as this gives the impression that you held the role for two years.  
  • Use language appropriate for your level of skill and experience. While you may have thrived during MOOTs and had great feedback on your mock bail application at Leo Cussen, describing yourself as having “extensive advocacy experience” or “exceptional advocacy skills” is best left until you have a few years of post-admission experience behind you.


5. Get the formatting right  

Adopting a standard and proven format typically increases your chances of a hiring manager reading your CV to the end. Complicated formatting can be distracting and lead to your CV being passed over for one much easier to read. Here are some key points to consider to help you achieve a professional result:  

  • Templates are available here from the Careers and Placement module on Moodle that keep your CV simple, clear and easy to read. Avoid fancy borders, columns, tables and distracting colours and graphics. Having a crisp, clean, simple CV will help the recruiter find the information they’re looking for.  
  • The first page is prime real estate- minimise space taken up by your name and contact details. Remember, your date of birth and full address are not required.  
  • Always list qualifications and work experience in reverse chronological order.  
  • Consider separating any ‘Legal Experience’ you have gained, including voluntary and placements, from ‘Other experience’ in two sections.  
  • Save your photo for the LinkedIn profile. Employers frequently tell us they don’t want to see photos on CVs or job applications. They do not want to give any weight to an individual’s appearance in their assessment, but also want to avoid being put in a position where a photo is perceived to have influenced their decision.  
  • Ensure your email address sets a professional tone – you are about to be eligible to be admitted as an Australia Lawyer, so that email address that used to make your uni friends giggle won’t cut it.  
  • List PLT/GDLP at Leo Cussen under your Education and your professional placement can be listed under Legal Experience. 
  • Include extra curriculars and hobbies/interests – the more interesting the better. And include any languages you speak other than English.  

Finally, it’s better to avoid applying for roles which you are clearly not qualified. If you’re finding it impossible to tailor your CV to the requirements of the role, it may be worth re-considering your application. Of course, you should feel encouraged to apply for roles where you meet many of the criteria and/or you feel your experience has provided you with relevant transferrable skills. If the employer has outlined minimum requirements you simply cannot meet, such as significantly more years of experience than you have or specific qualifications you don’t hold, then this may not be the role for you.  

If you are interested in working for an organisations, but don’t qualify for an advertised role, then rather than waste your, and the employer’s, time on an application, consider making a direct approach to enquire about the prospect of roles that fit your skills and expertise.