, , , , , , , , , , ,


Mariana Fradman

As a mentor and President of New York City Paralegal Association, I am often approached by members and non-member of our association with a request to assist to find a job or, at least, an internship. They tell me that they sent dozens of resumes weekly and didn’t receive even a single phone call in return. They blame economy, greedy employers or lazy agents, their decision to become a paralegal and even the time of the day and weather conditions.

My first question to them is always the same: “Can I see your resume?” Some responded “oh, my resume is perfect” and others say “my resume was professionally prepared” or an even better one: “I used it 20 years ago and got a job at a first shot.” I believe all of you, but another pair of eyes never hurts. You will be surprised at what people call a “perfect” or “professionally prepared” resume. And forget about those resumes that landed you a job in the last century.

There are so many reasons for lack of response from prospective employers that following a few simple steps and avoiding some common mistakes will leave your wondering of why you didn’t think about them before hand. Your resume is your first and foremost marketing tool. It is your PR representative and you want it to look the best.

So, if you are ready, let’s look at some mistakes that candidates make on their resumes:

It is all about me: wrong. Remember, it is not about you or that you need a job – it is about the prospective employer and their business. Your summary should reflect what they are looking for, not that you are looking for. Instead of “looking for a paralegal position where I can professionally grow,” think about how the employer can benefit from hiring you by showing them that your education and experience will save them money, streamline process and bring value to the company.  However, don’t make your summary too long ever. In the best case, nobody will read it. In the worst case, it will be the end of your application process.

Remember, employers and agents review hundreds of resumes a day and you have only 10 seconds to grab their attention. Your summary should be written around the specific needs of the employer, but, if it won’t be read, it shouldn’t squash your resume.  Avoid that generic “paralegal school graduate looking for an entry level position,” summary tagline, even if you graduated with 4.0 GPA and your school is the cherry on the top on the paralegal sundae. If you won’t be looking, why do you need to prepare your resume in the first place?

I have a lot of experience: do you really want to list them all? Chances are that if your resume is more than one page, nobody will read past first one. (I heard from many agents that two pages are ok, but I am a strict stickler to one page only). Once, I saw five pages resume where a candidate spelled out all her jobs starting from a high school assistant to a cheerleader (huh? An assistant to a cheerleader?) and had held about 25 jobs in the past 35 years. There are many problems with listing all of them. First of all, her experience as an assistant to a cheerleader 35 years ago is irrelevant to the position of paralegal in that multinational law corporation she is dreaming about. Secondly, she just showed her age. Yes, I know, it is illegal to discriminate by age, but…for an entry level paralegal, they can find a young fellow with a college degree, don’t they? The next turn-off point: was she a job-hopper?

SO, what is the best option? Keep it short. Instead of a chronological resume, use a functional one. List the last 10 to 15 years of your experience and, if possible, combine your jobs. For example, one of members told me that her company merged three times and she survived all merges. She listed all of companies separately and it looked like she changed her jobs three times. In reality, she worked for a company for more than 10 years, growing from an entry level paralegal to an office manager. The solution: combine them all as “ABC Law Office formerly CBA Law Office; firm merged with Law Office of AAA in December 1999.”

But what about my age? If you don’t bring it up on your resume, nobody will penalize you for it. Your first job is to get that interview, isn’t it?

I have a degree in anthropology and paralegal certificate. I will list my BS in anthropology first: wrong. Are you applying for a position in a museum of natural history or for a paralegal gig? List your most relevant degree first. If you have a high GPA – don’t forget to add it. AND if you graduated from an ABA-approved program – make it visible.  

I don’t have a real life experience. I only volunteered in the court. Was that court a fake one? Didn’t you assist attorneys, judges, claimants and court personnel? Or did you just sit in a chair and read your favorite magazine a whole time? Nobody asks you to list your salary on a resume. You need to show your experience not how much you earned. Assisting in the court is your experience. Participating in pro bono clinics run by your college, local paralegal association or Bar association is your experience. List them all in the proper form and order.

I don’t need to proofread my resume. English is my first language. English is not my first language and I am not prone to misspelling words. I don’t need to spell out here that some words can’t be picked up by a spellchecker as they were spelled correctly, but misused. Somehow, I see someone’s mistakes faster when my own. The employer has the same if not better “magic” vision for all your misspelled words, grammatically incorrect structures and missed commas and periods at the end of sentences. Proofread it! Have someone else proofread it! Period. 

I have a great resume that I send out as my response to all open positions. Really? I don’t believe that there is a “one size fits all” resume, as I don’t believe that aspirin is the best medicine (but I do believe that chicken soup is a magic elixir)!  I believe that if your resume clearly matches the needs of the employer, you will get that long awaited phone call or e-mail. If you don’t customize your resume each and every time you are sending it out (and your cover letter too – but this is a part of a different story), you have lost your “elevator pitch” – that ten second window when you actually had a chance to grab an employer’s attention. The employer has moved on to another one already…

I like to knit and hike. Great! But does your future employer really looking for your hand knitted pair of mittens or that you hiked Himalayans Mountains last summer? It would be a great addition to a “water cooler” talk when you are hired, but keep it off your resume, please. However, if you are a member of a professional association or have awards, don’t forget to list them. Just don’t keep them on the top of your resume. They belong next to your skills…that brings me to the last, but not the least crucial mistake that some make on their resume.

I am hardworking multitasking team player that works well under the pressure. Excellent! We need people like you, but keep those skills for your cover letter and interview. We are talking about your technical skills here: knowledge of software and research engines (Microsoft Office, Lexis-Nexis, Westlaw, etc.), some other field specific programs and another language. Just remember: fluent in language means “fluent.”  If you understand the “kitchen talk,” but can’t translate a document or assist during the meeting with a client — you are not fluent. You can list it as “some conversational” language if you think it will assist you.

There are many, more points that can make or break your resume, and I will bring them up to you under separate cover (yes…please look forward to another fabulous article authored by yours truly in the future).

However, there is one key piece of advice that I would like to emphasize prior to us parting ways: “Don’t lie!!!” Never, ever, ever lie on your resume! If you didn’t graduate, don’t say “graduated.” You can list the name of the school and number of credits. If you worked for two months, don’t stretch them to one year. It is better to have a two month gap on your resume. Remember: all information can be verified. Think twice!

Good luck and looking forward to hear from you!