The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to screen many resumes and cover letters for legal secretarial and paralegal positions. The tighter the economy, the more applications we receive for a single position. Sometimes applicants actually follow up and ask, “Why didn’t I get an interview?”
I’m going to share some of the most common reasons that many applicants do not get an interview and how a resume can almost immediately go into the “discard” pile during an employer’s initial screening:
- Failure to follow instructions. For example, if an employer requests that resumes be faxed, that may well be a test. Bypassing the fax machine and emailing the resume may not be as smart and efficient as the applicant thinks.
- Failure to include a cover letter. Many employers evaluate potential applicants’ communication skills from their cover letters. If the employer requests that salary requirements be included, not including that in the letter may also fall under “failure to follow instructions.”
- Poor grammar. Incomplete sentences and misspelled words guarantee that the applicant will not be taken seriously. The ability to write well is an essential requirement in most legal support jobs.
- Unattractive presentation. A resume and a cover letter also represent the applicant’s word processing skills, another essential requirement for law firm jobs. Poorly presented documents with unprofessional font choices and awkward layouts will not impress employers.
- Too many employers. A chronological resume which lists multiple jobs with less than a year’s employment at most of the jobs will raise concerns for many employers.
- Too many pages. Applicants with less experience should be able to present their qualifications in a single page resume. Applicants with extensive experience may use up to two pages, but more pages do not equal a better resume.
- Listing the most recent job last. This makes a resume difficult to review quickly, especially if the applicant has had multiple jobs over a twenty year period. The employer should not have to locate the most recent job at the bottom of the page, or worse, on a second page.
- Failure to list job titles, specific job duties and dates of employment. An employer with many resumes to screen will likely quickly pass over a resume which does not provide an accurate, succinct overview of the applicant’s employment history,
An applicant for legal support staff positions that is not getting favorable responses to applications should have someone with legal experience review his or her resume and cover letter. It may be worth the expense to work with a professional to prepare a new resume and cover letter. There are also many free resume templates available with word processing programs or on the Internet, such as at Microsoft Office Online: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/CT101043371033.aspx