Director of Career Services
Center for Advanced Legal Studies
(Note: This is the first of two articles on preparing an effective, persuasive resume and cover letter to assist you in landing a paralegal job).
The days and nights of studying, writing papers and attending classes are over. You finally have your paralegal degree or paralegal certificate. Now it’s time to go get a job!
But before you start applying anywhere, you’re going to need a solid, persuasive resume, one that will help convince an employer that you’re a viable candidate and that you deserve to be interviewed.
A paralegal resume isn’t much different than any other resume as far as content. You need to outline experience, education and skills (more on this later). The resume should be factual and free of errors, both in spelling and grammar. It is a good idea to have someone else read your resume for errors. If you are an entry-level paralegal, limit your resume to one page unless you gained substantial work experience prior to entering the paralegal field. Seasoned paralegals can have resumes up to two pages, but never submit a resume longer than that.
Once these basics are in place, you should tailor the resume and cover letter to the job. For example, if you are applying for a paralegal position at a law firm, do not send a cover letter stating that you wish to obtain a paralegal position at a corporation. Customizing your resume and cover letter for each potential job will increase your chances of landing an interview. Don’t burden the hiring manager to make the connection between your skills and the skills they desire; highlight relevant skills you know the employer is seeking to show you are perfect for the position.
So how do you customize your resume? There are a few key things to consider. Each job description will have requirements and skills being sought for the position. Your resume should be written in a way that those skills and requirements are reflected in what you have to offer. Of course, it’s quite likely that you won’t have everything the employer is seeking, and you shouldn’t fabricate skills and abilities that you don’t possess just so you appear more appealing. You need to stick to the facts, but fashion them in a way that they mirror the job description as much as possible.
It is best to include action verbs (e.g., drafted, managed, prepared) in your resume to present yourself as a “doer” and achiever. Substitute passive statements like “duties included” or "responsible for” with actions words. Action words make your writing stronger. Below are some examples…
Rather than: Duties included legal research and analysis.
Say: Conducted comprehensive legal research and analysis.
Rather than: Responsible for contract review and drafting.
Say: Drafted and reviewed contracts to meet company’s objectives.
Rather than: Duties included monitoring legislation and advising management.
Say: Proactively monitored changes to state and federal law affecting company and advised management.
Keywords are now so important that it’s possible a hiring manager may never see your resume without them. With today’s technology, resumes can be scanned electronically to hone in on specific keywords and other critical information as it relates to the job. Resumes are then whittled down to only include those that have the most number of “hits,” i.e., keywords and other critical data.
Next: The importance of including education, experience and skills in your resume; and the basics of writing a persuasive cover letter.
If you would like to find out more about how to leverage your paralegal career, check out Center for Advanced Legal Studies at www.paralegal.edu.