University of Pittsburgh

Pitt Law Works: Volume 4 Issue 10 - October 31, 2008


A top quality résumé is essential to your success. Is yours good enough to grab an employer's attention? Take this quiz to see if your résumé would be picked out of the competition:

___Is your résumé one page?

Brief resumes work best. Employers scan résumés with a 15-20 second glance. Be a skillful editor, deleting the portions which are not relevant or least helpful to your securing that particular position. Emphasize your more recent experience in the last five to seven years. Use different résumés to target different job titles.

___Does your résumé describe results and accomplishments?

Employers want proof that you can do the job.   Specifics that demonstrate your accomplishments are crucial.   Show what you have increased or decreased, or how you contributed to the work environment.

___Is your résumé visually appealing?

The appearance of the résumé cannot be overemphasized! Use high quality paper. Use 10-point (or larger) font. Allow for some white space at margins.   Use italics, capital letters, underlining, bolding, indentations and bullets to emphasize your important points. (Don't overdo it, though).   Proofread - make your résumé a perfect example of you! When sending a résumé electronically, e-mail it to a friend and have them forward it back to you so you can see how it looks. Sometimes the formatting gets jumbled around and you will need to rework it.

___Are you starting each sentence with an action verb?

Begin sentences with descriptive action verbs, such as established, analyzed, implemented, designed or organized. They add power to your sentences by demonstrating actions.

___Is your tone positive, excluding personal statistics and abbreviations?

Spell out names of schools, cities and abbreviations completely. It is more professional to give complete information, as employers may not recognize abbreviations or acronyms. Never state why you left a position. It is no longer considered professional or wise to include information about marital status, gender, height, weight or health on your résumé.

___Does your résumé get you interviews?

This is the ultimate test to determine if you've written a good résumé. If you are not getting appropriate interviews, you may need some professional intervention to learn why it is not working. Typically, it's generic without specific accomplishments, you are applying for jobs you aren't qualified for, or it needs an overhaul to stress past actions and results achieved. Re-work your résumé until employers do respond.


Every year, we suggest that students do informational interviews to learn about practice areas or non-traditional fields.   Every year some students go out and try it, but there are many others who resist this path and consider informational interviewing only as a last resort.   It is, of course, more difficult to cold call a stranger or a friend of a friend to gather information than it is to draft cover letters and let resumes float anonymously out into the world.

So, why engage in informational interviewing?

  • There is less rejection involved than in a mass mailing.   Even in a field where jobs are scarce, information is not scarce, and many people approached for an informational interview are willing to spend the time to introduce you to their career.
  • It is a chance to learn about additional resources you can use and organizations you can join to help you in your chosen career.
  • When it comes time for you to write cover letters and to apply for jobs, you will be able to do this more effectively:   when you indicate an interest in health care law or in IP you can be more convincing about your genuine interest if you do so with a knowledge of what is actually involved in that career.
  • It can help you learn that you are not actually interested in what you thought you were.

How to get started:

  • Research associations, web sites, and trade publications.
  • Learn a bit about the person you are contacting by looking at her profile on their organization's website.
  • Don't be afraid to script the conversation or write out the questions you would like to ask.   For example, you could start a phone conversation or an email with:   "Hello, I am a student at Pitt Law and I am interested in pursuing a career in [insert practice area here].   I was wondering if you would be able to spend a few minutes with me to discuss how your career developed and what work you are doing in your position at [insert name of organization here]."
  • If you are uncomfortable interviewing practitioners, start your networking among law school peers, many of whom have already gathered the type of information you are seeking.   The faculty is a great resource as well.

What you might ask:

  • [You seem to enjoy your job].   How did you choose your job/career path/practice area?
  • What has your career path been? (If you have not been able to find this out from doing your research.)
  • What kinds of cases do you work on/are you currently working on?
  • What is a typical day like for you?
  • How is this work different than what you expected?
  • What do you wish you would have known before you began practice? (What have you learned since working here/graduating?)
  • What do you like best about your job?
  • How long were you working before you a) had client contact, b) were in court
  • Did you start off in your current practice area?  (Again, be sure you could not have found this out through research...)   Why did you switch?
  • What do you find most challenging about being a lawyer?
  • What advice can you give me about a) course selection, b) career path/job selection, c) my resume
  • Is there anyone else you can think of that I should talk to?

What else you need to know:

  • You can conduct informational interviews over the phone or via email; however, you may find that interviews in person are the best learning experiences
  • If you do interviews in person, be on time, dress professionally; and be respectful of support staff and of your interviewer's time.   Send a well-proofed thank you note
  • Consider following up with these people as your career progresses; let them know what you are up to
  • DO NOT ask for a job during the interview or expect a job offer to follow shortly thereafter.


Law students often feel that writing an effective cover letter is more challenging than mastering the UCC.

Are you struggling to put a cover letter together? Are you putting off this task?   Keep this in mind -- your cover letter is one long answer to this question: "Why should I read your resume and call you for an interview?"   It also serves as a brief writing sample.   Here are four tips:

1) Build rapport.

Cover letters are read by people, so address yours to a person. NEVER start your cover letter with "Dear Sir or Madam" or "To whom it may concern."

Take that extra two minutes to call the employer and get the recipient's name. Ask the receptionist, "I'm writing a letter to the person who manages (your target department). May I have the correct spelling please?" This will set you apart from most applicants.

2) Avoid stating the obvious.

We know you're a quick learner, honest and hard working. So are the other 500 applicants who want this job. Don't waste precious space in your cover letter saying so.   Instead, use the cover letter to display your knowledge of the organization and even to share specific examples of skills you have developed.   Here is an example:

"I chose my undergraduate degree in biology and political science because of my interest in environmental defense; I enhanced this knowledge through my undergraduate thesis on OSHA compliance and pesticide testing. I am able to couple that experience with my new legal research and writing skills. My experience in environmental law as an intern at the Sierra Club, and as an activist with the Fund for Public Interest, has provided me with a foundation for understanding current legal challenges and the skills to help meet these challenges. I am especially interested in water rights and the ecological impact of developing along rivers, two areas in which your organization takes a leading role."

3) Stick to one page in length.

Doing this proves you can prioritize your thoughts and present them concisely -- both admirable qualities. Also, it shows respect for your busy reader, who may have hundreds more cover letters and resumes to wade through.

Cover letters should have an opening paragraph, two or three fact-filled points to build the reader's interest, and a closing paragraph. This usually comes out to three or four paragraphs that never exceed one page.

4) Get input from resources at the Law School.

When you finish your one-page masterpiece, give it to friends and ask for their overall opinion. Their advice is important.   Also, email it to your CSO career counselors, who are committed to helping you develop your career.


It's where our nation was born in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed in Independence Hall and where the Constitution of the new United States of America was drafted in 1787.   Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love and was the location of the meeting of the first Congress.   Today, with a population of approximately 1.6 million, Philadelphia is the fifth-largest city in the United States and the second-largest on the East Coast.   Philadelphia's economy is heavily based upon manufacturing, refining, food, and financial services.   Philadelphia has its own stock exchange and the list of major companies in Philadelphia includes GlaxoSmithKline, Sunoco, Comcast and Pep Boys.   The city's renaissance in the last decade has brought national attention. In recent years, Philadelphia has been named the "number one restaurant city," "America's friendliest city," and "the safest large city."   As for the legal community, the Philadelphia Bar Association ( has had a sister bar agreement with the Lyon Bar Association in France since 1997 and The Legal Intelligencer is the oldest daily legal newspaper in the U.S.   Plan to visit the city; schedule informational interviews when you're there, but don't forget to grab a famous Philly cheesesteak!



Thursday, November 10th  NOON (RSVP required)

Don't miss this chance to hear Judge Ambrose explain what she and the other District Court judges expect from young lawyers in their courtrooms. There will also be a question and answer session.

The event will be held in the Academy Room on the 9th Floor of the City-County Building. To RSVP, please contact Pam Dececco at by Nov. 6, 2008. Lunch will be provided.


Tues., Nov. 11, 2008, 4:00

Kresge Theater, Carlow University

Panelists include:   Linda Hernandez, Esq. Dir. of Institute for Gender Equality • Dr. Phyllis Kitzerow, Professor of Sociology, Westminster College and

M.J. Tocci, President of Fulcrum Advisors

In 2005, the ACBA commissioned a survey of its members regarding their career paths and income.   The study results indicated considerable gender disparities with respect to salaries and career advancement and led to the formation of a Gender Equality Task Force and eventually, in 2008,   to the establishment of   an Institute for Gender Equality.   The panelists will discuss the 2005 study, the Bar's responses; the programs and initiatives that have been developed through the Institute to address gender inequities and concerns.   Also, the panelists will discuss how law firms, corporations, and other organizations can increase productivity and profitability through recruiting, retaining, and promoting talented women. They will discuss gender bias in performance evaluation.   Reception Following the Program


November 12, 11:30am-1:30pm  (RSVP Required)

ACBA Auditorium, 9th Floor City County Building

A panel of minority judges  will discuss their former legal  careers, journey to the bench and give insight to others who may be  interested in pursuing a judicial career.  Panelists include Hon. Kimberly Clark, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas; Hon. Cathy Bissoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge; and Hon. Justin M. Johnson (Retired), Superior Court of PA.      Please RSVP to by  November 5,  2008.  



Q &A Pressing Job Search Questions

First Wednesday of the Month (November 5)

12:30 - 1:30, Student Lounge

Pam, Jen and Mary will be in the student lounge to answer your "quick" questions (for more involved questions we will schedule an appointment with you for a later date).   So, bring your pressing questions, a hard copy of your resume and your laptop and we'll provide some support and direction in your job search efforts. (And snacks - we'll provide the snacks).



Thursday, November 6th, 1:00pm-2:00pm

Room G-20

Members of the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group (PDLG) will be presenting a video-conference information session for 1L students on the Summer 2009 law clerk program ( ). The PDLG First-Year Summer Program (the "PDLG Program") offers first-year students from participating area law schools an additional route to summer employment in outstanding law firms and corporate law departments. The goal of the PDLG Program is to increase the number of lawyers of diverse backgrounds working at Philadelphia area law firms and corporate law departments. Thus, the PDLG Program is designed to identify first year law students who have overcome obstacles in pursuing a legal career or come from disadvantaged backgrounds or from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the Philadelphia legal community and who have demonstrated the ability - based on academic achievement, writing ability and other accomplishments - to succeed in the summer programs run by our member organizations. Details about the application process for the Summer 2009 program will be given at this session.     For the summer of 2008 we had two first year students selected to participate in this program.

If you plan to attend this session please email so we can determine space and set-up needs for the video-conference.


PLISF Public Interest Panel will occur on November 6th from 12-1.   PLISF hopes for a good turn out of students for this great panel presentation!

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