It's a good time to be looking for a paralegal job. Paralegals are in demand at law firms and corporate legal departments, where their roles are rapidly expanding to include research, patent filings, eDiscovery, trial preparation and regulatory concerns. Whether you're looking to start your career as a paralegal or hoping to change jobs, you'll want to ensure the resume format you choose helps you stand out in your search for legal employment.

Many of the age-old resume rules still stand, but a few things have changed over the years. Here are some suggestions on the best resume format to use, along with some pointers to help you catch the hiring manager's attention:

Resume format options

There are three basic resume formats:

  • Chronological
  • Functional
  • Hybrid

Which format a hiring manager prefers will likely depend on what position you're applying for and how your background best relates to the qualifications the employer seeks. When in doubt, the chronological resume is generally a safe bet.

Here's more information on resume formats:

Chronological format preferred by most hiring managers

Most hiring managers favor a chronological resume for two reasons. First, this format makes it easy for employers to quickly get a sense of your work history because the information is laid out very logically. Second, because the chronological format is most common, hiring managers are simply used to seeing it; other formats can sometimes catch them off guard.

So unless you're searching for your first paralegal job and want to emphasize your skills and training rather than experience, it's probably best to stay with this format when creating your paralegal resume. Another reason to deviate would be if you want to heavily emphasize certain skills that are mentioned in the legal employment posting.

If you have a solid work history, the chronological resume format will serve you well. It should be considered the "default" format unless there's a good reason to use a different one.

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Functional format emphasizes relevant skills and experience

A functional resume focuses on your skills and experience. Descriptions of your specific abilities, and how you've used them to benefit past employers, make up the majority of the document. The summary of your work history, with dates and company names, is typically kept brief and positioned at the end of your paralegal resume.

The functional resume format is most useful in cases where you have a limited work history or want to change career directions and don't have much experience directly related to the job you're pursuing. It's a good way to show legal employers that you have the skills to succeed in a paralegal role even if you've never held a job with paralegal in the title.

Before submitting a functional resume, ask yourself why you're opting for this resume format over the chronological format. Some hiring managers view functional resumes with suspicion because the work history section is de-emphasized. If you can't readily answer that question, consider staying with the chronological format.

Hybrid format is a blend of the two

The hybrid resume is exactly what it sounds like — a blend of the chronological and functional. This resume format highlights your skills and strengths while still allowing potential employers to check your chronological work history at a glance.

A hybrid resume can be useful for those relatively new to the paralegal field, as well as those with a long work history because, in both cases, it allows job candidates to highlight their skills relevant to the position rather than burying that information in the work history or education sections.

Your paralegal resume, by sections

Regardless of what resume format you end up using, it's helpful to know the latest resume trends, what sections are necessary and which ones can be omitted or minimized from your paralegal resume. The following tips will help you in your search for legal employment.

Career objective or summary might not be necessary

This section isn't always necessary today, and if you choose to leave it off, you usually won't hurt your chances of getting an interview. If you do decide to include an objective or qualifications summary as part of your resume format, make sure it aligns with the responsibilities of the paralegal role you're applying for, as outlined in the legal employment ad.

Your legal employment experience should get top billing

If you've been working as a paralegal for several years, consider using this section to lead your resume. List the title and firm for every relevant job you've had, along with the dates you held the job and your main responsibilities.

Try to include information about your major accomplishments rather than simply listing the job duties. For example, instead of saying that you managed e-filing for legal documents, explain how you streamlined the filing system so it was easier to retrieve specific documents. If you're looking for your first job as a paralegal, place the experience section after the education section and list any internships you had while in school.

Where your education section goes? It depends

If you've just finished school, adjust your resume format to start with this section; paralegals with extensive experience should place this section at the end of their resumes. List the schools you attended and the degrees you received, along with any specialization in your studies. Make sure to include your certificate of completion from an American Bar Association-approved paralegal education program here, if you have one.

Highlight special skills or attributes prominently

In this section, which should follow the section on legal employment experience, detail any other skills that would make you a strong candidate for the job, including foreign language proficiency and technical expertise in litigation support, billing and case management software.

Important resume writing and editing tips

As you write your resume, keep these things in mind:

  • Be concise. Let your experience dictate the length of your resume, but, in general, try to keep it short. If your resume is too long-winded, busy hiring managers might miss the skills and experience you have that would otherwise lead them to call you for an interview.
  • Be conservative. In general, law firms and corporate legal departments are still traditional places. Your resume should reflect that. Use one or two simple black typefaces and a clean white background.
  • Be clear. Describe all of your job responsibilities in the most straightforward way, avoiding buzzwords and vague terms. You want the hiring manager to immediately understand the background and accomplishments that make you a good fit for this job.
  • Proofread. Before you send your finished resume to potential employers, print it out and read it through for grammar errors and spelling mistakes. Better yet, ask an eagle-eyed friend to proofread it. Even one error can make a hiring manager put your resume at the bottom of the pile.

Follow the right resume format for your experience and skills, and you'll create a solid document that will serve you well in your paralegal job search.