It isn't an easy market for soon-to-be grads. As one reader writes: "I have two quarters left in school, then I will have my AAS in Paralegal [Studies]. I have applied everywhere. How can I gain experience if there is [no one] able to give you a chance? I have spent a lot of money for school and I always wanted to be a paralegal, what should I do?"
I'm glad you're writing now, before you're done with school, and not when you've been out and unemployed for six months. But, to tell you the truth, I've never held a job as a paralegal before. I've never hired paralegals, and my only experience with paralegals is having an office next to one who handled immigration issues for the company I worked for. Now, I'll tell you that that paralegal was awesome. Smart, funny, and got good reviews from the attorneys she worked with. Our relationship was more social then business, as I didn't deal with immigration law.
[See the 4 big career potholes.]
But, it would be wiser for you to talk to her then it is for you to talk to me. I can give you some links to some good job hunting sites. For instance, Ask A Manager has great interviewing, resume and career tips, BNET Personal Success can give you additional insights in this area and Clue Wagon's Tales of the Cluefree will tell you precisely what not to do. But, what you really need to do is go out and talk to some real-life paralegals.
Networking isn't just something you do once your career is established. It's something you need to start with now. Your program should be able to give you some contact information for people who have graduated from your program and now have jobs. Contact some and invite them to lunch, or coffee. (You pay! I know you're a poor student. But think how much poorer you'll be if you can't get a job.)
Ask them the question you asked me. Search for opportunities to work in a law firm. My brother, who is a lawyer, spent a summer after college and before law school cleaning out storage sheds for a law firm. That same law firm liked his work ethic and hired him when he finished law school. You may think that cleaning storage sheds has nothing to do with the practice of law, but it sure helped him beat out the competition when it came to getting a job.
The most important thing for you to do is to get yourself out there. Talk with people. Do work that is in any way even remotely related to your future career as a paralegal. And continue to work hard in school. All these things should put you ahead of the competition as graduation day approaches.
Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.