Given that many positions in a law firm require tremendous attention to detail and the ability to produce an accurate and professional looking work product, the resumes and cover letters you receive when you begin advertising for an open position should be faultless. But you may be surprised by what shows up. To filter out the less than perfect submissions, have a trusted assistant or office manager first screen the candidates for their qualifications and sort the resumes into three piles: Recommended, Possible and Unsuitable. To further narrow the field, he or she should re-examine the applicants in the first two piles and ask the following questions:

1. Is the appearance of the cover letter and resume neat and professional looking?

This indicates the person’s level of attention to detail. If the person did not take the time to perfect important documents such as their resume and cover letter, they will not suddenly become more detail-oriented once on the job.

2. Is the paper quality appropriate?

Ignore this step if the cover letter and resume were submitted on-line. If submitted by mail, however, take note of the quality of the paper to see if it measures up to the level of professionalism you would expect from this level of applicant.

3. Is the person’s use of language and word choice appropriate and correct?

A person’s choice of words indicates the level of their writing (and probably speaking) skills and whether or not they are a good match for your firm. Depending on the level of the open position, flawless English may be a necessity. If your ad specified you are seeking bi-lingual applicants, you may want to have the non-English resumes reviewed by a native speaker, and check for fluency both in English and the second language.

4. Are there any errors in grammar and punctuation?

This indicates the quality of the person’s early education and is a pretty good indication of the quality of the work product you will receive if you hire this person.

If, upon examination, an applicant’s resume and cover letter are found to be excellent in all the above categories, it should remain in its original “Recommended” or “Possible” file. If an applicant’s paperwork fails to meet the above tests, these are red flags and indicate that the applicant should be downgraded a category. This means an otherwise “Recommended” candidate in terms of experience and education will be downgraded due to errors in their paperwork. If a candidate started out in the “Possible” pile and then becomes downgraded due to their paperwork, they’ll end up in the “Unsuitable” category.

Once this initial screening has taken place, everyone who is to interview the candidates should receive a copy of the resumes and cover letters in the first two categories for review. Once they have read them, you should then have your assistant schedule the interviews. By scrutinizing the resumes this thoroughly before the interview process, you’ll eliminate all but the best candidates and save yourself a lot of time.

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