"I hate these things!" She tossed her cover letters across my desk and folded her arms in disgust. "Why can't we just send resumes?"
"This irritating duty, this necessary task, is what employers use to get a look at you, the individual." I picked up her samples and held them in my hand like playing cards. "They get you qualified, they get you disqualified. Because resumes tend to be at such a high minimum standard, because people spend scores of hours on and invest in resumes, the cover letter is seen as 'the real you.' Pay attention to it, care about it, double-check it and be creative with it and it will get you interviews you might not otherwise have gotten. Overlook it, dismiss it, and give little attention to it and it will lose you interviews you otherwise might have gotten." I leaned back and placed her letters in an array before me. "The more you appreciate these dynamics, the better you'll do. You might not ever like this task, but you can still take pride in putting together your professional paralegal package, beginning with a well-written cover letter."
The crowning achievement in your professional paralegal package is an effective written presentation-the cover letter. Writing a cover letter is outwardly simple, but the rub comes when paralegal applicants are disqualified because of this outwardly simple task. Getting disqualified in the beginning means you have no chance to exhibit the fine personal and professional qualities you have developed. The purpose of a cover letter is to enliven interest in you as a person, causing close scrutiny of your resume.
Cover letters are generally the last thing we do in creating the package. They are the quickest and simplest thing we do, but it is easy to forget that they are the first thing by which we are judged.
Your job search techniques and effective written presentations are inseparable. There is a kind of magic in this process, because there are so many variables and unknowns. You are judged by the total package.
When they come together to create your desired professional image, they really do have an "abracadabra" effect! All written presentations should be designed to get you an interview. Before you fire off a few hundred written letters to potential employers, let us step back and look at the job search process at this stage. Getting an offer in an interview happens because these basics of the "package" are in place.
- For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
- For want of a shoe the horse was lost,
- For want of a horse the commander was lost,
- For want of a commander, the battle was lost.
- For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
- And all for the want of a horseshoe nail!
-Old English Proverb
A Little Mistake Is as Big as a Big Mistake If it takes you out of the Running.
You must have the ability to produce a high-quality cover letter within half a day; sometimes a full day is too long to wait. The letter should be typed; that is a basic minimum. Today's word-processors allow you to take the presentation one step further and let you create a cover letter that has the same physical qualities as your resume. If possible, use the same typeface as your resume, but definitely use the same bond paper.
Reference letters, which you carry with you to an interview or slip into an envelope with your cover letter and resume, are very useful and can make a strong impression, though they do not make as powerful an impression as some think. Prospective employers assume that if someone writes a reference letter for you, it will seldom be anything other than complimentary. They need not be on bond; they can be photocopies.
Oral references, on the other hand, can be questioned and cross examined. List three references, making sure there is at least one attorney, preferably two. If you have past supervisors or similar associates, those are good. Avoid using the same individual for written and oral references.
Some people make the mistake of putting family friends on this list. This is acceptable if he or she has worked with you in a professional capacity, but if the family friend is listed simply because he or she has known the family for a long time, the oral reference will not count for much. Internships offer excellent opportunities for acquiring both written letters of reference and oral references. Remember, the purpose of these references is to provide information to the would-be hiring entity about how you work as a professional.
The reference page should also be on the same paper as your cover letter and resume. Following this presentation will take your professional package out of the amateur class. But, without the other basics, you will not even be considered a contender.
Other basic elements of the professional package
An answering machine (or someone who is always home) is an absolute must. Phone companies in many areas offer for nominal monthly fees a voice mailbox, but you may find an answering machine is the more economically reasonable choice in the long run. If a potential employer cannot leave a message for you on your phone, you are going to need more than your share of good fortune in order to become a professional paralegal.
Motivation and flexibility are important to consider at this time, because it is at this point that many realize what a commitment of physical resources, money, time, and effort it takes just to get to the starting line.
The effective paralegal job search
is like an election campaign. You must have enough resources in the beginning to run a "long haul." If you want to attain and maintain your professional paralegal status, you must have the motivation and flexibility to sit in the quiet of your home and craft cover letter after cover letter, tailoring them to each contact. At times, this process will not seem to be efficient or economical. At times it could seem like a waste-until you make something happen. Then, when you get a few call backs, line up an interview or two, or deal with the possibility of a job offer, then your eyes light up and your energies flow to the front of the campaign and you realize--this can be done! I can do this! And then you will realize why the effective paralegal job search is seldom efficient, but it is indeed effective. And that effectiveness is judged in interviews and job offers.
When you conduct a call-back campaign to previous contacts, you can tell yourself, "If just one of these turns into an interview, that one interview could turn into a job." We will discuss call backs in more detail, but there is a balance to be struck with the phone and the paralegal job seeker. You must be assertive enough to call employers to whom you have sent letters, but smart enough to know when to stop calling. If you leave three messages but get no response within a period of a week or so, you can start to assume that you are not going to make progress on the phone and/or that you could be making a nuisance of yourself.
This is the basic attitudinal requirement you must incorporate into these job hunting basics. Repeat it over and over: The goal of the effective paralegal job search is to get just one job. After you become employed, don't retire your job hunting notebook; you still log professional contacts and insert "kudos" and letters of reference that will enhance your next job search.
The next stage of the basics involves having the necessary extras for the interview, such as writing samples, transcripts, and certificates. Briefs, motions, notices, legal memoranda, or pleadings could be utilized as writing samples. Make sure they are no longer than five pages. Many carry an interview portfolio that holds all of these.
There are two things that are basic elements that may appear to be too obvious. Nevertheless they merit a passing reference: clothing and transportation. Wardrobe requirements can vary widely from firm to firm. Transportation to a job can be a problem for some, and a reliable car may be a requirement for some of the jobs.
Also remember that some firms offer parking (especially in downtown settings) and others do not.
Disqualification process is the most ruthless at the beginning stages of the hire. At each stage the field is reduced, and the disqualification process continues to work, thinning the field. After the applicants have been basically qualified, then the urge to disqualify is more subtle. It takes on subjective and arbitrary characteristics in the interview stage. The message that is given to those in charge of reviewing the first group of applicants is basically, "Here are 25 cover letters and resumes; give me eight for the first interview."
A formal advertisement in a school, newspaper, or association will garner a large number of applicants. In a networking situation, the disqualification process is less in evidence. The mandate to scrutinize and reject you is not present, because you are not one of many applicants responding to an advertised lead. You may be the only one they are considering! This is another reason to choose networking over ad-based searches: Symbolically speaking, the back door is right next to the hiring door, while the front door is at the other end of a series of obstacles.
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