Two Unbelievable Reasons Why Paralegal Resumes Get Tossed

2 reasons paralegal resumes are rejected

Are You Guilty of This?

By Chere B. Estrin

Are you sending your paralegal resume out with little or no response? Are you thinking about seeking a new position but not sure whether your resume will meet the test?

Let’s talk turkey. I hear over and over from paralegals telling me: 

  • They don’t know why they are not getting interviews
  • They have sent their resume out dozens of times with minimal results
  • The market is flooded with resumes like theirs
  • They think they are rejected because it absolutely, positively has to be age, gender or racial discrimination
  • They think they are rejected because they are over or under qualified.

Wow. All I can say is, Wake Up Paralegal Community! Aside from having to have an absolutely stellar resume (and I mean not only qualifications but the format and look of the resume has to have appeal), paralegals must have a perfectly worded resume to get in the door  – even in this crazy market where there are clearly more jobs than candidates and firms are desperate. Really desperate. It’s not only Walgreens or McDonalds that are hurting for good candidates. 

Here are the most common (and un-communicated) reasons why your resume is tossed.

It is entirely accurate when you hear that most employers scan your resume for three seconds looking for key words. Do not, repeat, do not assume that employers are going to read each and every precious line you poured over to get exactly right. They are seeking key words and something else, you probably don’t realize.

  1. Whether your grammar is correct
  2. Whether you are stating that you are a “certified” paralegal from an ABA “accredited” program.

“These hidden reasons may be why your resume is rejected.”

Let’s tackle number one.

What’s wrong with these paragraphs:

In your current job, you say:

“Reviews documents; answers the phone; prepares pleadings, handles trial-prep, summarizes depositions; inputs into Relativity.”

What’s wrong is that this is your current job and you are talking about yourself as though you are in the third person. This description must always be in the first tense. You cannot talk about yourself in the “he/she” tense. When you say, “reviews, manages, handles, etc.”, you are saying, “She handles; she reviews; he manages”. 

Your current job description must always be in the first person

Example: Review documents, manage case load, prepare pleadings. Think in terms of putting “I” in front of the word, not “she/he”. 

Use of this incorrect grammar is getting your resume tossed, no matter how good your qualifications are.

In your past positions, you say:

            “Review documents, answer phones, prepare pleadings, handle trial-prep, summarize depositions, input documents.”

            WRONG! But thank you for playing. You are no longer at that job. So, you cannot write it as though you were still there. The description has to be in the past tense: “Reviewed; answered; prepared; handled, etc.” A huge mistake that I see over and over (and over) again. 

Click – that’s the sound of the delete button tossing your resume. Yes, yours. 

Writing the job descriptions in the wrong tense tells the employer one thing and one thing specifically: you cannot write. Simple as that. Rejection letter sent. Not even given a second thought. Wake Up!

Now, let’s go for Number Two:

  1. You are using the phrase “certified” paralegal and 9 out of 10 paralegals (or less) are most definitely not “certified”. Certified means that you have taken a test from a third party (not your final exams in paralegal school) and can now put a designation behind your name, such as CP. This is very much like accountants who take the certified public accountant exam and can then put CPA after their name. Unless you’ve gone to NALA (National Association of Legal Assistants) and taken their 2 ½ day exam and passed, you are not certified.

You have a certificate. That’s it. You have a certificate of completion. 

Paralegals who have their resumes reviewed particularly by other paralegals tend to get their resumes immediately tossed because they know the difference. They ask, “why don’t you?”

  • You put “ABA accredited” or “ABA certified”. The ABA does not accredit anything at all. Nor does it certify anyone. Period. It says so right on their website in big, bold letters. The worst I have seen is “ABA accredited certified paralegal.” Oh, geez. Please. 

What are you telling potential employers? You are clearly telling them that you have absolutely no idea what your career is all about. None. Zero. Zip. 

You don’t know the difference between certificated and certified and you are assuming that the ABA is accredits schools and certifies paralegals. Hold on there, folks! Check out the website. Does it say anywhere that the ABA accredits or certifies? No. In fact there are paragraphs on the fact that it doesn’t. 

Does your paralegal certificate say you are “certified”? No. It does not. It says, “Certificate of Completion”. Does your school say that it is ABA accredited? No. It does not. It says it is ABA Approved (or not). So, where are you getting this? It’s all made up. You make up a story; you believe it and now you are advertising it. Oy. 

This is as serious as a philosophy major saying he/she is “certified” as a philosopher because they have a college diploma.  It’s as bad or worse for a law student to say they are attending an ABA accredited law school. Didn’t happen. Guaranteed. Doesn’t exist.

So, what happens to these resumes? Out the door. Gone. Love to love you, baby. Out of here. Don’t come back. File marked “rejected”. Job interview lost. 

Unhappy candidates thinking they were:

  • Not qualified
  • Beat out by other candidates (in a sense, they were)
  • Discriminated against
  • Too many resumes submitted
  • Who knows what else?

What are you supposed to say? If the paralegal school has been approved by the ABA, it will say, “ABA approved”. That’s it. Approved. Only around 100 schools In the U.S. are ABA approved. That means a committee from the ABA comes out to the campus and goes through admittance requirements, libraries, curriculum, graduation statistics, placement and much more. If they like it, they “approve” the school. ABA approved. Never “ABA accredited or certified”.

Will employers tell you that they are bouncing your resume because of incorrect grammar or wrong credentials? Absolutely not. You are lucky if they tell you thanks for submitting your resume, let alone this. 

Take a look now and realize that your resume, while possibly being bounced for a whole host of reasons, can definitely and most likely be bounced for these tiny two hidden resume mistakes. 

And then, of course, we have employers advertising for “Certified paralegals” when they are only seeking someone with a certificate, not certification. Gosh, I think that’s a story for another day….

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a well-recognized nationwide staffing organization based in California. She is the President of the Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere was recently interviewed by Fortune Magazine ( and has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Her blog, The Estrin Report, has been around since 2005. Chere is a recipient of LAPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is a former administrator in an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at:

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4 Replies to “Two Unbelievable Reasons Why Paralegal Resumes Get Tossed”

  1. One of the worst things I think I see is employers asking for both certification and a 4-year degree and 5 years experience. Then you read the job description they post and it basically sounds like an entry-level legal assistant job. And then of course they want to pay this certified and 4 year degree individual $17 an hour. I tell friends these are the firms you want to stay away from because they have no touch on reality and probably can’t understand why their turnover is so high.

    1. Definitely out of touch, and do not understand the value a paralegal can add to the office.

  2. Another reason paralegal resumes get tossed (and yes, both of these I have seen within the past 6 months):

    1) a long, irrelevant narrative (literally 15 lines of single-space verbiage): I want to contribute to society. My daughter got pregnant at 15 and again at 16. She’s doing well. I was in Girl Scouts. Then I went into the Army. I care about current issues. I was a single mother and worked full-time . . .
    2) a laundry list of (irrelevant) employers with no detail – and apostrophe s on every single one: Employment: Arby’s, Claire’s, Wal-mart’s, Chili’s, Longhorn’s, Target’s.

    If I could advise these individuals, I would tell the first one to remove the narrative, then work the relevant info into experience. For instance “I went into the Army” doesn’t tell me much – but if she told me she worked as a file clerk for a JAG officer, or did X Y or Z that could demonstrate that she’s organized, pays attention to detail, and has excellent communication skills, that resume wouldn’t have been tossed immediately. The same with the second. Don’t tell me you’ve worked at a bunch or restaurants and retail establishments. Tell me how the skills you learned while there can translate into a fast-paced office environment.

  3. This is a fantastic post. The two reasons you identified are spot-on, and I hope everyone applying for a paralegal position follows your advice. Thank you!

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