Paralegal Resume Drafting Tips
We’ve all heard various “rules” about drafting resumes. The one tip we hear most often is the number of pages for a resume. Many resume advice articles tell us that one page is the best (but not always possible), so 2 pages are okay – but there is no reason to ever go beyond 2 pages.
One of the comments you will usually hear in response to that is…
I’ve been working for 20 years, how can I fit all of my past experience on 1-2 pages?
Changing the way you look at your resume might help. These tips will help you with your paralegal resume drafting mindset.
April 2020 Update: We hosted a free Resume Writing Workshop for paralegals who have been affected by the recent law firm layoffs. You can join our free Paralegal Job Search Series here.
TIP # 1 – Your resume is not the same as the employment application
Your paralegal resume is not an employment application – it’s a mechanism to get you to the point of the job search when you’re filling out an employment application. Essentially, your resume is your personal sales brochure. A way to get your foot in the door.
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. Of course, you don’t want to leave gaps in your resume, but if you have 20 years of work experience, and only the last 5 years relate to your paralegal career because you were in another field, then only list the jobs you’ve had that show the skills that will help you contribute to the company you’re currently applying with.
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 of the transferrable skills from your prior positions that relate to a paralegal position.
If this is your first job out of college and your paralegal certificate 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 while you were in high school. They’re hiring you based on your recent education. One mistake I see in paralegal resumes is a recent paralegal school graduate who tries to “fill the page” to make it look like they have more experience than they do. If you’re under 25, no one expects you to have a lot of experience. If they’re looking for a paralegal with a specific paralegal skill set, filling the page with community activities is not fooling anyone.
Tip #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 yourself.
An example would be 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 blocked and copied them into each 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.
Tip #3 – Get rid of the “Objective” section at the top of your resume
Going back to the valuable white space mind-set – a paralegal resume does not have to contain an objective. Everyone who is applying for the job has the objective of getting the job. Additionally, I’ve also seen too many resumes that contained objectives that made 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 using the word “administrative” in the resume objective section, 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.
Instead, replace that “objective” with a subheading like “Summary of Key Qualifications.” Give the potential employer a summary of why they should read further into your resume. Highlight the paralegal skills that they listed in the job posting that you have. Highlight the transferable skills that you have obtained in other positions, in your education, or even in your personal life.
Share your paralegal resume drafting tips below!