In recent weeks I have had several people approach me as they were searching for someone to fill a paralegal position. Despite high unemployment rates, there are some open jobs that aren’t getting filled. I have some thoughts about why this is happening.
Some of the employers are looking for paralegals with experience – very specific experience. As a result, they don’t want to hire a recent paralegal program graduate or a paralegal who has worked as a litigation paralegal for a year. Instead, they want someone who has done medical malpractice defense work for five years or more.
Many paralegals who have been working for more than five years are reluctant to change jobs and run the risk of being the potential “last hired, first fired.” I can understand that fear. However, I think there are some questions you can ask during the interview process that can help allay your fears about how quickly the job might end. So what follows are a few tips for paralegals who are thinking about whether to make a job change.
Why Risk Changing Jobs Now?
This column isn’t to encourage all of you to go search for a new job. Some of you already have a great job, maybe even the perfect job. However, some of you are ready for a new challenge. You need a change of scenery, you want to add responsibilities or develop new skills. Some of you are bored.
Exploring opportunities during a booming economy doesn’t seem terribly risky. However, even going for an interview could be nerve-racking when all of us have spent the past three years grasping the security of our paycheck for dear life.
How to Change Jobs
One question to ask your potential employer is “Why is this position open?” You want to determine whether the job is newly created or already existed. If the job already existed, there is a good chance that work needs to be done and is piling up on an empty desk. This is good for you. You’ll arrive at a new place, but have work waiting.
If the job already existed, where is the last paralegal? There are many legitimate reasons to leave a job. Be sure to drill down. How long had the paralegal worked there before she left? Does there seem to be an unusual amount of turnover in the firm or in this particular position? High turnover with one attorney might be a red flag. In a great economy, it might be worth the risk – you might be the perfect fit. But if you become one in a long line of failed relationships, what are your chances for finding another new job if that becomes necessary?
If this is a newly created position, inquire about why the firm decided to hire now. Did they bring in new lawyers who already have a steady stream of work? Did they bring in new lawyers who are developing their practice? Does the firm anticipate having enough work to keep you busy? If not, is this going to be viewed as your problem or will they partner with you to make sure the assignments comes your way?
You might feel more comfortable making a change if your Plan B is sound. For example, if the new position doesn’t work out, you have already established relationships with recruiters and you feel confident you could find temporary work while starting a new job search. Or you have been working hard over the past few years on your savings account and you have six months’ to one year’s salary in the bank.
How to Find a New Challenge
Without Jumping Off a Cliff
You may read this article and find yourself intrigued by the idea of a new challenge, but you just don’t identify yourself as a risk-taker. Look for ways to take your job to the next level. Can you ask for new responsibilities?
Or look for the challenge outside of your workplace. Take a class. Perhaps you want to improve your writing skills; most colleges and community colleges offer night classes. Maybe the challenge is to learn something new that is unrelated to work – guitar lessons or pottery or screenwriting. Get involved in a charity. Teach someone to read. The possibilities are endless.
I changed jobs in 2009. I was nervous about interviewing when people were still being laid off from law firms on a regular basis. I was worried my current employer would find out and fire me before I had an offer from the new firm. It was a frightening two-month process and I didn’t sleep well during that time. I visited a career coach who was able to help me clearly see my options and feel more confident about my decision. Looking back, it was a great move. Don’t be afraid to see what options are available.
What’s on your mind or being discussed at your water cooler? You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share ideas or suggestions for future columns or share your favorite legal blog.
Camille Stell is the Director of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual. Recently selected as a North Carolina Lawyers Weekly 2011 “Leaders in the Law” award recipient, Camille has more than 20 years of experience in the legal field, as a paralegal, legal recruiter and business developer.