Published in Michigan Lawyers Weekly January 2011
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 your prospect.
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 decide on 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 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 sixty 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.