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Getting Attention with Your Paralegal Resume

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What Is the Purpose of a Resume?

Opening a lecture with a question like this has an arresting quality. I waited for a response as classmates looked around at each other. Finally, wanting to end the silence, a few volunteered some responses.

"To get a job," said one. "To get hired," posed another. "To get work so I can pay my school loans." This got a laugh.

"The purpose of a resume is to get an interview!" I declared. "And when you understand that, you will understand virtually every rule and guiding principle regarding resumes."

These typical responses reveal a common misunderstanding concerning the resume and its purpose. It's not hard to understand, but many do not think about it. When someone is impressed with your resume, they do not hire you sight unseen-they call you in for an interview.

This should lead us to think about the overall "look" of the resume. The resume must first draw interest before it can impress. Drawing up a resume is a perceptual challenge! The initial impression of the resume, upon a three-second scan, is extremely important. If you try to impress with overlong descriptions and unnecessary and redundant elements, creating dense text without "white space," you risk losing your reader's interest before there is interest. So let's understand these two basic concepts:
  • Your resume must be interesting before it can be impressive.
  • Your resume should be crafted to get an interview.
If you are looking for an interview, then the resume need not "tell everything." It is allowed to be intriguing. Those who want to include too much are missing a real point. If you tell everything, but in doing so make it hard to read, you are defeating your purposes! Think of the resume as an advertisement (The Madison Avenue Rule). Why? Today's resume must attain a high basic quality and be edited and crafted visually so that it will gain immediate attention. It cannot be a document that is hard on the eyes, exhaustive, thorough, yet accurate. If that were ever permissible at any time in the past, it certainly isn't now in the more competitive job market. All of these factors derive from a rule that sums up these challenges all at once-The 30-Second Rule!

The 30-Second Rule-"Love at First Glance"

The 30-Second Rule can be stated as follows: The first time anyone reads your resume they will probably give it no longer than 30 seconds. That is not long to make a positive impression. A quick cursory look is what every resume gets the first time around. An impression is made; the reader puts it in one of maybe three probable stacks (Interested, Maybe, Absolutely Not) or, even worse, two stacks (Maybe and No). Consider today's "short-attention-span" American culture and the pace of professional life. It will confirm that you have a very short amount of time within which to create a good impression.

The challenge in writing a resume is that you must sum up your professional life, initially, in 30 seconds. Once you get someone's attention, then of course, they read it over more thoroughly. But if you score negatively in the first 30 seconds, you are in trouble. Imagine a hiring manager sitting at his or her desk reading resumes. The mahogany desk is covered with pieces of paper in various shades of off-white, gray, beige, light yellows, or pale blues. Your resume is in this group. The first impressions your resume makes are visual and tactile. High-quality papers with a well-chosen color are the first mandates.

Since the legal profession is conservative, serious-minded, and intense, flashy and shocking colors and graphic techniques should be avoided. Yes, there is room for individuality, but only within conservative parameters. If you employ blue, green, brown, or red, make the color very close to white. In some fields, an eye-catching color can be an advantage; in the legal field, it is considered unprofessional. Choose the highest quality paper you feel you can afford, and select an attractive and legible typeface (font). You may need to adjust the font's point size and the space between lines of text so that your resume fits on one page. These will create the overall look that governs the initial impression of the reader.

After briefly checking the color and texture, the eyes go over the resume as a whole. White space becomes very important. Anyone who has had training in marketing or advertising has learned that the eye needs rest and will move towards white space. If the document makes the reader squint and furrow the brow to get into it, rather than letting the reader's eye flow easily from one section to the next, then the "graphic look" of this all-important document has been neglected. Billions of dollars are spent on advertising-don't ignore those lessons. The level of competition in the professional paralegal marketplace dictates that you approach your resume in this way. We are creatures who respond to subtle visual cues and impressions all day long. That many of these elements of modern life escape our conscious awareness is a testament to their power and influence.

That which affects you subconsciously, can be just as powerful as that which affects you consciously.

The following elements are employed in creating an effective resume:
  • Paper quality (Bond, Linen)
  • Paper color
  • Choice of font (style)
  • Choice of point size
  • Layout
  • White space
  • Use of graphics (bullets, lines)
  • Printer (commercial or laser quality)
  • Ink (some inks smudge on certain kinds of paper)
Before we discuss how the 30-Second Rule influences design and content, proper attention should be paid to the above basic elements. Many people are aware of these required state-of-the-art standards and yet think they can take short cuts. Those who grab a ream of copy paper and grind out 50 resumes on a photocopy machine are truly missing the boat.

Remember, the people reading your resume have handled hundreds of others. They have minimum standards.

Editorial content and style

The 30-Second Rule has many repercussions. Editorial content and style are affected by the basic mission: Get your message across in a visually appealing manner with a highly readable and fast-paced style. Because of the 30-Second Rule, you must write in a style that moves the eye along quickly. Past tense verbs should begin sentences. Avoid the use of the word "I" and adopt a formal sentence construction.

Don't say: "I was given a promotion after two years in the Shipping Department. I received awards for productivity and punctuality and eventually I was made Supervisor "

Instead say: "Promoted to Shipping Department Supervisor after receiving awards for productivity and punctuality over a two- year period"

Beginning your sentences with a past-tense power verb (the "I" is understood) immediately shortens the phrase and gets to the point. The power verb forces you to be specific and keeps the style dynamic. The modern state-of-the-art resume should be pointed, direct, and substantive. If you find yourself explaining a lot and saying little, check your construction. Are you using the "past-tense, power verb construction"?

The kiss of death

Perhaps we should pause amidst the talk of style and format and talk about the kiss of death-spelling and other grammatical errors. The most attractive, well-written resume, hailing the virtues of the most qualified paralegal, can fail the applicant if it contains a spelling error. Typos and other errors get you disqualified. The solution is to proofread, get others to proofread, and then proofread again.

Remember also to check your address and phone number. One gentleman with 15 years of experience could not get an interview to "save his life." We wondered why until I got a phone call from one of my attorney friends. The conversation was rather abrupt. "If Mr. X is wondering why he isn't getting any interviews, tell him the phone number he has on his resume is not his!" This is a typo that won't get you disqualified, but it won't get you called, either!

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