3 Mistakes That Could Be Preventing You From Landing That First Paralegal Job

You went through your paralegal certificate program, and now you’re looking for a paralegal job. But unfortunately, the fact that you have spent all that time and money preparing yourself to become a paralegal can feel fruitless when you are struggling to find that first paralegal job. There’s a lot that paralegal schools forget to mention.

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Of all the posts I see on social media, whether it’s in Facebook groups or LinkedIn groups – this is the biggest struggle for new paralegals and legal assistants – how do I get my foot in the door when everyone says they want 2 or more years of experience, but no one is willing to give me that experience.

There could be things that you are unknowingly doing that are preventing you from landing that first paralegal job, and I’m going to talk about the big 3.

But before I tell you about those 3, let me start by saying that in this job market, if you’re seeing a paralegal job posting that wants at least 2 years of experience and you have no experience, I would still apply. Employers, especially in the legal industry, are having a really hard time filling open positions right now. If there was ever a time in history when law firms were more willing to look at hiring entry-level paralegals and legal assistants, it’s now.

That being said, I would caution you in applying for a paralegal position that states they are looking for at least 10 years of experience. Here’s why. They’re most likely trying to fill a position that the hiring manager knows that the new person will not get much training. They need someone to come in immediately and know what to do, or the attorneys on that team are not very patient with mistakes or willing to provide training.

But if the ad says anything less than that, say 2 – 5 years of experience, in this job market you have a shot at landing that position. BUT and this is a big but – that’s only going to happen if you’re not making these 3 big mistakes.

1. Your Resume Has Mistakes or Formatting Issues

When you are trying to land your first paralegal or legal assistant job, you must make sure that you have an impeccable resume with absolutely no mistakes.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at how many people send out resumes with typos or other errors. Usually, it’s because you’re in too much of a hurry to get the resume submitted. You’re better off submitting it the next day if that means you have extra time for another proofread.

One skill that I talked about in an earlier podcast episode was attention to detail. Attention to detail is a skill that goes beyond just proofreading. I’ll include a link to that episode in the show notes.

I would recommend that you have at least one other person proofread your resume before you start applying for jobs. And be sure to tell that person that you want their brutal honesty. If it’s your mom and she doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, that does no good whatsoever.

Look, I’m just going to be blunt here – if you can’t take the time to make sure your resume is perfect, you are going to struggle, and it’s going to take you a lot longer than other paralegal graduates to land a position.

I want to give you an example of something I see a bunch on social media. Someone complains about the whole “they won’t hire me without experience, but how do I get the experience if no one will hire me?” I get it. It’s the chicken and egg thing.

Here’s a good litmus test to know if it’s your resume that’s holding you back from getting a position: how many times have you submitted your resume compared to how many times you’ve received an interview request? If you’ve submitted your resume to 30 or 40 employers and have not received a single call-back, it’s probably your resume. holding you back.

Look, you might be PERFECT for that paralegal position, but the employer is never going to know it if you never get to the interview phase.

Watch the video I did on drafting resumes.

2. Your Cover Letter is Generic

You’re using a boilerplate cover letter addressed to whom it may concern, talking about how you would be such an asset to this company or that this is the perfect paralegal job for you.

You should write a strong, specific cover letter for each position you apply for instead of a copy and paste version that gets sent to everyone.

This is especially important when you have no paralegal experience. You have to find a way to connect your life experiences and transferrable skills to the paralegal position. A resume doesn’t necessarily do that. The cover letter is the way to do that. Need inspiration? Check out these cover letter samples.

3. You Don’t Have the Right Mindset

I’ve got two different areas of the mindset that I want to talk about. The first one is the mindset that you are capable of doing this job. Even if you lack the hands-on paralegal experience they are looking for, that doesn’t mean you can’t quickly learn the ropes (assuming that you will be getting some on-the-job training).

I’ve conducted hundreds of job interviews over the past 3 decades, and you know which one stands out the most in my memory? The one I didn’t want to give. When I was a paralegal manager, I was approached by a senior partner who said his long-time client and friend (in-house counsel at a big corporation in Atlanta), this client’s brother’s wife’s sister or something like that, was moving into town and was looking for a paralegal job. The partner knew I was hiring for a paralegal position and asked if I would take a look at her resume and give her a courtesy interview…meaning you don’t have to consider hiring her; just agree to interview her. So I did. Reluctantly, because it’s not like I didn’t have a dozen other things I could be doing with an hour of my time.

Her resume looked good, with no errors, and she had a great cover letter. The problem was that she only had an undergrad degree. No paralegal certificate. No paralegal experience. In fact, NO legal experience whatsoever, not even as a receptionist. But I agreed that I would interview her, so I did.

She showed up to this interview with such a vibrant personality, confident, comfortable, easy to talk to, and well, she just thoroughly impressed me. I knew that she would make a great paralegal from how she answered those questions and her attitude.

I convinced the attorneys on the team to interview her, even though they said the same thing “as a favor to the partner, sure, but you realize she has NO experience, no paralegal certificate, nothing. I realized that, but I think they needed to see what I saw in that interview.

They interviewed her and agreed that she would make a GREAT fit for their team, and with a willingness to learn, she’d eventually be a great paralegal.

She got the job. I trained her. And you know what, she was a GREAT paralegal. No experience. No certificate. She got the job because of her mindset and her attitude. And a perfect resume that didn’t mess up her chances of getting the interview.

The Danger of the Wrong Mindset in the Interview

Now I want to tell you a story that’s the complete opposite of how your mindset and attitude in the interview could hurt your potential to land that job. And the story is mine. Not a lot of people know this story. I know, well they will NOW. But I think it’s that important to tell.

If you’ve been reading our blog for a while or been a part of the Paralegal Boot Camp world for a while, you know I started the company in 2010. So it’s been a while. Well, when I first left Big Law, I would frequently get contacted by recruiters wondering if I’d be interested in this position or that position. Which I wasn’t.

Until one day, a couple of years into the business, a recruiter reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in applying for a position at an AmLaw10 firm in a director role. It was a huge leap from the AmLaw 100 firm management position, and I thought, well, the worst that can happen is that firm now knows my company name and maybe will consider me when they need training for their paralegals, so I applied. I had a couple of Skype interviews. And the recruiter called to tell me that of the 250 applicants, they had telephone interviews with 84 people. Of those, they now chose 3 of those 84 to fly them out to San Francisco for in-person interviews and I was one of those 3.

That’s quite a compliment, right? They paid for my flight and put me up for one night at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. So I spend the whole day in airports and on a flight. Then I go in for a 5:00 interview (5:00 California time, so it was 8:00 Atlanta time for me). But that’s okay.

I was sitting in this huge law firm’s plush, beautiful reception area. As I was sitting there waiting for them to bring me back to the conference room for one split second, I looked around and said to myself, “I just don’t know if I can go back to this lifestyle. I don’t know if I want to give up my business to go back to this.” It was just a flitter of a thought.

They came to get me. We had a great interview that was more conversational than a question and answer session. I felt pretty good about how it went.

A few days later, the recruiter called me and said they had chosen one of the other 3 candidates. Then she added, you know they REALLY liked you, or you wouldn’t have gone that far in the interview process. So I asked them why not me…and they said, “she didn’t really act like she was excited about the job. Almost like she didn’t want it.”

Now I swear to you that I had wiped that thought out of my mind before I went into that conference room. But you know what, it doesn’t work like that with mindset. Subconsciously, I didn’t want to close my business and go back to work for a law firm, and the universe helped me out. Thank goodness! Because I wouldn’t trade the last 10 years for anything. I absolutely love what I do every single day.

So for your next interview for that paralegal or legal assistant job, what kind of mindset do you want to have? Because that will help dictate what the result of that interview will be. You can prep for that next interview with this paralegal interview checklist.

Have more questions about your paralegal or legal assistant job search? Get more answers here or get our job search web series delivered to your inbox.

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Meet the Author

Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, and host of the Paralegals on Fire! Podcast Show, and passionate about promoting the paralegal profession.

Ann spent 20 years working as a paralegal manager and a litigation paralegal before opening the Paralegal Boot Camp in 2010. Her training programs focus on adding immediate value to a paralegal’s career and bridging the gap between what a paralegal learns in school and what they actually do on the job.

When Ann is not working, you can usually find her somewhere near the ocean, either boating, scuba diving, or rescuing sea turtles.

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