The CV Conundrum: Decoding the value more mysterious than Pi
This article was written by Megha Mehta (Batch of 2019).
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be an advertisement brochure to push people into the dark void of the capitalist rat race but is meant to bridge the informational gap that exists in law school given that we have no career counseling sessions and many of us don’t have the advantage of being friends with seniors or coming from law backgrounds, and therefore cannot seek advice. I hope this article will help all the Simrans and Rajs trying to figure out their life plans and simultaneously not lose their shit in La-School.
Let’s evaluate your average Simran (for the lack of any other generic Indian name; no reference to any specific Simran) at law school. Simran joined law school not having any great ambitions, but knowing very well that she has to become financially independent in about a decade or so lest her parents foist her off into an unwanted rishta (or Bauji’s business). Simran had never done anything great in school, and she figured law school would be the same way- as long as she had decent grades and worked hard, things would be fine.
However, Simran’s naivety was shattered because she soon realized that everybody was roughly equally smart, and equally eager to get their hands on the ‘package’. It’s not that she really wanted the job- but she didn’t want to be stuck in the cold while everyone else was rolling in the green- and more importantly, she really wanted to try living life on her own terms as opposed to staying at home and accepting the proposal of her second cousin Kuljeet. So she took up everything she could in the past four years- she did Jessup, she was Convenor of 2 committees, she had the grades, but she didn’t do anything path-breaking outside of that.
Now she’s sitting outside the Training Centre and waiting for interviews to begin. Sitting next to her is Raj, who has okay grades, has done a few extra-curricular activities, and quite a few internships but has never mooted or been the member of any committee. He is known as one of the most outgoing and creative students in their batch, has done extensive social work and is the captain of the football team. Raj keeps telling everybody that he’s here just for the kicks and that these kind of jobs are overrated, except deep down inside he knows that’s elitist bull. He’s the first graduate in his family; he has two siblings to send to college and parents on the verge of retirement. He could really use the ‘package’ right now-except now he feels his entire law school life was a waste just because he doesn’t have the magic 6-point-something number in his resume.
You might think you know who’s going to hit the jackpot at the end of this: but do you really?
A lot of the choices we make, and our ability to make them, depend upon the amount of effort we put in in our five years in law school. There are a plethora of options available, but only so much you can humanly do within a trimester system without having a nervous breakdown. How do you allocate your time? More importantly, is all of it- the tears you cried over not getting an A+, the hours you spent over reams of commentaries while your friends were at NYP, and the *beep* work you did because nobody else in the committee was willing to- even going to be worth it? Or should you have just spent all that time doing the things you actually liked but with no employment value- napping, reading the news, watching more YouTube videos, etc.?
This article attempts to decode one of the most important questions after R+L=J and ‘Is the Internet Working in the Library?’- what exactly is CV value? What is it composed of? Does it even exist? If it does, does it really make a difference? Apart from exploring the value of all the conventional things- CGPA, mooting, committees, etc.; the article will also look at the importance of things outside of CV value- and the one secret ingredient that might surprise you all.
What’s your GPA?
While it’s easy to accuse people of ‘CV-whoring’, it certainly is the first step to your dream job. According to Navneet Hrishikeshan, (Director of Service Providers Legal, Asia-Pacific and Japan, and in-house counsel for CISCO), “Your resume won’t get you the job, but it acts as a foot in the door.” At the moment, he is personally going through numerous resumes to select a member of the legal team for CISCO. He quips, “Firms hire based on attitude. However if you have 72 resumes to go through, the little things help in eliminating people. So it should not be lazily written.”
So what’s going to be the first thing that catches the recruiter’s eye? It’s obviously going to be your CGPA right? Priyanka Madan (Batch of 2015, Trainee-Solicitor at Herbert Smith Freehills, London) states “While I agree that CGPA is not everything, I still think it’s is a very important component of your CV, simply because it’s the first thing anyone will look at. More traditional firms/colleges will also give it the most importance, and if you’re using your CV to get an academic role, there really isn’t any other way for the selection committee to judge your potential. I would always advice students to keep their CGPA in mind, and take academics at law school seriously. Obviously, this is easier said than done. Some courses will kill your will to live, forget CGPA upkeep.”
Chetan Nagendra (Partner, AZB) agrees: “CGPA, mooting and extra-curricular activities are particularly important for the first decade of a legal career, when younger lawyers (and recruiters) tend to rely more on the individual strength of a CV in determining a hire.” However, he adds, “Later on, individual reputations in the market have more of an impact on the career path of lawyers. A high CGPA is a good indication of a bright lawyer, but is no guarantee for a successful career in the law. That often boils down to traits such as hard work, smartness, confidence and eliciting the support of others.”
Vaibhav Ganjiwale (Corporate Law Professor at NALSAR, formerly Amarchand Mangaldas) warns about the disadvantage of focusing on one’s GPA to the exclusion of everything else. “If you do lots of moots, debates, conferences, and organize conferences, this means you are taking initiative, you’re pushing yourself, you’re learning. It’s a good thing. If it adds to your CV and you ultimately get a job, then that’s good for you. This exposure gives you a different level of confidence. I’m actually not worried too much about such kids. What I’m worried about is those who think that GPA is the only thing.
The problem is that some students, because they do very well in academics, start looking down upon those who don’t, since the will decide in their heads that the other things are not important. The problem is that some of the people around are just working on their GPAs from their very first year, aiming for a law firm. Please don’t do that. The first three years are going for NGOs, trying to get different colors, as many as possible. Just GPA building is not the answer.”
The ‘X’(tracurricular) Factor
The importance given to mooting in law schools- with there being a ‘Mooting Premier League’ may lead impressionable juniors to thing that it is the sine qua non of one’s law school life. Experience suggests otherwise. Arun Sri Kumar (Partner, Keystone Partners; formerly Indus Law and McKinsey), who has judged the University Selections this time, candidly states that he never mooted in his five years in law school, though he enjoys it as a judge. “The ten people in my batch who became litigators never mooted, and those who did either went onto further studies or are doing firm jobs.” However, according to Mr. Nagendra, “Mooting is meant to provide confidence to a young lawyer in advocacy and learning the art of persuasion- invaluable skills whether for trial or corporate lawyers.”
Pinka says, “I don’t think they (moots/debates/ADR etc.) have any special value. At least that’s the case with UK firms, because we work with trainees who have never studied law, and wouldn’t even know what a moot is (lucky them!). So long as you have some extra-curricular activities on your CV, be they the overrated mooting/debating, or the ones that actually need a lot of talent and dedication but we steadfastly ignore like drama, music, dance, writing, quizzing, sports, it’ll set you apart and add individuality and character to your CV.
I’m conscious that this isn’t the case with national firms, where seniors from law schools are often on the recruitment committees, so they may very well favour applicants who have done prestigious moots they recognize the names of. Even generally the legal community in India seems to hold certain moots/debates in high regard. But I don’t think the situation is such that everything on your CV will be meaningless if you haven’t done Jessup. It’s more a slight advantage, as opposed to a guaranteed dealmaker. You can always have other stuff on your CV that makes you stand out nevertheless, sans moots and debates.”
However, there’s no denying that extra-curriculars, in general, are important. Pinka continues, “This is what makes your CV. People looking to give you a job/a spot in their university want to know how you will fit in with their community and your extra-curricular record will generally give a fair indication of this. Students also need to know that there is a lot more to work life than just work, and any extra skills you can bring to the table are appreciated. If your grades are as good as the next person’s, the fact that you can speak in front of people without hesitation, or have an almost perfect 3-point shot may make all the difference. Participation in committees shows “team values”, “collaborative thinking” and “spirit of cooperation” and other such nonsense that you find on most applications/Statements of Purpose.”
This ties in with what Mr. Kamal Stephens, who is Head of University Relations at CISCO, has to say: “Firms are looking for team spirit, co-operation and other such skills. Sports can be really important in showing team player abilities.’ However, one has to keep in mind that the relative importance given to extra-curriculars will also depend upon the kind of job one is applying for.”
Mr. Sri Kumar explains, “For traditional law firm jobs all these things lose significance as they are hiring in large numbers- a supply-demand gap exists. However for niche jobs such as UK law firm jobs, McKinsey and scholarships, things such as committee work matter as they are looking for specific kinds of achievements, leadership attributes, and a specific kind of personality.’
Work Hard, Socialize Harder
While all of this might sound like a case of ‘been there, done that’; a more holistic view will show that what really matters is not so much what you do inside law school but outside of it. Internships not only give you an opportunity to test various career options and whether they suit you, but they also give you an opportunity to network. Talking about networking, it turns out that the relationships built with seniors in law school might just be useful for a lot of things other than just free booze. Mr. Sri Kumar says “Typically recruitment comes down to internships. If you have law school seniors at CAM who have a good opinion of you, you can get a job even if you don’t have a good GPA. They are not looking at your CV in the abstract.” His own firm hires on the basis of internships.
For career options such as litigation, internships might matter a lot more than the rest of your CV. Mr. Sri Kumar quips, “For a litigation job, CV does not matter at all. The litigating bar is very blasé about CV and is more interested in your ability to handle crisis and to think on your feet. Some people will ask you to intern first so that they can see you up close in action.”
Pinka also agrees, that “work experience and recommendations are a big plus. Besides showing your interest and capabilities, it also indicates to the recruiter the options you have explored. This is why it’s important not just to list out work ex, but also explain the skills you picked up from each place of work, and how you will apply them to your future job. For international firms, experiences that show that you are comfortable with different cultures and international interaction are important. Knowing multiple languages is a big plus. Always think of these things from the point of view of the employer and their company specifically. Don’t CV-dump, but picking out 1-2 meaningful examples that highlight your personality/skills will set your CV apart.”
While she doesn’t think that networking with seniors directly helps you get the job, she says “It’ll definitely make your life easier after you do get the job. It’ll also be helpful when you are going through the application process and you need a fresh pair of eyes to go through your application.” Mr. Hrishikeshan also recommends getting a mix of internships- at least one law firm, litigation and company internship respectively. His own internship with Hindustan Unilever in fifth year proved to be extremely useful as he got exposure to how being part of an in-house legal team works, (quite rare amongst the usual mix of law school internships) and eventually went onto pursue his career as an in-house counsel.
Mr. Stephens emphasizes that networking will result in having jobs referred to you by people, and that it is important to find a mentor in the initial stages of one’s career. Mr. Hrishikeshan adds his own personal anecdote in this regard of how quite a few times he has got jobs, in spite of not having an official interview, by socializing with people and having them call back later about available options. It does seem to be about ‘being at the right place, at the right time.’
However, as Mr. Sri Kumar points out “Now you have a challenge because you also have people from NUJS and NALSAR on the recruitment team. For instance, an Amarchand tax team will have three associates from every campus. In this situation, the partners will look at CVs as everyone may recommend different persons. In the end, it comes down to internal discussions.”
The Secret Ingredient: TBY
By now, you might be thinking “I’m in a bigger conundrum than when I first started out!” The prima facie picture does seem to be that you have to do a mish-mash of everything if you want to get that cushy London job or unattainable Ivy League scholarship. Before you consider turning your life into a potpourri, interestingly enough, the key to the perfect CV might just be- as irritatingly clichéd as it sounds…To Be Yourself.
Padmini Baruah (Batch of 2016, Business Analyst at McKinsey and Co.) is emphatic that “I never mooted, never ran after too many committees, wasn’t the top ten of my class also. I think I just did whatever I did to have fun, and did work that struck me as meaningful. That said, it can’t be denied that my nature as a whole is easygoing and playful, and McKinsey likes that.” Though she does say that “Herbert Smith was not too amused when I sat for their test. Like they didn’t like my profile, but then I didn’t like their test or their working style so I wasn’t disappointed or anything.” Mr. Sri Kumar also recommends not building a CV blindly but “doing things that you are passionate about and see if it leads to a career path.”
Mr. Hrishikeshan is another espouser of the ‘Do What You Love’ philosophy. In his time, he says “Everyone wanted to work with Arthur Anderson, which was a very well-paying tax practice. But eventually it turned out to be too boring.” He personally worked as in-house at a FMCG company before joining WIPRO at half the salary. “I didn’t want to look at Weights and Measures Act again.” He recommends experimentation. “It’s easier to do it in the first few years of your career. After that, you have a family, you have kids to send to school, you’re less likely to take risks.”
The clinching factor, even if one does manage to conjure up the magical perfect CV, might just be your appearance and manner on the day of the interview. “It’s not like they really care,” Mr. Hrishikeshan says, “but they have very few tools to eliminate (from amongst all the CVs). So it helps to be clean shaven and not wear torn jeans.” Pinka also suggests, “Always helps to shower and have clean clothes that smell nice for your interviews. Not compulsory, of course.”
Again, another clichéd and oft-repeated dialogue, but your CV really will not be the end of your life. It will certainly be of immense help in having the opportunity to go to the places you want and the things that you do. So before you throw away your books, you will have to study hard and do other things as well. However the crucial factor is that these have to be things you feel passionate about. Moreover, attitude matters. At the end of the day firms, universities or even senior lawyers are not looking for particular CVs as much as particular kinds of people. So even if you don’t have a 7.0 CGPA, have never been the Convenor of a Committee, played any kind of sport or musical instrument, never mooted or done any public speaking activity- here’s the good news: you can still make it. Even if you have done all of these things, you will need a lot of hard work and tenacity to ultimately become successful- and even then it won’t be any guarantee of becoming a self-actualized human being.
So go ahead. You can choose to sleep in instead of signing up for Univ Rounds. Alternatively, you can do the international moots you’ve always dreamed of- but not because you want to make Partner at A&O but because you actually enjoy that field of law (and traveling on college money is always a plus!). But whatever it is you ultimately do- it will be your own initiative and drive getting you ahead more than any piece of paper ever can.