Converting Your Job Resume Into Your Law School Resume In Five (Relatively) Easy Steps

Your resume is one the several components that ultimately comprise your applications to law school.  Many students (and alumni) at Penn usually have some kind of resume in their possession – some are very up-to-date (for those actively applying for internships, jobs, or fellowships) and others have not seen a substantive update since high school graduation.  While some applications will ask you to list your most significant experiences directly on the application, there are often only a few lines to do so and the expectation is that you keep that brief and prioritized.  With that in mind, your resume is actually a very important aspect of your law school applications since, for many schools, it is the only opportunity to list and describe all of your activities, achievements, and involvements in full detail.  Law school admissions committees are very interested in how you spend your time and energy outside of class, so it is essential that you create a strong, accurate, and flattering portrayal of yourself on your resume.

There are several ways, however, that distinguish a law school resume from the aforementioned resume you might use in job or internship applications.  In addition to the two sample law school resumes I have provided for your reference on our pre-law website (under Law School Application Components), here are five (relatively) easy steps in converting the latter into the former.

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Your resume is lonely for its BFF…

If you find that you’re applying to internships or full-time positions, or for interview consideration through On-Campus Recruiting, but are not getting the response you seek, it might be that your resume is lonely!

by Jamie Grant, C’98, GEd ’99

If you find that you’re applying to internships or full-time positions, or for interview consideration through On-Campus Recruiting, but are not getting the response you seek, it might be that your resume is lonely!   I don’t say this to be silly (resumes don’t really have feelings…although sometimes I imagine they do cringe under my ferocious editing pencil).  Rather, I encourage you to more carefully consider the value of a well written and individualized cover letter as part of your search – and as a new BFF for your lonely resume.

By sending a resume, through a website, attached to an email, for OCR, without a cover letter, you are giving away your power – to demonstrate your excellent writing skills, to take ownership of how your resume is reviewed, and to persuade your recipient that YOU are the best candidate for the opportunity at hand.   Like a boat without a rudder or a car without a GPS, your resume alone can lack obvious direction and easily get “lost” amongst the many applications a recruiter may receive in this competitive job market.  This is especially true if you are applying to an opportunity not directly related to your major or your background – without a cover letter, how might your reader understand how someone with your skills, background and experience could be an ideal candidate, and not just dismiss you outright because you’re not the most obvious fit?

My advice?  Don’t leave it up to your recipient to draw conclusions or make assumptions as to how you are the best candidate for the job.  Take control and exercise your job seeking power – use the job description, company website, or any other resources you can find to help you understand the type of candidate the organization is seeking, and spend time carefully drafting a cover letter – or the body of an email, or even text to include in the “Miscellaneous Comments” box on the web application – to accompany your resume.  Explain exactly how you are the person to add value to the firm and inspire your reader to contact you for more details, and hopefully an interview!  Trust me, your resume will be much more impactful, productive – and thankful! – if you don’t send it out into the world alone.

Answering the Dreaded “Why isn’t your GPA Higher?” Interview Question

By Claire Klieger

Don't be tormented by your transcript.

This is the kind of question that most of us dread because let’s face it—we probably all have at least one class or semester that just didn’t go so well. In some cases that may be a mere blip in your academic performance and for others, it can be an all out bomb. Regardless, here are some tips to help you better prepare for such a question:

1)      Don’t divulge negative information unless specifically asked. Sometimes, a GPA or grade in course that really concerns you is not a big deal for the employer. If it is an issue, you are can be sure that the recruiter will ask about it so there is no need to volunteer negative information. You may think that by broaching the subject you will have a chance to explain the circumstances, but doing so without being prompted actually just shines a bigger spotlight on the potential issue. Take that C you received in a particular course. Especially if it’s in an unrelated discipline, chances that the recruiter may not even care but bringing it up on your own just draws attention to it.

2)      Avoid the blame or comparative game. When you try to displace the fault you not only come across as someone who complains (and may even be seen as whiney), but you also never know when you may inadvertently insult someone. For example, I regularly hear students in science or math heavy majors say to me, “well, if I had an easier major, like English, my grades would be higher.” What if your interviewer (like me) majored in English? I certainly wouldn’t have described the multiple twenty-plus page papers I wrote a semester or the probably thousands of pages of reading I did as an easy course load. Pointing fingers just doesn’t create a good impression.

3)      Take responsibility for your actions. Instead of blaming a bad grade in a class on your major, the curve or the difficult professor, ask yourself what was really going on.  Employers want to hire folks who can own up to their mistakes.  In particular, if you can focus on what you’ve learned from that experience so you won’t make a similar mistake again, you can alleviate employers’ fears about any potential “skeletons” in your closet.

4)      The best answer to a difficult question is always the truth, though you should consider your approach. What is real reason you had a rough semester? Perhaps you underestimated the time commitment of rushing a sorority or pledging a fraternity?  Maybe you got in over your head by taking three upper level classes in the same subject next semester? Simply state what happened without a lot of details or over explanations and then focus on how you learned from the experience, particularly if it allows you to focus on more recent positive events.

Example: “I struggled with adjusting to college life and didn’t manage my time as well I should have freshman year. However, since then, I’ve learned to more effectively juggle my responsibilities and prioritize and as you can see from my transcript, I’ve continued to improve each semester since then.

5)      Own your own story. Remember that interviewers are people too, who have made their own mistakes in life and are usually willing to overlook your own provided you have the right approach. It’s important to be comfortable in your own skin. If you are upfront and honest when asked a question without coming across as defensive you will project a self assurance that will put recruiters at ease.

Here is my favorite true anecdote from a few years ago: A student was hitting it off with a recruiter at an on-campus info session for a very prestigious consulting firm. However, her hopes began to dash when the recruiter asked her, “What’s your GPA?”  She could see that her response of a 2.76 made the recruiter’s face fall and so she said, “I can see that you’re disappointed,” and the recruiter agreed. The student lifted up her chin and said with a smile, “Let me tell you something. I’m the first person in my family to go to college and I am so proud of the fact that I worked hard enough to end up at Penn. I’m continuing to work hard here and I’m thrilled with my GPA.” Guess what? She ended up getting an interview.

Resume Speed

by Dr. Joseph Barber

When commuting to and from work on SEPTA regional rail, there is plenty you can learn from staring out of the window (at least, before you fall asleep and start drooling). For example, I have seen one house next to the railway line that seems to have a horse in its garden. Being social creatures with long legs that need stretching, a garden-living horse doesn’t sound like the best idea. I have seen a taxi graveyard, where old, battered taxis rust mostly in peace, their innards strewn over the ground and picked over for anything useful. The newer, working taxis reside in the lot next door. Perhaps their proximity to the graveyard makes them stay more reliable on a day-to-day basis, as if to say to them, “stay working, taxi, or you know where you will end up”.

The other day, I saw a sign along the railway track that read “Resume Speed”. Now, working at Career Services, my brain is specifically attuned to terms such as CV and résumé, and so it is perhaps not surprising that I completely misread this sign.


Résumé speed? What on earth is résumé speed, and why are train drivers interested in the speed of job application materials?” I would have said, if I wasn’t on a train full of people who would have thought me somewhat crazy to be talking to myself early on a Thursday morning.

Fortunately, the commonsense part of my brain stopped drooling, and woke up in time to set me straight. Of course, the sign was actually telling train drivers to return to some speed they were travelling at before they had slowed down for something. Yes, that makes much more sense. However, it did get me thinking. Is there such a thing as ‘résumé speed’ when it comes to job applications. It wouldn’t refer to the speed of creating a résumé, because that should be a slow, careful, and continuous process. It might refer, though, to the speed at which employers read your résumé. In certain cases, ‘résumé speed’ is extremely fast – much faster than the regional rail at any rate. You often hear that employers may spend only 30-45 seconds reading your résumé. No-one knows for sure if this is accurate, but it would probably be a good idea to write your résumé as if you only get 30-45 seconds to impress. You résumé should showcase those key skills that are most applicable to the job you are applying for – and thus your résumé will look different for every job to which you apply. If you want to know how successful you have been at getting the message across about your skills, hand your résumé to a friend, count to 30, and then snatch it away from them. Ask them what stood out the most from their brief reading of the document. If they say the fancy font you used for your name, the funny e-mail address you have (e.g.,, or the fact that the résumé was hard to read, then this means that you probably need to spend some more time on it.

If leadership and staff management are key requirements for the job you are applying to, then what you want, of course, is for your friend to say something like, “Oh my…, you certainly have a lot of leadership experience; that’s a jolly good show, old chap”. In this case, your friend is English, pretending to be English, or being possessed by the ghost of an Englishman. But if your foreign/strange/possessed friend can spot the skills you are highlighting, then so too will potential employers.

You are now clear to ‘resume speed’, and we’ll see you at Career Services where we have more advice and assistance if you need it.