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A Paralegal’s Guide to Resume Writing

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A resume is a word portrait, your professional profile, the profile that you want to show a prospective employer. It is not a complete picture, but it does include the highlights from your background, training, and experience that you wish to emphasize. Remember, you are in control of the words on paper, and how you shape your resume can help an employer focus on the areas that you want to be recognized immediately.

Essentially, then, the resume is your professional introduction, and while it cannot get you a job, it should help you to get an interview—and that is the purpose of the resume.



In order to create a resume that will present those qualifications you wish to stress, you will have to do a great deal of preliminary work before you get the finished product. In the previous chapter, you were asked to do this preliminary work. Now let’s see how you can build upon it.

What you may have realized by this time is that there is no one right way to write a resume; there is no one format that is best for everyone. However, there is a right way and a best format for you, one that will work in helping you to integrate the many aspects of your background as you proceed in your job search as a paralegal.

Examine your training, education, and experience. The importance of such an intensive self-assessment was to help you recognize what you have to offer an employer. Summarize what every employer is looking for in a job candidate: skills and accomplishments. Keep those two words in mind. An employer wants to know why you are the best person for the job based on what you can do (your skills) and the evidence that you have done it (your accomplishments).

Conveying those skills and accomplishments on paper may be achieved in a number of ways. Keep in mind, however, that you must clearly demonstrate that you are the person to be called in for the interview because you are the best qualified person for the job. As you examine each section of the resume, you will learn how to shape your self-assessment information to be that person.

Before beginning, however, remember that everything on your resume must be verifiable. In a competitive job market, it might be tempting to include a degree you did not earn, a prestigious school you did not attend, a more marketable major you do not have, or a particular job title you do not hold. Who will ever know?

Aside from the ethical considerations of including erroneous or misleading information, it is far too risky to do so. If the fraud is detected, you will be eliminated from the applicant list, or, if you have the job, you will most likely be fired. Your credibility will be lost. Even the unintentional printing error of an employment date has been known to keep an otherwise attractive job candidate from being hired.

The range and reasons for such embellished data on a resume are wide. Many actually convince themselves that they almost have a degree and so they include it; others believe they performed the functions of a particular position and list a job tide they felt they earned. The naive assumption is that an employer will not bother to check out the information. In an attempt to appear more qualified, such a person ultimately conveys a lack of honesty and integrity.

On the other hand, it is more likely that you will not give yourself credit for what you have achieved or developed.

Format of the Resume

The basic formats listed below are almost self-explanatory. Each has ad-vantages and disadvantages. You can decide which is most appropriate for you once we have discussed each one and you have an opportunity to examine the sample resumes with various formats included at the end of this article.

The chronological resume lists all education and work experience in reverse chronological order, from the present to the past.

The functional or skills resume emphasizes experiences and how they relate to the job that the candidate is seeking. This format stresses skills and achievements without focusing on the specific dates and places, although they are included.

The combination resume format blends the advantages of the chronological resume with those of the functional resume. It can be the most complete, the most general, and the most specific, all at the same time. But it must be coordinated skillfully to avoid the appearance of a hodgepodge of unrelated experiences.

For the purposes of your resume as paralegal, it should be stressed that while you have some latitude in arranging your material and information, there are some guidelines that should prove very helpful. Let’s look at each section as it should be considered.

Keep in mind an important point: Most employers prefer to receive a one- page resume from entry-level paralegals. Later on in this article, we will discuss how you can make the best use of the margins, choice of paper, type styles, headings, and other details. You are still in a preliminary stage at this point, so it is far more essential that you write down everything you wish to include in your resume and then see how you can combine areas or edit your information. It is far easier to edit later than to try to remember what you left out.

Resume Categories

While the final order of your material will depend on the format you choose and the emphasis you wish to place on certain information, it will be helpful for you to identify major categories that you want to include. Each of these points is discussed in detail in the following pages, before you put together your final resume. Some of them are optional, and others are essential.
 
  • Personal Information Career Objective
  • Summary of Skills and Qualifications
  • Education
  • Work Experience
  • Professional Activities
  • Special Awards and Recognition
  • Military Experience
  • Special Interest and Community Activities References

In order of appearance, let us now consider some essential items to be included in your resume, regardless of the final format you choose.

Personal Information
 
  • Name   
  • Address
  • Telephone Number

The above items are the only ones that you are required to provide by law. This information should be included at the top of your resume where it will be readily seen.

Do not include the entry titles, such as Name, Address, and Area Code and Telephone Number, when you give this information. Do not list formal titles here or any nicknames. Such informality may demonstrate friendliness but not professionalism.

In your address, list the place where you can be contacted when you send out your resume. If you will have a different address after a specified date, you may list two addresses.

Be sure to include a telephone number at which you are certain someone is available to answer calls. Do not list a work phone unless you have permission to do so or know for certain that it will not prove awkward for you to receive a phone call. Keep some important points in mind regarding telephone calls:
 
  • Make certain that you have left a clear, direct message with a time that you will return your calls.
  • It does not seem reasonable to ask someone to call after business hours.
  • Avoid cute messages designed to impress your listener. They usually have the opposite effect. Remember that a potential employer may not wish to leave a message at all if your message is unprofessional.
  • Do not expect a potential employer to make an unreasonable effort to contact you. There are many other willing and available job candidates.

Other pointers: Do not include photographs, or give your marital status or other family information. Other personal information that may reveal your age, health, or marital status is not relevant and could possibly keep you from getting to the interview stage. You do not know what personal bias a potential employer might have. You cannot be denied a job legally because of your age or young dependents, particularly if you are a woman, but your resume may be rejected for any number of reasons. For example, one woman stated that she was a single parent of three children. She believed that such information would demonstrate that she could handle multiple responsibilities and could manage her time efficiently. A potential employer looked at that and saw a person who might be absent from work if emergencies arose with her family. Again, legally a person cannot be denied a position because of personal circumstances. However, you want to give yourself the best opportunity to get the interview. On the other hand, do include information that could make you more attractive for a specific job, such as willingness to relocate, if that is appropriate for you.

Career Objective

Many feel that stating a job or career objective on a resume locks them into one specific area and that they should leave all their options open by writing a general resume. Others feel that career objectives often sound too contrived, although that need not be so. A career objective is optional, but if you decide to include it, make it work for you.

Employers are looking for people with specific skills, and a brief career objective can indicate that you are a person who has a clear idea of where you are going. A career objective, therefore, could be helpful if it fulfills a purpose. It should focus on what you think you can and would like to do, based on your skills and qualifications. It need not be lengthy, but it should add something to your resume; otherwise, omit the category. If you choose to include it, the examples below should be helpful.
 
  • An entry-level paralegal position offering increasing responsibilities and opportunities in real estate or land development.
  • A challenging paralegal position that would enable me to use my intensive generalist training and legal research skills, as well as my diverse academic and employment background.
  • A challenging litigation paralegal position that will utilize my knowledge of computer database systems.

For additional examples, study the model resumes included at the end of this section.

Again, remember that the career objective is an optional entry. A vague, confusing, or redundant objective would only be a disadvantage for you.

Summary of Skills and Qualifications or Highlights

Although the category Summary of Skills and Qualifications is also optional, it can serve a useful function. It clearly focuses those skills and qualifications you have developed over the years, so that an employer can readily see how they relate to a paralegal position. It can also help you pull together various types of experiences you may have developed in several different types of jobs.

The statement at the beginning of the resume can help a potential employer immediately recognize what you have to offer as an employee.
The following examples may give you some idea of how to focus your own skills and qualifications in a summary statement.

Summary of Skills and Qualifications: Extensive experience in varied settings has enabled me to develop strong communication skills, specifically research, writing, and verbal and interpersonal communication. My organizational and detail-oriented background should prove to be an asset in a paralegal position.

Highlights, as the term implies, point up your strongest, most marketable traits.

Highlights: Strong organizational and communication skills, combined with intensive paralegal training and experience in varied legal and non-legal settings, have provided me with the necessary qualifications to perform at high-level capacity.

Review your own highlights and determine if they will attract the attention of an employer in a summary statement. If you decide to omit this entry, you should still review your qualifications, so that you can include your most marketable qualifications in your cover letter.

Education

The section on education is usually the first major category in a paralegal’s resume, particularly for an entry-level position, unless there is a reason to include it as the last category. (One of the sample resumes included does list the education category last.) For the most part, however, an employer will want to see your education, background, and training immediately. Describe your education, beginning with your paralegal training, where you received it, when you received it, and your specialty, if you had one. Not all programs have been approved by the American Bar Association. If your program does have ABA approval or if it is a graduate-level certificate program, be certain to include that information. If it is not ABA approved but follows ABA guidelines, you can include that. Depending on the space you have, you may wish to include specific courses or the number of hours of training. Be certain, however, that you do include the significant essential information that clearly indicates that you are a trained paralegal. The resume samples that follow illustrate how you can list all of this information briefly but completely.

Review these resume samples to determine how you wish to present your material. Use reverse chronological order, giving the most current information first and then working backward. Include important details such as the curriculum used (specialty or generalist program), computer training, or other relevant information you would like to emphasize.

If you have not attended college, make certain that you focus on your particular achievements in high school that reveal important qualifications. Did you participate in organizations that required specific skills such as thinking on your feet, communicating ideas, or expressing yourself with clarity and persuasiveness? Special projects (at school or within the community) or part-time jobs also demonstrate commitment, initiative, and responsibility.

If you attended college, include where you went, your degree (if you graduated) and your major and minor, if relevant. Avoid listing months and any other details that will clutter your resume. Do include special awards or honors, as well as your grade point average if it reflects your academic achievement.

Should you include your graduate degree or graduate study? Or will this “over qualify” you for an entry-level position? Think of all the important skills and the overall background you have developed. The issue is how to include this information so that it becomes an advantage for you. If an employer feels that you will always be dissatisfied or leave when something better comes along, impressive qualifications could disqualify you.

Your job is to convince the employer that you are willing to begin at an entry-level position because you do not have skills and experience in this new field as a paralegal, and your graduate study (if you have any) will prove to be an asset to them and should help you to move ahead quickly. Be certain, however, that you believe this yourself before you attempt to convince anyone else.

Work Experience

This category may just as easily be titled Work History, Employment Record, Professional Experience, or any other title that is descriptive of the employment information you are about to list. In this section, it is important for you to tell where you worked, the dates (years), your title, and what you did on the job. Do not omit dates. Employers will want to verify where you worked and when. It is also essential for you to proofread your final resume carefully for the accuracy of dates. A typographical error has actually cost some applicants the job! Do not distinguish part-time from full-time jobs, or paid from unpaid volunteer work. You may wish to group summer jobs or jobs held while in school that helped to finance your education. The completed resumes at the end of this article illustrate the widely varied ways in which you can include this information.

Include all of your jobs, and indicate what skills you developed, skills that could strengthen you as a candidate for a paralegal position. If you have not had extensive job experience, you may include skills developed in your college activities or volunteer work. Internships may be included in this section if your work experience is limited; otherwise, you may include internships under the Education category.

If you wish to deemphasize dates of employment, particularly if you have been out of the job market for some years, you may wish to use a functional format, one in which skills are emphasized in clusters and dates are listed at the end of the resume. Examine the resume samples which use this format if you think it could be appropriate for you.

Other Categories

Other categories on your resume may be optional. If you have special honors or awards, include them, so an employer can identify you as someone with unique talents and achievements. If you have been involved in community activities, a category may be included to indicate the level of responsibility and skills you have developed.

If you have military service, include it as a separate category.

If you have strong computer skills, technical skills, or special language proficiencies, be certain to include them.

Remember that your resume is your professional profile, so think of the person who will be reading it. Does your resume reflect what you have done and are capable of doing? Have you focused on your skills and accomplishments? That is what employers look for.

References

As your final entry, simply list the statement: References available upon request.

It is not appropriate to include a list of your references. You may be asked to include them on a job application, or in your cover letter you may include someone in the organization who knows you and has referred you to this position. It is also a good idea to take a list of references to the job interview and leave them with the interviewer, if it seems appropriate for you do so. And remember, always ask your references for permission to use their names and indicate that they may be contacted. In Appendix B of this book, some guidelines on types of references you should use are listed, including appropriate choices and how you should present them in a separate reference list that you should prepare as part of your job search strategy.

The following guidelines summarize points for you to keep in mind as you develop your resume. Study the resume samples for further ideas.
Guidelines for Developing an Effective Resume

Appearance of the Resume

Choose high-quality bond paper (twenty-five pound rag content), in white, off-white, gray, or beige. The latter colors will offer distinction without distraction. If you choose these shades, use envelopes of a matching color.

The Resume

Some final notes on the duplication of your resume: Dot matrix computer copies are not suitable for final resumes. Never use poorly reproduced copies of your resume. It also goes without saying that handwritten resumes (as well as cover letters and follow-up letters) are never acceptable, no matter how fine or elegant your handwriting.
 
  1. Use the standard paper size of 8 by 11 inches. The envelope may be regulation business size or a larger envelope that allows you to mail your resume without folding it.
  2. Whatever process you choose, your resume should be error free. Remember that ultimately, you are responsible for any misspellings, typographical errors, or printer’s errors.
  3. Use capital letters sparingly. The same holds true for underlining. The purpose of these devices is to make words stand out. If they are overused, nothing will stand out. The sample resumes included in this book demonstrate the effective use of print format.
  4. Do not abbreviate. All organizational names (for example, American Medical Association, American Management Association) should be spelled out. Degrees, special awards, and all titles should also be spelled out fully.
  5. If the institutional or organizational name of a former employer has been changed, indicate the current name as well as the former name (for example, Midwest State University; Midwest Teachers College; or AMGRO, formerly American Textile Growth Corporation).
  6. Be consistent in your layout and composition. Complete sentences will take up valuable space. If you decide to use phrases instead, be certain they are grammatically correct and free of ambiguity.
  7. Use past tense for previous activities, experiences, or acquired skills. Present tense refers to ongoing or current activities.
  8. Consult a dictionary for correct spellings. If you are a poor speller, have someone else proofread your final copy. It is also a good idea to have someone else proofread the final copy you receive from the printer, if at all possible.
  9. Use white space for eye appeal and easy reading. Use ample margins, and make certain they are uniform. Use indentations and tabs to add white space and emphasize key points. If you have extensive information you want to include on your resume, you may be tempted to cram in as much as possible onto one page. Doing so will use up the margins, as well as make the resume difficult to read. You want an employer to be able to easily identify the skills and experiences that you have. One solution to this problem is to use a smaller print size in some categories. Typesetting or laser printing will enable you to do this easily.
  10. Edit your resume to make sure you include all the essential points, but avoid unnecessary details. Do not ramble on or include a philosophical statement about yourself, your profession, or the world in general. If your employer wants to get to know you, you will be called in for an interview.
  11. Use precise language. Avoid jargon. Do not use pompous or self-serving descriptions, such as invaluable, highly creative, sensitive, or perceptive, to describe yourself in your career objective or any other part of your resume. Let your reader come to such conclusions based on what your credentials and accomplishments, as well as your references, say about you.
  12. Constantly update your resume. Never send an old resume to which you have added recent items. If an important event such as the receipt of an honor or award occurs after your current resume has been printed, you may include the specific item in your cover letter.
  13. Your resume will be a reflection of you—your style, as well as your history of professional accomplishments. Therefore, you should not allow anyone else to write it for you. Suggestions and comments from others are helpful insofar as they can improve what you say or what you omit. But your style and format should be as unique and individual as you are.

In the sample entries that follow, notice the use of action verbs to depict skills and achievements.

Sample Career Objectives
 
  • Experienced paralegal seeks position using background in library science and legal research.
  • Career objective is a challenging paralegal position involving coordinating, communicating, and researching, with opportunity for growth.
  • Career objective is an entry-level paralegal position to use my experience in real estate sales and marketing, in combination with my training in legal research specializing in real estate.
 
Sample Highlights
 
  • Paralegal will incorporate experience in patents and trade-marks, anti-trust litigation, bankruptcy, and legal research. Supervisory and administrative background, combined with verbal and written communication skills.
  • Professional paralegal specializing in corporate real estate acquisitions with proven results in developing innovative and cost-saving procedures.
  • Extensive experience in legal environments has enabled me to develop communication skills (specifically, research and writing). Additional intensive training in a generalist curriculum has broadened the scope and depth of my understanding of the duties and responsibilities of a paralegal.
 
Sample Employment Descriptions
 
  • Researched, compiled, and wrote corporate report documents.
  • Developed methods and procedures to ensure efficient work flow.
  • Supervised hiring and management of clerical and paralegal employees.
  • Analyzed and reviewed preparation of tariff filings for submission to the Civil Aeronautics Board.
  • Supervised and trained tellers.
  • Balanced accounts of daily transactions.
  • Sample Community and Professional Activities
  • Guest lecturer for Illinois Paralegal Association.
  • Designed and presented salary negotiation seminar.
  • Campaign coordinator: Managed all aspects of local drug awareness program for elementary and junior high school students, including issuing press releases, contacting speakers, and moderating panel.
  • Volunteer for Chicago Literacy Foundation.
 
Sample Resumes
 
The following pages provide sample resumes. They illustrate different formats and techniques that have been discussed in this article. As you review these, note the differences between chronological resumes and functional or skills resumes.
 
A variety of formats have been included. Again, depending upon what you wish to emphasize, one format may be more appropriate than another. For example, although most employers prefer to see education as the initial entry, you may wish to emphasize your strong experience over your education. Check with your local paralegal program or association to determine if attorneys in your area have expressed a preference.
 
The organization of your material may also change based on your career advances. For that reason, several different types and formats are presented. Always keep in mind the position for which you are applying. Study the qualifications they are looking for, and make them easy to identify in your resume. This may require changing your resume for different positions to focus on specific, relevant details in your background and experience. It is not difficult to make these changes, and it will be well worth your time and effort to do so.
 
Chronological Resume: Legal Secretary

Mary Sue O’Brien
360 Greenleaf Road
Northfield, Illinois 60048
(708) 541-5678

OBJECTIVE

A paralegal or administrative position utilizing my legal assistant background and client relation skills.

EDUCATION
Harper College, Palatine, Illinois
Associate Degree, Legal Technology Program

EXPERIENCE

2014-2016, Legal Secretary, John A. Looby, Attorney at Law, Evanston, Illinois

Drafted and prepared wills; trusts; probate documents; individual, fiduciary, and estate tax returns; and real estate closing documents. Telephone and written correspondence, bookkeeping, billing, payroll, and office reception.

2013-2014, Customer Service Representative, Ravinia Festival Association, Highland Park, Illinois Answered inquiries, accepted ticket orders, and resolved complaints of contributors and general public. Assisted with general office and accounting duties and implemented sales projects for management

INTERESTS
Swimming, tennis, and music.

ACTIVITIES         
Community Recycling, Central DuPage Hospital volunteer, and Citizens for a Better Environment.

HONORS and AWARDS
National Honor Society, Debating Team State Championship, Senior Leadership Award, Junior Achievement Award.

REFERENCES: Furnished upon request.
 
Skills Resume: Business and Sales Background

Anne M. Smith
1021 Wynwood Drive
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501
(616) 637-3233

OBJECTIVE         
A paralegal position to utilize my strong business skills and paralegal training.

EDUCATION      
Certificate in Paralegal Studies, 2016
American Institute for Paralegal Studies, Inc.
Southfield, Michigan
Associate of Arts, Central Florida Community College,
Ocala, Florida, 2015

LEGAL STUDIES HIGHLIGHTS
Drafted complaints, answers, interrogatories, summons. Interpreted case and statutory law. Prepared court briefs and memoranda. Drafted, and filed court documents. Performed extensive legal research, case citing, and shephardizing. Emphasis on writing, litigation, pleadings, arbitration, business law, jurisprudence.

PROFESSIONAL SKILLS

Administrative Skills
 
  • Performed general administrative and clerical duties.
  • Handled petty cash, banking, payroll, accounts payable.
  • Set up computerized office system.

Communication Skills
 
  • Inventoried, displayed, sold merchandise.
  • Managed sales department during peak periods.
  • Assisted with promotion campaign and designed brochure.

Specialized Skills
 
  • WordPerfect 6.0,7.0,7.5; Lotus 1 -2-3; R Base Computer.

EMPLOYMENT
2014-2015 United Distributors, Inc.
2013-2014 Anderson Professional Dental, Inc.
2012-2013 Foster-Brown Shoe Company
REFERENCES: Available upon request.
 
Combination Chronological and Skills Resume

Lydia Parker
2525 Tucson Boulevard
Tucson, Arizona 85705
(605) 795-1269

OBJECTIVE         
Corporate track paralegal position

INTERNSHIP
Jamison, Jones and Carter, Tucson, Arizona
 
  • Drafted resolutions, merger documents, and other corporate documents
  • Maintained corporate minute books and stock ledgers
  • Filed annual reports for domestic and foreign corporations
  • Researched procedures of states regulating security sales

EDUCATION
Pima Community College, Tucson, Arizona
Associate of Applied Science Degree in Legal Assistant Studies, 2016
American Bar Association approved program
Concentration: Corporate Law
Courses: Paralegal Ethics, Corporations, Legal Research, Personal Injury, Bankruptcy, Commercial Transactions, Legal Writing

EMPLOYMENT
Southwest Courier, Tempe, Arizona
Feature and Opinion Page staff writer, 2013-2015
J.C. Penney, Customer Service and Sales, Phoenix, Arizona
Summer, 2013
Allstate Claims Adjustor, Tucson, Arizona, 2011-2013

SKILLS
Computer: WordPerfect 6.0,7.0,7.5, Lotus 1-2-3, dBase III+, DOS

Communication:
 
  • Led student council annual community food drive
  • Handled complaints through customer service
  • Filed and handled accident and injury insurance claims
  • Developed article leads and wrote newspaper features
INTERESTS and ACTIVITIES
Pima Community College Council: Chair, Executive Board
Tucson Association of Legal Assistants: Associate Member
References and Writing Samples Available Upon Request
 
Final Checklist for Resume Categories and Information
 
  • Name
  • Address
  • Telephone number
  • Career Objective (optional)
  • Highlights or Summary of Skills and Qualifications (optional)
  • Education:
  • Schools
  • Years
  • Certificates
  • Degrees
  • Major Course of Study
  • Specialized Training
  • Honors (grade point average, if appropriate)
  • Internships
  • Special Activities and Projects
  • Employment:
  • Years
  • Job Title
  • Employer and Locale
  • Job Responsibilities and Skills Developed
  • Major Accomplishments
  • Promotions
  • Professional Activities
  • Active Memberships and Title of Organizations
  • Offices Held and Involvements
  • Major Accomplishments
  • Community (Volunteer) Activities:
  • Titles of Organizations and Programs
  • Specific Participation (Involvement, Offices Held)
  • Major Accomplishments
  • Special Skills: Foreign Languages, Technical Skills, Computer Skills, and Other Skills
  • Military Service
  • Interests
  • Other Relevant Information: Willingness to relocate, etc.
  • References: Available upon request.




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