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Landing a Job: It’s a full time Job!

Even in professions with projected long term positive growth as is the case with the paralegal profession, finding quality legal employment is still no easy task.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the paralegal field is projected to grow at 8% through 2024, which is more aggressive than the projected growth rate for all other professions.[1]  This does not mean, however, that there are long lines of legal employers begging you to join their practice.  If anything, legal employers in today’s economy and ruthlessly competitive practice have become increasingly picky in their selection of support staff. 

Many learn this reality the hard way when their job search seemingly becomes a dead end.  Every semester, I tell my new students on their first day that their process of finding a legal job starts that day and I continue to hammer that point home during their entire time in the program.  It always amazes me how surprised many look when I tell them this.  My point to students is that they need to work heavily on their career marketing message. 

The good news is that recent graduates across the country are seemingly getting the point.  A recent survey indicates that 61% of graduates between the years 2010-2016 said that they had visited the career center at their institution at least once.[2] The bad news is that the survey also indicated significant problems when it comes to the quality of services and advice students receive at most career centers.  A mere 16% of college graduates reported they believe their career services was “very helpful.”[3] Furthermore, the survey shows the key disconnect between graduates and employers: 

“More incoming freshman than ever before believe that finding a better job is directly tied to enrolling in college, although less business leaders feel that a college education properly equips them.”[4]

This is why a job search requires a lot more than simply graduating.  Ask yourself:  Why do the majority of job postings place the caveat of experience in the description?  The answer is simple.  Prospective legal employers fear that current students or recent graduates are not equipped to hit the ground running and they don’t have the time or the desire to train.  The timing and financial aspects of the training investment also come with the fear that the employee can get up and leave at any given time.  To put it bluntly, if your resume doesn’t quell these concerns, you will most likely hit nothing but dead ends. 

The trick of the trade is to create a marketing message that proves you are properly equipped to do the job on day one and this is the hard part.  Why?  Because it requires you to put in a significant amount of work outside of the classroom starting on day one.  For the majority of students, however, it tends to be one that they place on the back burner in order to concentrate on their studies, which “leaves them behind the eight ball” when it comes to their competition.

Quality career counseling concentrates on helping you focus on the reality that “experience” wears many different hats, and that if you market yourself correctly you can elicit a message that cures the rationale fears that all prospective legal employers have.  Here is a classic example many use to describe their educational experience on a resume:

A.A.S. Degree Paralegal Studies: 3.7 G.P.A.

What does this mean to the prospective employer?  Nothing.  They see a number and nothing more.  Not only is it “cookie cutter” and cold, it fails to convey any message about what specific legal experience you actually have. For you students…don’t think you have any?  Think again.  Chances are your program required you to complete several hands-on projects or writing assignments such as a real estate closing scenario or legal writing project to name a few.  Granted, these are based on fictitious scenarios but the experience you gain in completing them gives you the knowledge to hit the ground running on real life legal matters and, most importantly, the message you need to market yourself effectively. 

Unfortunately, the vast majority of legal resumes contain several significant errors and/or omissions.  As a result, many job seekers go on month-after-month wondering why they are not getting any responses or invitations to for interviews not realizing that the problem is not a stagnant market but rather the effectiveness of message they are conveying.  Whether it’s due to putting your career marketing/building skills on the back burner during your studies or, alternatively, receiving low quality career counseling the key point is it’s fixable!  

Employing the perfect resume message will place you at a distinct advantage over the majority of the competition and you will find that many doors aren’t nearly as closed as they originally appear in the job description.  Learning the critical techniques and strategies very well could be the most important class you take in your studies and return the most productive dividends!


[1] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm

[2] http://www.gallup.com/reports/199172/gallup-purdue-index-report-2016.aspx?g_source=gallup%20purdue%20index&g_medium=search&g_campaign=tiles

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

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