Most everyone knows that it is difficult to find your first paralegal job. Most attorneys want to hire a paralegal that has experience so that makes it difficult for new paralegal graduates to find their first job. If I had to choose which scenario to deal with, I would much rather have experience when searching for a new job. Having experience is a much easier hurdle to overcome than having no experience at all since the number of attorneys who prefer no experience is probably much smaller compared to attorneys who prefer their new paralegals to have prior experience. My first paralegal job was difficult to find but after I gained a little real-world experience as a paralegal, changing jobs was not as difficult.
How to use your work experience to find a new job
- Networking – The only resumes that I have ever mailed were for my very first paralegal job. My current job and my previous job were both as a result of networking. For my second paralegal job, I was approached by a paralegal that I had met when we were both studying for the CLA exam. She remembered how organized I was during our study groups and recommended me to her attorney when he expanded his firm. After 13 years with him, I was able to use my contacts in the legal community to find my current job without sending out a single resume. The importance of networking should never be downplayed. If you are searching for a new job, check with your network first for tips on open positions.
- Recruiters and staffing agencies – When you have experience, you are a valuable commodity, especially if your experience is in a specialized area of law. For example, bankruptcy is a very specialized area of law and finding paralegal with bankruptcy experience is difficult. When this is the case, attorneys will often use the services of a staffing agency or recruiter to search for candidates with specialized experience. Therefore, you should contact these companies and place your resume with them. Since you are not paying the fee, it costs you nothing, gives you more exposure and may result in you finding a great job.
- Paralegal organizations – This could also fall within networking; however, some paralegals are not members of their local and state paralegal organizations. If you are not a member, join immediately so that you can use the association’s resources to search for a job. Many associations maintain a list of current jobs offered within their area. Furthermore, members often pass along job openings that are not advertised to the public.
- Review your resume – If it has been some time since you have used your resume, dust it off and update your information. If your experience comes from one or two sources (as mine does), highlight your stability but adding your other accomplishments such as leadership roles and contributions you have made to your current firm. If you have had numerous jobs, make sure to address this in your cover letter and highlight how those jobs have given you a wide variety of experience.
- Perform well at the interview – Even if you have an impressive resume and your experience is excellent, if you are not prepared for the interview your job experience will not be enough. Use the experience you have gained working in a law firm to present yourself as a professional who excels in communication skills. Be early for the interview, have all of your papers in order and be ready to answer questions honestly. Be prepared to give specific examples of how you will benefit the firm because of your prior paralegal experience.
- Court personnel – If you are an experienced paralegal, chances are you have friends within the courts where your firm practices. Do not forget about these individuals when you begin searching for a new job. Court staff usually know who is doing what and what is going on where – - use this to your advantage. I avoided one particularly abusive attorney by listening to the court staff gossip about his angry outbursts in court.
- Freelance paralegal services – If you have a considerable amount of paralegal experience, consider contracting your services to attorneys. By offering your services on a contract basis, you can get your foot in the door of larger firms and possibly parlay that into a full time position with the firm. At the very least, you will make additional contacts that can help you in other areas of your career including your job search.
What many new graduates entering the paralegal field do not understand is that this is a profession, not just a job. Employers expect a certain level of education and experience when they hire new employees. It may be difficult to find your first entry-level paralegal job; however, once you have at least a year or two of experience on your resume it will make transitioning to a better job much easier. The key is to make the most out of your first paralegal job – - read everything, make friends with everyone in the office and learn everything you can about how the law firm functions. Volunteer for projects and offer to put in over time so that you can gain as much experience as possible to make finding a new job easier when you decide to make a change.