You gained considerable interviewing experience when you went in search of your internship. Now is the time to review that experience and build on it. Think back to your internship interviews with these questions in mind:
- What was your most successful internship interview? What made it a success?
- What was your most difficult internship interview? What made it difficult?
- What did you learn from those experiences about interviewing?
Put your previous experience to work for you. In upcoming interviews, try to imitate the attitude, behavior, and pre-interview preparation that brought you good results during your internship search and avoid the mistakes that may have caused you difficulty.
There is, of course, a big difference between what you brought to interviews prior to your internship and what you bring to legal job interviews now. In the past, you had little or no paralegal experience to relate. This time, you have a great deal of relevant experience to report. And report it you must- confidently and in detail.
To recount your experience effectively, go into each interview thoroughly familiar with the work you have done. Be ready to report, sometimes in minute detail, the specifics of the work you performed. Most importantly, be prepared to show how your internship experience applies to the jobs you are seeking.
Refresh your memory prior to each job interview. Review your Job Skills file with these goals in mind:
- Identify internship tasks that are relevant to the position for which you are applying. For example, drafting pleadings would be relevant to a litigation support position; preparing for real estate closing would be relevant experience to a residential real estate practice.
- Identify internship skills that will be useful in the new job, even if you acquired those skills through seemingly unrelated tasks. Writing, fact gathering, investigation, client communications, computer database creation, and file management are just a few examples of skills that have wide application.
- Practice describing the details in an interesting, lively manner. Practice reporting some of the challenges you faced and how you overcame them.
- Practice explaining how your internship skills relate to the new job.
- Prepare questions about each job, focusing on opportunities to develop additional skills.
Most job candidates do not list the names of professional references on a resume1 unless a prospective employer specifically requests this information. Instead, applicants usually include the phrase "References available upon request" at the bottom of their resumes. This strategy ensures that reference providers will not be contacted unless you are being seriously considered for a position.
Whatever your vision, try to choose your initial employment with that dream in mind. The following strategies may help:
- Try for a law job that allows you to pursue your long-term interests in some way. For example, if you choose a general practice employer, let it be one that gives you occasional exposure to your favorite specialty area.
- Ask prospective employers about their willingness to help with the expenses of continuing legal education seminars, workshops, or the completion of a degree.
- Volunteer work is a great way to acquire additional experience doing work you love if your regular job does not give you that chance. Challenging volunteer work also impresses future employers.
- Consider taking temporary jobs until a job you like comes along. Personnel agencies can help or you can pursue temporary assignments on your own, using your list of professional contacts as a starting point.
- If continuing full-time studies (such as for an additional degree) would enhance your career, consider settling for a part-time position for a while.
Career planning never ends. These days, most jobs change quickly. New technologies, changes in the economy, shifts in government policy, the rise of unforeseen specialty areas, and the decline of traditional ones- all these factors require legal professionals to be more flexible than ever before.
Nobody can insulate himself or herself completely against unforeseen changes. But you can do a lot to help ensure continued survival and growth in the face of unpredictable change. The key is to do three things. Continually enhance your professional reputation throughout your career. Maintain a broad network of relationships in as many different work areas as possible. And try to keep abreast of new legal and technological developments in your field.
Try implementing these survival strategies in some of the following ways:
- Socialize often with colleagues from other offices; find out what their work is like and what new developments they are seeing.
- Be someone who helps out when help is needed. The favor is almost always returned, sometimes in wonderful ways.
- Become active in your local paralegal or legal assistant association.
- Consider taking on responsibilities in your regional or national association as well.
- Consider pursuing voluntary, professional certification either as a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or as a Registered Paralegal (RP).
- Sign up for continuing legal education seminars regularly-at least two or three a year.
- Look for opportunities to learn more about emerging technologies, both inside and outside of your office.
- Take advantage of opportunities for paralegal involvement in your state or local bar association-in a paralegal section or through associate bar membership (if available in your state), working on a bar association committee (if permitted locally), or volunteering to work in the bar association's pro bono program.
- Welcome the chance to experiment with something new from time to time- a new practice area, a new technology, or new responsibilities. You never know when this might lead to an exciting new career path.
Paralegals, who are known and respected among a large number of professionals, can usually survive any upheaval and often manage to create positive changes on their own. Alert paralegals with an eye on the horizon for upcoming developments are probably in the best position of all. They are the ones who-like you-will seize opportunities as they arise and, in time, make their career dreams come true.
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