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Career Readiness & Job Prospects: Navigating the Perfect Storm

Chances are, many paralegal students enrolled in a program because of a belief that the career was one that is growing and had favorable employment projections in the long term.  In fact, according to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegal job growth in the period of 2014-2024 is projected to grow at a rate of 8% which is more aggressive than the projections for other professions.[1] 

Follow any social media paralegal group, however, and one will see a totally different picture being painted from recent paralegal graduates nationwide.  It’s one of frustration, despair, underemployment, or unemployment all together. So many are not getting the work they hoped for or, worse off, are not getting any legal work period.  As one that’s been in higher education for decades, the issue is not one that’s overly surprising nor is it unique to the paralegal profession.  Here’s why:

Only four in 10 college seniors, and a similar number of college students overall, feel their college experience has been very helpful in preparing for a career, according to the results of McGraw-Hill Education’s third annual Workforce Readiness Survey.[2] The results of the survey also point to several areas in which students feel their colleges could have done more to help them prepare for their careers. While students report that they are increasingly satisfied with their overall college experience (79 percent in 2016, compared to 65 percent in 2014), an increasing percentage report that they would have preferred their schools to provide:

  • More internships and professional experiences (67 percent in 2016, compared to 59 percent in 2014).
  • More time to focus on career preparation (59 percent in 2016, compared to 47 percent in 2014).
  • Better access to career preparation tools (47 percent in 2016, compared to 38 percent in 2014).
  • More alumni networking opportunities (34 percent in 2016, compared to 22 percent in 2014).
  • The majority say they haven’t learned how to network or search for a job (59 percent) or how to conduct themselves in a job interview (58 percent) during college.

As the chart that follows shows, college graduates aren’t getting any more jobs than they were twenty years ago. What’s worse, their annual wages looked almost identical to those in 1990 — meaning college grads are severely underemployed.[3] 

Unfortunately, job prospects have not improved much for young workers in the past 27 years. And while 47.8 percent of recent grads landed $45,000 or higher salaries in 1990, today only 34.9 percent do.[4]

The bottom line is that most college programs are not providing adequate career readiness training to their students or soon-to-be graduates.  This, combined with underemployment and salary growth rates that have remained stagnant at unfavorable levels for over twenty years, creates a perfect storm that creates a nasty current which works against the vast majority of those entering the workforce.  These graduates, whom have invested heavily in their career education, then find themselves in a desperate search for a legal job that seemingly evades them at every corner. 

The good news is that one who recognizes these major hurdles early on in their college education can implement critical strategies from day one to best avoid them.  As we’ve blogged about previously here, the process of landing a job with competitive wages quickly after graduation is every bit the full time job as your studies are!  To avoid being one of the recent graduates wishing they had more career preparation during their legal studies, seek out the career training services your college offers.  If you have already graduated it’s not too late as most colleges will continue to provide career counseling to former students as well. 

If the college does not provide it, or the services are mediocre at best, invest in career counseling and advising on your own.  One of the key things to recognize is that sometimes generic career counseling that is provide college wide is not enough, but rather legal career specific counseling is what works best. While this might require a financial commitment that can be difficult to bear, it will almost universally be money very well spent!  

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