You have worked hard to obtain your paralegal degree and now you are ready to begin your career as a paralegal. Even though the paralegal field is growing, it is still important that you treat your job search in the same manner you did your education – - with dedication, preparation and determination.
When I searched for my first paralegal position right after graduation (in the dark ages as my daughter likes to claim), the best job search tips included:
- Type your resume on beige or light grey, heavy stock paper so it will stand out from the rest.
- Always send thank you notes to follow up after an interview.
- Wear a navy blue suit with a white dress blouse.
- Do not wear open-toed dress shoes.
Things have definitely changed since my first paralegal interview over 20 years ago. While I still believe in sending thank you notes following an interview, there are tips that are far more important than wearing a navy blue suit to help you find your first paralegal job. Searching for a job can be stressful and overwhelming; however, the following steps will help you find an entry-level paralegal position following your graduation.
Step 1 – Network while you are still in paralegal school – Do not wait until you graduate to begin your job search – networking is the most important thing you can do to prepare for your job search. Begin making contacts while you are in school by getting to know your professors and the department personnel. You should also join any local and state paralegal or legal professional associations to get to know the paralegals who are members. Do not forget national organization such as NALA and NFPA. These contacts can be invaluable during a job search.
Step 2 – Contact the job placement office at school – Again, do not wait until graduation to contact the job placement office at your school. You may be able to find an internship while you are still in school. This will give you an advantage over graduates who have never worked in a law firm before graduation. In addition, job placement offices have lists of local law firms and contact information that will assist you when sending resumes – - it is always better to address a resume to a person rather than “to whom it may concern.”
Step 3 – Practice your research skills – To find law firms in your area, you can check with the county and state Bar Associations. To search by a specific type of practice area, try using Martindale-Hubbell or Lawyers.com. You can also access bios for specific attorneys through these websites. In addition to finding law firms and contacts for your resume, it is a good idea to research the attorney and the firm prior to your interview. Being able to ask specific questions about the firm during your interview demonstrates you were thorough and prepared for the interview. Always look at the law firm’s website prior to your interview for valuable information.
Step 4 – Use customized cover letters – Never use the same cover letter for each resume you submit. Use your cover letter to address specific ways you can benefit this firm – - this is where researching the firm will help you. Highlight specific qualifications that make you a unique candidate for the paralegal position. For example, if you transitioned from the medical field into the legal field, drawing attention to this in a cover letter for a medical malpractice firm or a personal injury firm may give you an advantage over other applicants. For assistance writing your resume and cover letter, meet with a counselor in the job placement office of your college.
Step 5 – Do not forget about recruiters and employment agencies – One of the best jobs that I had was because of an employment agency. Because sorting through hundreds of resumes and interviewing multiple applicants is time consuming, many law firms are now using the services of recruiters and employment agencies. Furthermore, most employment agencies now include a background check of each applicant and this is appealing to law firms since they deal with sensitive material. Arrange a meeting with the top agencies in your area – - even if they do not have a job now they may keep your resume on file and contact you when a position becomes available (that was my experience).
Step 6 – Apply for paralegal certification – While certification is not required, it looks great on a resume and it could give you a boost when you have no practical work experience. National paralegal organizations, such as NALA, offer certification programs and specialization certifications. Right after graduation is an excellent time to take the certification exams because your classes are still fresh on your mind making it a little easier to prepare for the exams.
The most important thing to remember when searching for your first paralegal job is that it may not be your dream job. Entry-level positions are not what most paralegals dreams about when they are working hard for their paralegal certification. However, you should look at your first paralegal job as the first step in a long, successful career. Treat your first job as if you have been hired by the most prestigious law firm in New York to work on high profile cases even if you are only working for a sole practitioner and making your own copies. You are gaining valuable experience, even at the bottom of the law firm ladder, which will help you in your future paralegal jobs.