Many recent paralegal graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to find their first job in this economy. Law firms, attorneys, and corporations want someone with experience and superior skills, which most new graduates do not possess. However, do not give up; you can find a paralegal job if you do three things; gain experience, create a professional image, and find an open paralegal position. Now, you may be thinking that those are three pretty hard things to do, but let’s break it down and take it one step at time.
Step One- Gain Experience
It may seem impossible to gain experience when everyone who is hiring wants a paralegal that already has it, and while it is difficult, it is not impossible. There are three ways that anyone can gain the experience needed to land a paralegal job: volunteer work, internships, and freelance work. If you are unemployed and have the time, try doing all three!
Volunteer work will not only make you feel warm and fuzzy all over, it will provide you with the experience required to get a paralegal job and an opportunity to network with others in the legal community. Meeting other paralegals and attorneys is a great way to learn about job openings and ensure that potential employers will think of you the next time they decide to hire. The ABA offers a National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide for paralegals, which allows you to select your state from a map in order to locate volunteer opportunities near you. You may also be able to find volunteer work in your community by contacting your state or local bar association. Locate your state and/or local association by visiting the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) list of state and local associations.
Even if you are already out of school, you can do an unpaid internship for a local attorney, either through your local college or on your own, without getting college credit. If you decide to go through a college or university, it may help you find an attorney who wants an intern. If the college does not help with that or you decide to do it on your own, you can find an internship by visiting local law offices, providing a copy of your resume, and asking that the attorney contact you if he or she would like to speak with you about doing an unpaid internship. Call or e-mail each law firm to follow up a few days after you stop by with your resume.
With a professional website, a great freelance profile, and the right wording in proposals and bids, anyone can start a freelance paralegal business providing document preparation, writing, and virtual paralegal services to both attorneys and non-attorneys. Working as a freelance paralegal can give you experience, networking opportunities, and an income while you are looking for a job.
Step 2 – Create a Professional Image
Creating a professional image can help you appear competent, skilled, and dedicated to the legal profession. So how does one go about creating a professional image? Have a great resume, maintain a good online reputation, and develop awesome interview skills.
Create a Great Resume
Your first impression on a potential employer is usually your resume, so you need to have a great one. Your resume should make you stand out from other applicants by highlighting your skills, accomplishments, and assets. For step-by-step instructions on creating a great legal resume see 10 Steps to Create a Legal Resume to Get you an Interview.
Maintain a Good Online Reputation
One of the first things that most employers do, after receiving a resume, is run an internet search on the applicant’s name. When they do this, you want the first two or three pages of results to be positive sites about you. Professional social profiles, informative blogs, and business listings describing you as a legal professional make a great impression on potential employers. So create or update your Linked In and Facebook profiles and start making sure you appear in business directories as a professional paralegal by creating entries and profiles in every one that you can find. If you are good writer, create a blog and write about topics of interest to legal professionals.
Develop Awesome Interview Skills
A job interview is not an interrogation, and if you are prepared, it will not feel like one. An interview is an opportunity for you to sell yourself to an employer. For more information on how to prepare for a paralegal job interview, see Eight Steps to Have a Successful Job Interview with a Law Firm.
Step Three- Find an Open Position
Now that you have experience and the skills to land a paralegal job, you just need to find an open paralegal position. Traditional methods of finding a job, such as posting your resume on Monster and Career Builder and searching for job postings on a regular basis can be a good start, but in today’s competitive job market, it is just is not enough.
Look for jobs in other places
Monster and Career Builder are great places to find job openings, but everyone who is looking for a job sees the same openings that you do. Finding open positions that do not come with so much competition means looking for jobs in lesser-known places. A great way to locate open positions is to visit the websites of local attorneys. Many firms post job openings to their site before paying to advertise them elsewhere.
Who says that you have to wait until you see an advertisement for a job opening to apply for one? Prepare a list of law firms in your area that you would like to work for, and then mail them all a resume with a personalized cover letter. Follow up with a phone call a few days later, checking to ensure that your resume was received, and asking if there is an open position for which you may be a good fit.
The experts agree that networking is one of the best ways to find a job, but what exactly is networking? Networking encompasses a number of activities, many of which can be done from the comfort of your own home. Some networking activities you may wish to try include:
Using social media to connect with other legal professionals. Invite other legal professionals in your area to connect with you on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In. Social media contacts can be a great resource for finding unpublished paralegal job openings.
Participating in paralegal forums, discussions, and websites. Websites created for paralegals, such as this one, can provide a great opportunity to learn, grow, and meet other legal professionals who can help you find job openings, and even recommend you for open positions in their own firms.
Doing volunteer legal work. Volunteer work will put you direct contact with other legal professionals in your community.
Joining a paralegal association. Joining your local paralegal association can give you an opportunity to meet other paralegals in your area and form important friendships, which can help you learn about job opportunities in advance, and provide you with great personal references.