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By: Tammy Seifert (Guest Blogger)

One of the most common topics we’re regularly approached about here at The Paralegal Society is “how do I get a job?” True story. We hear it all the time, in fact, pretty much every week. I must admit, I’ve been reluctant to share posts on the topic unless I feel they are on point, relevant for current times, and really do our readers sufficient justice. Sure, the senior paralegals in our group can each offer up tips from “back in the day” on how we all landed jobs more than a decade ago, but the legal landscape and economy have drastically changed. There are still a lucky few who manage to snag jobs the “old fashioned” way, by working hard, asking for the job following an internship or making a great first impression during an interview/internship, but that’s just a select few. Where does that leave everyone else?  That leaves them reading this article and connecting dots!

So, paste a big smile on your paralegal face because it’s Friday, sip that fabulous beverage, and read Tammy’s thoughts on how to connect the dots in the real world…

I’m sure you all remember playing connect the dots. You did it, your parents did it, and your children did it or they are doing it right now. It’s the simple process of drawing a series of seemingly random straight lines in order to accomplish something much more majestic. It’s reminiscent of constellations, but on a much smaller scale. In this article I would like to share with you my version of how networking is the real life game of playing connect-the-dots.

By now we have all heard the phrase, “it’s all about networking”, but what does that really mean? Is it enough to have graduated (with honors) from a paralegal program? The quick answer is “no”. There is no such thing as ever being enough. In fact, graduation is just the beginning. All those long hours of studying, researching and writing assignments and you thought you could finally breathe. Well guess what? Now the hard work really begins. It sounds a little backwards doesn’t it?

You’ve applied for legal support positions but still find yourself unemployed or looking for your first job in the legal field. So, what now? Accept every invitation, shake every hand, greet every introduction with a smile, and approach every formal or informal interview with confidence. In other words, make an impression! You never know who can help you in your efforts to start, or further, your career.

Background: Originally, when I decided to go back to school, l registered as a psychology major. A few weeks after enrolling in community college I was the victim of a hit and run motor vehicle accident which kept me out of work, and school, for eleven months. During that period of time, and what felt like forever, I became more and more irritated by the overwhelming feeling of helplessness. There I was a single parent, out of work, with very little income and no answers to the “when’s” and “how’s” of my case. I remember calling my attorney on several occasions and asking him if there was anything I could do to help move my case along. I offered to make phone calls, photo copies, research, just about anything that would expedite the process. My attorney declined my offer and reassured me that he was taking care of everything. Needless to say I was still not satisfied. I can remember asking myself, “who better to fight for me than me?” I changed my major from psychology to paralegal studies without a second thought.

Journey: Considering the fact that I was now holding a full-time job as an executive secretary in an unrelated field to law it took me six years to complete the four year paralegal program. Prior to obtaining my Associate’s degree I knew I wanted more so I enrolled in Peirce College’s accelerated Bachelor’s paralegal program. The program at Peirce was wonderful and I was able to do it all online, on my schedule. I made a few connections along the way including friends and contacts in the legal field. I also took advantage of Peirce’s career development services. These services included a resume building session with my student advisor who was also a practicing attorney. I owe many thanks to her for not only taking the time to help me build a stellar resume, but also for sharing her insight on what attorneys are typically looking for when narrowing the field of prospective candidates.

With all that being said, perhaps the best thing that came out of my time at Peirce College was my opportunity to network with a peer who ultimately became one of the founding members of my local paralegal association. I jumped on board immediately after hearing her first whisper of starting the association. Three and a half years later I currently serve as the President of the Bucks County Paralegal Association.

Advice: Talk to everyone you can. If you have a voice and a passion you need to be heard. Start getting involved with local paralegal associations and volunteer for any job regardless of the size. No job is too big or too small. If the job provides opportunities for you to make new contacts the job is for you. Legal Aid, Wills For Heroes, and A Woman’s Place are just a few among the many organizations that are always looking for volunteers. Volunteer work not only makes you feel good but it also opens doors to network with legal professionals and builds legal experience to enhance your resume.

Connecting the dots. Every year the Bucks County Paralegal Association hosts its annual Gala where members, prospective members, attorneys, and legal support staff all gather together and mingle. Throughout the course of the evening we discuss our past year’s accomplishments, network with our vendors, raffle off prizes, and turn the floor over to our guest speaker, who in the past included a district attorney and a Bucks County Court of Common Pleas judge. This year we have the pleasure of head-lining a Bucks County Commissioner.

At last year’s Gala I was approached by an attorney/professor about recent job openings. Ironically she started the conversation by apologizing for “bombarding me with job opportunity emails,” to which I responded, “Are you kidding me?” I assured her that the emails were greatly appreciated and that I was happy to spread the word to fellow members. During that conversation the attorney mentioned she had another job posting and would like to send it to me. The next morning, as promised, she forwarded the email from a boutique law firm that was in search of a paralegal. I passed along the information to our members, and also applied for the position myself. Within ten minutes of sending my cover letter and resume I received an acknowledgement and scheduled an appointment for an interview. To my surprise the hiring attorney mentioned he heard about me from the attorney/professor I had spoken with at the Gala the night before. I was connecting- the- dots without even realizing it. After a few weeks and three interviews later I got my first job in the legal field.

Since the position was only part-time and I needed full-time work the attorney and I molded the position to fit both of our needs. I was considered a freelance paralegal for a business attorney who practiced law in NY, NJ and PA. I worked nights and weekends as needed and was more than happy to do so for the experience. Unfortunately the position was short lived; the attorney eventually needed me to be available during “regular” office hours but was not able to offer me full-time work. So, back to the drawing board I went. With just a few exciting months of experience under my belt I felt like I was back to square one.

In the mean time I continued working with the paralegal association. The board members decided to host a happy hour at a local restaurant last December and extended the invitation to attorneys and legal support staff in the Bucks County area. We are a non-profit association with minimal funds for activities but we decided we were going to send out a mass quantity of post cards advertising our event. As the happy hour date drew near, and the post cards already mailed, we learned that the bar association was hosting their annual dinner and awards ceremony the same night. I remember looking around the room at my fellow board members and thinking, how did this happen? Collaboratively we decided to push through and host our event anyway, even though we were skeptical of how many people would show up due to the “double booking”.

At the happy hour I met a woman who was back in school to obtain her paralegal certificate. We spoke briefly about school, classes, and professors. Throughout different periods in the evening we talked about professional experiences and she mentioned she knew an attorney who was looking for part-time help. Even though I needed full-time work I gladly accepted her referral and went to meet the attorney and his staff. It turned out the part-time position I thought I had applied for was actually full-time work. I remember leaving the interview feeling confused. Did they think I would be a good fit? Was this the opportunity I’d been waiting for? A half hour after I left the interview I was called back for a second interview.

Meanwhile, one of my fellow board members asked an attorney she knew to be a guest speaker at one of our bi-monthly general membership meetings. After meeting with the attorney for the first time that evening I followed up the next day with an email thanking her for her time and discussing a few points we had touched on the night before. Out of the blue the attorney asked me if I had any personal injury experience and to forward her my salary requirements. She also asked if I would be interested in meeting with her the following weekend. Since I did not mention at any point that I was looking for a job I was pleasantly surprised. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to meet with her, for nothing less than to add her to my networking circuit, and after all was said and done she offered me a job.

After much consideration I turned down the first job offer and accepted the second job offer. I spent all this time searching for a career, waiting for a break, and now I had two positions waiting to hear back from me. I could finally see the big picture and the start of a new beginning!

Conclusion: Take every opportunity that comes your way, whether it sounds like a good fit or not, to meet and network among other legal professionals, improve your interviewing skills, and/or to put your name on a potential employer’s desk. Maybe you’re not what they are looking for, but they know someone who is looking for someone like you. Whether the time appears to be right or not isn’t always the question. You must understand that opportunities present themselves in many different ways; they come in all shapes and sizes. My best advice is to connect-the-dots by taking advantage of any meeting, phone conversation, and/or email you possibly can. Keep your eyes and ears open and ultimately on the prize. Continue moving forward in life and take every opportunity that comes your way, like writing an article for TPS (wink, wink), until you have reached your stars.

Tammy Seifert is a paralegal at Naftulin and Shick, P.C., a small personal injury law firm in Doylestown, Pa.  Ms. Seifert received her BS degree from Peirce College in Philadelphia in paralegal studies. In her spare time she enjoys volunteering at Wills For Heroes assisting attorneys in free basic estate planning for first responders in Pennsylvania, and, of course, reading TPS articles. She is currently the president of the Bucks County Paralegal Association and a member of the National Federation of Paralegal Association. Summer is her favorite time of the year where you will find her soaking up the sun and enjoying her favorite outdoor activity such as boating! Ms. Seifert is delighted to be a contributing author for The Paralegal Society and would like to hear what you have to say. 

Here are the links Tammy wanted to share with our readers:

www.buckscoparalegals.com  

www.paralegals.org

www.linkedin.com/pub/tammy-seifert/7/4a0/743

www.peirce.edu

Do you have a great story to share on “connecting the dots” in your own career or life? If so, we’d love to hear it. We’re always game for a great story! We’re looking to amass a TPS “How To Get a Job” army! Enrollment comes complimentary with your comment…so leave one!  

May you squeeze every last moment of happiness out of this weekend, TPSers! Consider this your two days respite from the beck and call (a/k/a beckon call), and what could be better than that? Ha. Don’t answer that. How about an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii in honor of World’s Best Paralegal Day? When is that again??? Oh yeah – that’s every day – minus the cool trip!

Happy High Heel Friday! We’ll see you soon.