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Cynthia Whitcomb

By: Cynthia Whitcomb (Guest Blogger)

As we all know, landing a job in today’s competitive legal market can be daunting, but the good news is that it’s not impossible. Have you been beating the bushes trying to launch your paralegal career or conversely, are you a seasoned legal professional forced into the job market due to downsizing, outsourcing or other job climate conditions? Perhaps you have sent out hundreds of resumes but haven’t been called for an interview, despite the fact that you were the “perfect fit” for the job. There can be many reasons why this scenario may occur; as a legal administrator responsible for recruitment at a mid-sized law firm and an instructor in the paralegal program of a large university, I would like to shed some light on why your resume seems to disappear into a “black hole.”

A while back, I was perusing a blog where an individual with a master’s degree claimed to have sent out over 1000 resumes to law firms, over a three year period, without ever being called for an interview. In the few sentences used by this individual to lament his plight, I spotted at least 4 grammatical errors. One key ingredient to successfully presenting your resume to a prospective employer is to have it completely error-free. Lawyers are notoriously intolerant of employees who use poor grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Why? Because the work product that goes out from the law firm must be perfect or as close to perfect as humanly possible. Attorneys refuse to waste time proofreading a paralegal’s work for grammar issues. Translate that into a hiring situation and it is evident why lawyers are not inclined to hire someone whose resume exhibits grammatical weaknesses. Keep in mind that for virtually every position that is posted, approximately 200 resumes flood in within the first two days. You can plan on your resume getting less than one minute of cursory review before the recruiter decides whether or not it goes in the “yes, no, or maybe” pile. A sure-fire way for a one-way trip into the “no” pile is to have spelling or grammar issues.

A number of years ago it became popular to include a category on resumes entitled “Objective” with a description of the applicant’s goals. Beware of using the Objective category when applying for a position. Resumes make a beeline into the “no” pile when the objective stated is contrary to the goals of the company. For example, a resume is submitted in response to an ad for a paralegal but lists as an objective to “become a lobbyist in Lansing” – well hello black hole. Why is this an issue assuming the candidate is an otherwise perfect match for the position? The response is simple, the employer’s objective is to hire employees who will be committed to the position, who want to make a career with the company and who will not be looking to leave within a year. It is expensive to recruit, hire and train an employee, the company’s goal is to do it once, successfully. If you feel strongly about using the Objective category, tailor it to the job you are applying for and gear it toward the employer. In other words, don’t say that your objective is to obtain training and experience although perhaps that is your true objective. Rather, couch it in terms of what you intend to bring to the table, what you can offer the employer.  Remember, you only have a few short seconds to catch the eye of the recruiter, you need to make the most of them.

Another tip is for your resume to make sense. Seems simple, right? Many resumes consist of half sentences filled with big words that are intended to make the candidate sound sophisticated.  Clear, concise wording will win the day. The recruiter needs to quickly obtain a clear understanding of your experience and education, they won’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you are trying to say. Similarly, be clear with your education – if the posting is seeking a college graduate and you are a year from completion, don’t try to mislead the recruiter into thinking you already have your degree by using ambiguous language.

Cover letters and e-mails are nice but often overlooked as the recruiter quickly flips to your resume, I suggest keeping them short and to the point. If the posting asks for salary requirements, the cover letter is the place to state them. Recruiters often have a budget for the position, salary expectations are used as a screening mechanism to avoid wasting everyone’s time. Failure to state salary requirements when asked, will more than likely deep six your resume.

Congratulations! Let’s assume for a moment that your resume has made it into the “yes” pile and the recruiter calls you for a quick telephone interview.  Make sure you are alert, friendly and responsive if you want to make it to the next phase.  I once called a candidate to discuss his qualifications, it was around 2:00 p.m. and I could tell that I woke him up from a sound sleep, he was groggy and unresponsive. Granted, there may be many reasons why this person was napping in the afternoon, but quite frankly he went right into the “no” pile as soon as I hung up the phone.  Crazy ring tones (heard by the caller) can also be viewed negatively. Feel free to express yourself through music once you have landed the job!

Hopefully this little peek into the mind of a legal recruiter will benefit you as you navigate the rough waters of job searching!

Cynthia S. Whitcomb is currently the Legal Administrator for a mid-sized (35 Lawyer) law firm in Southfield, Michigan, prior to her current position she was Staffing Manager for a large, 190 lawyer firm.  Ms. Whitcomb earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Rochester College and Paralegal Diploma from Oakland University’s Paralegal Program. For the past five years she has been an instructor in Oakland University’s Paralegal Program teaching Ethics & Law Practice Management.

We’re thrilled to share these fantastic tips from a savvy law firm administrator, and experienced paralegal educator! A special thanks to Cynthia for sharing her insight with us.

Do you have any additional tips you’d like to add on how to make yourself the quintessential job candidate? If so, please share them via a comment. One can never have too many helpful tips when job hunting!

Now quit reading our blog…and go get that Monday Paralegal Party started!!  Woo hoo.  Duty calls. Um, actually, it’s your esquire, but either way, you’ve got places to go, problems to solve, and an attorney to save. We’ll see you next time!