Improve your Chances of Becoming a Paralegal
For many students the hardest part of starting a career is not figuring out how to pass their program of study, but figuring out what to do afterwards. Even with career services and an understanding of the field you want to work in it can be hard to land a job in today’s economy. If you’re hoping to improve your chances of getting a job as a paralegal then continue reading the career advice below.(1)
Education & Certification
- A Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice or a related field could make you stand out among other applicants. However, it’s not necessary to hold a Bachelor’s degree to work as a paralegal, so you can weigh your options. A shorter, specialized diploma program in paralegal may cost less and allow you to finish sooner.
- Online programs are a good option if you are pursuing a degree in paralegal because you can study at your own pace.(2) Unlike some healthcare careers, paralegal studies don’t require a lot of hands-on training.
- A certificate in paralegal may also give you an advantage. The paralegal certification is offered by NALA, the National Association of Legal Assistants and NFPA, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Both associations offer a certificate that is recognized nationally so that you are eligible to work as a paralegal in multiple states that require certification.
The Job Search
- Many smaller firms will post job ads for office administrator, receptionist, executive assistant, or “junior” paralegal positions in a law office. Read the fine print and do your research on the companies where you are applying. Administrative positions within a law office could turn into a full-fledged paralegal position based on your qualifications and experience.
- Not all job ads will contain the word “paralegal.” Though “paralegal,” is usually the job title that students expect to have after they receive their degree or certification in paralegal, some law firms will post job ads for a “legal secretary,” or “legal assistant.”
- Conduct the majority of your search online. Chances are unless you know someone who is working at a law firm and can give you a reference. The lawyers or current paralegal or administrators won’t be interested in meeting you in person until they’ve looked over your resume and cover letter.
- In your cover letter, you should express your interest in providing legal support and the value of an opportunity to work your way up. A willingness to work your way up indicates a continued desire to learn and grow as changes go into effect.
- Make sure that both your resume and cover letter are saved in an electronic format that can be easily opened. You may need to upload it or send it as an attachment, and a PDF or word document is preferred most of the time.
- Most law firms will want you to adhere to the policies and practices that they already have in place, so you should listen carefully as they explain procedures and ask questions that relate to the way their individual firm operates.
- You will definitely want to highlight your organizational skills. Paralegals are almost always multi-tasking, so you will need to be able to effectively keep track of what you have completed and what is still required for each task. Think of a few examples of times when you’ve been extremely organized and be ready to explain if the interviewer asks you what your strengths are.
- If you’ve completed a paralegal program, then you should graduate with experience using some computer applications. You can ask the interviewer what applications they use and if you are familiar with them you should say so. Not having to train you on everything will save them time and may set you apart from people who lack computer skills.
Sometimes it takes time to find a good job. Hopefully by following these tips, you can improve your chances of beginning a new career as a paralegal soon after you’ve graduated.(1)
(1) Employment is not guaranteed for students or graduates.
(2) Program completion time may vary based on individual performance/circumstances.