Finding a paralegal position is a challenge whether you are a new graduate or a seasoned
professional. Entry level positions are hard to locate because they remain largely
unadvertised. Experienced paralegals ‘click and apply’ to Internet postings that
are often anonymous, or require laborious online applications that bring little result.
In all cases, there are some techniques that can help you locate and land a job.
Networking or ‘word of mouth’ self-marketing is one of the most effective methods.
This starts with broadcasting your search to your colleagues, instructors, family,
neighbors, previous employers, association representatives and other business and
personal contacts. Online connections through Facebook and LinkedIn can lead to
helpful referrals, but making a personal telephone call will make a more lasting
impression, and will result in gathering more information.
Social networking has created a pulse that moves faster than lightening. While the
Internet can result in greater exposure, active participation in professional associations
has added value. Working paralegals are usually the first people consulted when
a firm or corporation is looking for a new paralegal. Keeping your antennae up means
staying on their radar. Getting and staying in touch is only part of the process.
Once the connection is made you need an attention grabbing tool that will engage
Communicating who you are, what you do, and where you have done it in a precise 30
second elevator speech is vital. Always have a dynamic cover letter and resume that
you can provide immediately. For on the spot encounters offer and ask for a business
card, and diplomatically make arrangements for further contact.
A resume is a good summary of qualifications, but there is always more to tell. Evidence
of school and work in a one-volume portfolio will highlight your skills. Use the
portfolio at interviews to demonstrate your abilities through writing samples and
reference letters. Maintain extra copies to leave with serious prospects.
Connections, elevator speeches and portfolio presentations are not the only tools
you need. The right experience is also important. If you are a new graduate consider
volunteering, completing an internship, working pro bono, working as a secretary
or a file clerk, or working for a legal vendor. This will help you gain experience,
and will enhance your network while exposing you to hidden positions.
While working in any capacity make sure that you conduct information interviews of
all of the paralegals and managers you meet. This is a constructive way to learn
more about what you need to do to get a better job. Schedule meetings purposefully
and use the encounters to get referrals to paralegals and managers at other organizations.
There are numerous ways to get your foot in the door, but a couple of stories stay
with me. A paralegal I know said that she applied for a job and after seven days
did not hear anything. She took it upon herself to go to the office and request 60
seconds of the hiring attorney’s time. The receptionist delivered her resume and
a cover letter that stated that she was there personally. He interviewed her on
the spot and hired her. To her delight the attorney told her that he had used the
same technique when he graduated from law school!
A second paralegal I worked with created a job. A school research project required
her to interview a working professional about being a paralegal. She purposely kept
in touch with the attorney she interviewed by asking questions about her area of
interest and about the requirements of his practice. After several months of contact
the attorney got to know her. She requested a face to face meeting to talk about
how she could profit his practice. She got the job!
According to the United States Department of Labor, the paralegal profession is expected
to grow exponentially. While the Michigan market is struggling to get back on track,
there are still openings to be found. The opportunities for entry level are more
difficult to mine, but creating a self-marketing package and executing a fool-proof
job search will improve your chances significantly.
Positions requiring experience are more visible, but still require the same sharp
job finding tools.