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The art of building an effective Resume for Paralegal Jobs

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<<The formal job application generally consists of a resume and a cover letter, though in some cases, a resume alone is sufficient. The most common question with regard to the resume and cover letter is "What do I put in it?"

Generally, the potential employer is not going to expect the recent graduate to have any prior legal experience, and that is usually the case for most recent graduates. Therefore, unless one has worked at a firm before, the resume should focus on any experience that might be of some use in a legal setting.

Not all skills or knowledge that might be useful in a legal setting necessarily comes from a legal position. For instance, a person who worked in a restaurant before obtaining his/her paralegal certificate may have good interpersonal and organizational skills. This can translate into the ability to multitask and interact well with other office personnel and/or clients. Writing skills are also important because a great deal of work in law involves writing.

What makes a good resume? There are many factors that go into making a good resume, but the most important factors are content and the format. The wording of the content in a resume is most important because that is what determines whether the potential employer will even extend an invitation for an interview.

In terms of content, the recent graduate's resume should list all degrees in an education section and, in a separate section, any experience that demonstrates qualities or skills that are useful in law practice. Format is somewhat related to content in that it determines how much content one can fit in the resume and how easy it is to read. For instance, a small font will allow one to fit a lot onto a resume that is one page in length, but it may annoy the reader because the text will be difficult to read.

Additionally, word choice is important because it shows some level of complexity in a person's writing and that he/she has put some thought into his/her resume. To demonstrate, here are two descriptions for a person who was an office secretary and did nothing but file documents and answer phones:
  1. Filed papers and answered phone calls.
  2. Organized office records and interacted with clients over the phone.
In the first case, the description is very general and does not go into much detail with what types of papers or with whom the person talked. On the other hand, the second description tells the reader what types of papers were filed and with whom the person had phone conversations; and it also uses more sophisticated words.

The second part of the job application is the cover letter. The purpose of the cover letter is to tell the potential employer why it should grant an interview. Therefore, it is important to highlight skills, knowledge, and/or experience. However, this does not mean simply restating the resume. Restating the resume will only show the potential employer that not much thought was put into the application and will not provide any insight into intangible factors such as writing style, skills, or personality. A good cover letter will be brief and highlight a few key strengths. Highlighting every skill is a bad idea because it will leave nothing for an interview and makes for a lengthy cover letter.

For the recent paralegal graduate, it would be a good idea to state in the cover letter that one is a recent graduate so that the potential employer will not expect a lot of legal experience and to mention the paralegal program if it is well known. From there, an applicant should highlight a couple traits that will distinguish him/her from the others and be useful in law practice. Generally, strong written and oral communication skills, analytical abilities, and organizational skills are what employers will look for. Finally, to make up for the lack of legal experience, it may also be a good idea for the applicant to outline a few concepts learned from the program, such as knowledge of drafting pleadings or conducting discovery.

See 6 Things Attorneys and Law Students Need to Remove from Their Resumes ASAP If They Want to Get Jobs with the Most Prestigious Law Firms for more information.

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