Paralegal Job Search Q & A

The obligatory job search we all must go through at some point in our lives can be stressful. From making sure your resume is up to par to knowing what to say in an interview, you might feel overwhelmed with questions on how you can land the right job for your paralegal career. In our latest podcast episode, Ann answers your job search questions so you can get the paralegal job of your dreams.

Prefer Audio Instead of Reading?

Q.

I’ve been working for 20 years; how can I fit all of my experience on 1-2 pages?

A.

First of all – it’s not about the number of pages.  It’s more about what you are putting on those pages. 

Here are some ways you can change the way you look at your resume that might help:

1. Your resume is not the same as an employment application

Your resume is your personal sales brochure. Your resume is not an employment application – it’s a mechanism to get you to the point of the job search where you’re filling out an employment application. When you fill out an employment application, you’re required to list every job you’ve ever had – that’s not the case with a resume. Only list the jobs you’ve had that show the skills that will help you contribute to the company you’re currently applying with, that have transferrable skills, or that prevent you from having gaps in your resume.

For example, if you’re starting a second career as a paralegal and you have 20 years of prior work experience in a different field – you don’t have to list all 20 years. Maybe you only list the last 10 years to show job stability and some other transferrable skills.

If this is your first job out of college or a paralegal program, just show your prior work experience after high school. The law firm is not going to hire you based on when you worked part-time at Wendy’s during your junior and senior years in high school. They’re hiring you based on your recent education.

One mistake I’ve seen is recent paralegal school graduates who try to fill the page to make it look like they have lots of experience. If you’re under 25, no one expects you to have a lot of experience. If they’re looking for a paralegal with lots of experience, filling the page with community activities is not fooling anyone.

2. The white space on your resume is like valuable real estate

White space is valuable on your resume. Think of your 1-2 pages of white space as valuable real estate. The top half of the resume is like beachfront property and by the time you get to the bottom of page 2 you’re at a farm in North Dakota.

You shouldn’t waste this valuable white space with anything that doesn’t promote you.

An example of this is duplicating your job responsibilities for each of your positions. Show something in each of your positions that give a better picture of what you are capable of doing and the kind of experience you’ve obtained in each position. Besides the fact that it’s very clear to the hiring manager who reads the job duties and responsibilities that you just copied them into each new position, employers want to see growth and advancement throughout your career. If you did in fact perform the same exact duties in several positions, then split up the bullet points between the positions rather than duplicating them.

3. You don’t need to list an objective

Going back to the valuable white space mindset – a resume does not have to contain an objective. Everyone who is applying for the job has the objective of getting the job. There are too many resumes out there that contain objectives that make it pointless to read the rest of the resume.

For example, one resume I received for a senior corporate paralegal position had an objective that said “Seeking a legal/administrative position in a corporation/law firm that allows me to grow and expand my skills.”  What’s wrong with that? The candidate is trying to make sure their objective encompasses all possible positions they might apply for.

In addition to the wording of “administrative” which wouldn’t apply to a senior corporate paralegal position, this objective actually detracts from the potential of me reading any further into the resume.

4. Leave out the volunteering

Along those same lines – that bottom section that everyone includes that’s titled Volunteer and Civic Charities….that doesn’t need to be in there. You can delete these 4 sections from your paralegal resume to make sure you’re really using the space wisely.

Especially if you can change out 4+ lines and use that space to add a few more bullet points about the kind of work you’ve been doing in your other positions. That’s what hiring managers care about.

Q.

I just had my first interview in over 10 years, and for some reason, I stumbled at the end when she asked if I had any questions for her. So I just said, yes, I’m wondering what the positions pays. Was that bad?

A.

Well, your answer to that question should never be “no, I don’t have any questions” – So I guess that’s better than no. 

But I wouldn’t recommend bringing up salary at the first interview or any of these 5 things.

Here are a few questions to consider asking next time during the interview:

  1. What type of person do you see as the best fit for this position?
  2. What circumstances led to this opening?
  3. How many attorneys would I be reporting to?
  4. How many paralegals are in this office/firm or on this team?
  5. How long have those paralegals been with the firm?
  6. What is the annual or monthly billable hour requirement?
  7. Do all of your paralegals easily meet that billable hour requirement?
  8. Does the firm provide training for paralegals?
  9. Is there a performance review process for the paralegals?
  10. Does most of the work come from the partners, associates or other paralegals?

The questions you choose to ask will depend on what information the interviewer has already supplied during the interview and what type of position you are applying for.  

Remember that this is also an opportunity for you to highlight some of your accomplishments and strengths that you might not have had a chance to cover during the interview. For example, if it was a paralegal position in a law firm with a billable hour requirement and you asked “What is the annual billable hour requirement for paralegals?” then after the interviewer answers the question, this would be the perfect opportunity to discuss how you typically exceed the billable hour requirement at your current firm.

If all of the questions above have been answered throughout the paralegal interview, you can always ask an interviewer What do you like most/least about working here? This gives them an open-ended opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of their firm culture.

Just be sure to pay attention to their answer and see how it fits within what you are looking for in a new employer.

Q. 

The firm is offering me a paid internship to see if it’s a good fit.  Should I take it?

A. 

Yes! Take it. We had an excellent article from a guest blogger, Brett Surbey, a few months ago where he gives some great tips on how to get the most out of your internship.

A paid internship is a win-win for everyone.

Even if they don’t offer you a job at the end of the internship, it is worth it because you will be able to put that experience on your resume.

Just make sure that if you accept an internship, you understand that it’s a daily job interview. Everything you do, you want to do your very best.

You’d be shocked at the internship stories I’ve heard about interns showing up late on a regular basis, sitting for hours in an office waiting for someone to come by and give them something to do with no great work ethic or motivation to learn.

So don’t accept an internship and then not put in 110% effort.

Q. 

I’ve applied for dozens of paralegal positions and I haven’t had one call back for an interview.  How am I going to get the experience they want if no one will hire me and let me get the experience?

A. 

In this job market, if you’ve applied for that many positions and not received one single request for an interview, let’s cut to the chase…there is something wrong with your resume, your cover letter, your Linked In profile – or something.

I would suggest that you have someone review those for you. Not necessarily a resume service, but someone in your circle who has an eye for detail. You’d be surprised how many times over the years that I’ve received a resume that has had a bullet point that read: high level of attention to detail while the rest of the resume was riddled with errors.

Buy the premium version of Grammarly because Microsoft Word’s spell check does not cut it. The free version of Grammarly only checks your email and online documents and it doesn’t give you the highest level of checks that include checking whether things are concise or if there is a better word for something. I think it’s like $50 or $60 a year. Buy the premium version for the job search phase of your life and then cancel it next year. Trust me, it’s a good investment in your career.

Some people say It’s a numbers game when you’re looking for a job. Only it’s not.

Maybe you’re applying for too many positions? I teach a job search and career development class for a paralegal certificate program and I always tell them – stop applying for 20 random positions a week, sending a generic cover letter, and just hoping that 1 out of those 20 respond. Instead, take the time to customize your resume and cover letter – in a way that resonates with that potential future employer.

So if you’re new to the field, don’t spend your time applying for positions that ask for 10 years of experience. The reason why they’re asking for that level of experience is probably that the hiring manager knows that their team does not provide much guidance or training. They know that the person in that role needs to jump in and run with the ball from Day 1.

Look, when I was a paralegal manager, I received thousands of resumes and interviewed hundreds of people. There were plenty of them that didn’t have the experience level in their resume. If I was looking for someone with 2 – 3 years of experience, then yes, I’d interview a recent paralegal graduate who had a really good resume. But if I was looking for someone with 10-15 years of experience, I might only interview someone with a solid 5 years. But not zero years.

Q.

I keep hearing and reading that it’s an employee’s market right now and it’s the best time to find another job and get a big boost in salary – which I need. But I really love where I work, and the people I work with are great. I get to work on interesting things; the attorneys respect me. I’ve been here for 5 years. The only downside is they don’t pay me enough.

A.

That’s an easy one. Don’t leave. Trust me. It is not worth a $10,000 raise to risk going somewhere that you’ll be miserable. Not to say it’s a sure thing that it would be miserable. But you know it’s a sure thing that you like where you are now and it’s a sure thing that you’re not miserable.

I would suggest putting together a proposal for a salary increase where you’re at. Do the research and see what the market is currently paying someone with your experience, skillset, and type of employer. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. And then go talk to your supervisor and be honest. Tell them that you’re being approached by recruiters and other firms who are paying X amount more – but you’d like to make that while staying where you’re at. The worst they can do is say no. They’re not going to fire you for asking for more money. If they do, then you know it’s a great market to be out there trying to find a job.

One thing I definitely wouldn’t do is go interview, get a job offer from another firm, and then bring it to your current firm as a way to get an increase. Because if you do that, you have to be prepared to leave.

I can tell you, I know lots of firms that have the policy that they do not ever counteroffer in situations like that because

1. They’re admitting that they might not have been paying you enough

2. They know that word will get out and everyone in the firm will go do the same thing

3. If you were unhappy enough to be out there interviewing, then eventually you’re going to leave anyway.

And that is so true. I saw it firsthand.

A true story about me: I was approached by another firm for a paralegal position back around 2001 before I moved into management. An attorney that used to work for our firm left and then later she reached out to me and wanted me to join her at the new firm, and after a couple of interviews, they offered me $10,000 more than I was making.

I thought this might be a good time for a change. I wasn’t unhappy at all, except that I was traveling more than I wanted to be. So I accepted the position, they announced it to their attorneys, and had my office set up for my first day. And then the attorneys that I worked with at my current firm came to me and said they got management to give me a $10,000 raise if I’d stay. So I stayed. Super embarrassed by the way at having to call the other firm and tell them I changed my mind.

Guess what, 2 years later I left the firm anyway. Now it was for a management position, not another paralegal position. But still, I left. 

I’ve talked with other managers and HR people and they have dozens of stories just like that one. The saying is: they always end up leaving eventually. Maybe not this month or this year, but in a couple of years, they’ll be gone.

So if your firm’s management has that philosophy and you don’t know it – when you bring that offer to them with a $10k increase, they might have to say “we’re sorry to see you go.” Then how are you going to feel?

That’s why it’s always better if you really like where you work, but think you’re being underpaid to ask them for more money before you go seeking it somewhere else.

Q.

I’ve been a family law paralegal for about 5 years and have burned out from the stress. How hard it would be to switch practice areas and what areas are hot right now?

A.

You’re not alone. I hear that A LOT from paralegals who work in family law. It’s probably one of the most stressful areas, because its all emotional – whether you’re doing divorce, adoption, or any specialty area within family law.

Every paralegal position has a lot of stress because of the deadlines and let’s face it, some attorneys are not easy to work for. But most other positions don’t have the emotional clients – like if you’re working in commercial litigation, real estate, mergers and acquisitions – all of those are transactional.

Everyone I’m talking to about the job market says the hot area is wills and estates. In fact, I recently interviewed Molly McGrath where she talks about the hottest practice areas right now. If you think about it, there are not the same type of deadlines that there are in litigation; people aren’t usually fighting, unless you go into the litigation side of people disputing wills. Molly gives great insight into why that’s such a great practice area now.

Do you have a topic you’d like us to answer your questions about?

Post them in the comments or email us and we’ll include them in our next Q & A podcast episode. The next Q & A topic is all about eDiscovery!

paralegal training

Meet the Author

Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, 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.

Connect with Ann on LinkedIn

No comments yet! You be the first to comment.

Add Comment:

Your email address will not be published.