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How to build a paralegal resume that stands out

Paralegals, it’s time to update your resume. Even if you’re not looking for a job right now, it’s always a good idea to keep your CV up-to-date and ready, just in case.

I think we were all a little shocked when the news of lawyer and paralegal layoffs started rolling out at the end of 2022.

Let’s not forget, however, that when it comes to paralegal job opportunities, the future still looks bright.

In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for paralegals will grow by 14% between now and 2031. That said, it may still take a try or two for you to land your ideal paralegal position. There’s always competition for the top spots.

That’s why today’s article focuses on one of the most important aspects of your job search: your paralegal resume.

Below, we’ll take a look at what works — and what doesn’t — when it comes to building a solid resume. We wish you the best in your job search, and hope these tips help you achieve your goals.

Tip #1: Don’t be afraid to base your resume off of an example

One of the greatest things about modern resume drafting is that there are so many great templates and examples available for you to draw from.

These templates are particularly useful for two groups of people: (1) entry level paralegals who are building their first resume from scratch; and (2) seasoned paralegals who may be tempted to use the resume that got them their last job over 10 years ago.

The truth is that paralegal resume styles have changed over time.

Today’s best resumes tend to have color and graphic elements that make the old, black-and-white, Times New Roman resumes look like dinosaurs.

While you may never use color or graphics in your legal career, employers want to see that you’re savvy enough to keep up with changing technology trends. It might not be a bad idea to include a headshot, too.

Tip #2: Include your best skills in the “Objective” section

Chances are you will have a “skills” section of your resume that lists, often in bullet-point format, the hard skills that you bring to the job.

But what do you do if you have unique or extraordinary skills?

One good way to highlight them is to mention your best skills in the paralegal “Objective” section.

Objectives might feel like a new, trendy thing to include, but they’ve become so commonplace that most employers expect this at the top of your resume. Don’t waste that space.

You may be tempted to write a standard, bland objective that sounds something like this: “To find a full-time senior litigation paralegal position with an established law firm.” There’s no personality or pizazz, though it does say exactly what you’re looking for.

The problem is that your resume title and the job you’re applying for should answer that same question already. You wasted the space.

What if you wrote this instead? “To find a senior litigation paralegal position that allows me to regularly utilize my conversational language skills in Spanish, French, and Mandarin.”

Sure, you could have simply listed your language skills in the “Skills” section, but by highlighting them in the objective section, you immediately set yourself apart from other candidates. Plus, you tell hiring managers that you’re looking for a job that requires those higher skills and it’s important to you that you can work with international clients.

Tip #3: Avoid resume red flags

Just like there are many great things you can do to improve your resume, there are also resume red flags that prevent you from even getting called in for an interview.

Let’s take a look at some of the red flags that are particularly impactful for paralegal candidates:

  • Poor spelling or grammar: A big part of your job will involve written communication and persuasion. If you don’t have attention to detail on your own resume, how can a law firm trust you with documents it may file and serve on behalf of its clients?
  • Formatting issues: The same can be said for formatting. If you can’t make paragraphs line up in your resume, how in the world will you ever make the paragraphs in a pleading line up with the numbers on pleading paper?
  • Failure to customize: If you can’t tailor your resume and cover letter to each individual law firm you apply with, how can they expect you to work with each of their clients’ individualities? Worse yet, if you address your application to the hiring manager at the other place you just emailed, you’re telling that person that you can’t be bothered to check your work.

Tip #4: Consider the resume beyond your resume

This tip is indicative of the times we live in.

Did you know that nearly 70% of prospective employers screen candidates via social media?

What that means is that beyond the highly-polished resume you actually submit to employers, you’ve got a whole other personal resume just waiting to be discovered.

Is this fair?

Maybe not, but it is reality.

Before you start sending your resume around, you might consider giving your various profiles a good scrub.

For example, if you frequently complained about your last employer via social media, delete those posts. If your posts are dripping with extreme emotion, extreme political views, or extreme anything, consider taking them down.

If you don’t want any of this scrutiny, make your profiles private, although that’s not foolproof. Some hiring managers may find it odd that you don’t want to be found, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll remain as anonymous as you think. You might be tagged in things you don’t find so flattering, after all.

Tip #5: Don’t write a book

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You’re submitting materials for a job you really, really want, and you just can’t seem to fit everything relevant on one or two pages.

As someone who used to review dozens of paralegal resumes every year, I am here to encourage you to keep your resume contained within that single page if you can. Two pages are okay if you’ve got a lot of work experience and professional credentials to list, but keep the most important things on that first page.

First of all, your brevity tells the employer that you put time, effort, and (most critically) self-editing into your resume. It also tells them that you understand that their time is valuable and that things like your love of gardening, motocross, or other personal hobbies aren’t particularly pertinent to the job at hand.

Additionally, it signals to employers that you’re confident enough about your skills and experience to summarize them succinctly.

Remember, the only thing your resume is intended to do is to get you an interview. Once you’re in that interview, you can really let your personality and unique quirks shine.

Tip #6: Don’t run from unrelated experience

This tip is mostly intended for entry-level paralegal resumes.

Employers know when they’re looking for seasoned paralegals versus an entry-level paralegal. Consequently, they don’t expect an entry-level paralegal to list the last 20 firms they’ve worked for.

What is helpful, however, is information about skills you learned at pre-paralegal jobs.

Did you gain leadership skills by managing a fast-food restaurant? List that.

Did you deal with extreme stress as a truck-loader for UPS? List that.

You can include your time spent as a summer camp counselor, your winning record as the captain of your softball team, or other non-work skills that might be relevant.

Prospective employers understand that you’re new to the job. Let them know why you’re more qualified than other people in your position.

If you’re not new to the field, see the point above: focus on the most relevant experience and keep it brief. Save the unrelated experience for the cover letter and interview.

Ultimately, our best advice is to be thoughtful, mindful, and intentional about every resume you send out. Employers know when you’re serious about a job and when you’re just spraying resumes out to everyone. With a little careful resume planning, you’re sure to land your dream job soon.

Author

  • Jennifer Anderson

    Jennifer Anderson practiced business litigation in California from 1999 to 2016. When she’s not writing from her floating cabin on the Columbia River, she can be found hiking or kayaking around the Pacific Northwest.

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