After losing her paralegal job in the recession, Heather Fox accepted a lower-paying retail job, where she's been ever since. A trio of local experts gives her job-search advice to return to the career she loves.

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Count Heather Fox among those the Great Recession bent but did not break.

When the economic downturn hit, Fox, a married mother of two, was working as a paralegal, the field she had trained for after serving as a Korean linguist in the Army. She lost her job, but was able to find a contract paralegal position that lasted a few months. After that, the paralegal work dried up.

As a stopgap, Fox took a lower-paying retail job, where she’s been ever since.

“I feel like I’ve learned some valuable skills there, with multitasking for sure, dealing with the public and … creative problem solving,” Fox, of Shoreline, says. “But I want something that challenges me more.”

What has been a challenge for Fox is re-entering the legal field. Thinking her lack of a bachelor’s degree could be damaging her job search, Fox finished her B.A. in social sciences with a law, politics and economy focus last year at the University of Washington — all while continuing to work 40 hours a week and juggling family.

Since then, Fox has relentlessly and broadly applied for jobs and had multiple interviews that she thought went really well, but a job offer remains elusive.

Fearing that she has been doing something wrong, Fox agreed to participate in a Seattle Times Jobs career makeover and met one-on-one with three local experts: Seia Milin, a human resources professional; Lisa Quast of Career Woman, Inc.; and Kathryn Crawford Saxer, an executive coach.

Targeting résumé, employers

Milin focused on Fox’s résumé, which she says was technically complete and perfectly formatted. But what wasn’t clear from her résumé was Fox’s ambition to become more educated and qualified for a legal career, Milin says.

“[Fox] maintained a full-time job and attended university courses simultaneously, until she completed a B.A. degree. She also has an A.A. in paralegal work, worked as a paralegal professional for eight years, and she served in the U.S. Army — all desired education, skills and qualifications for the legal field.”

Milin says that Fox’s résumé also wasn’t making it clear what type of work she was targeting — it could have been anything from retail to paralegal to federal jobs.

Fox agreed that she wasn’t customizing her résumé for each job to which she was applying, primarily because she had been applying for so many positions. She now plans to focus her search more on the quality of the role and how it would fit her goals versus the more blanketed approach.

Milin and Fox also reworked Fox’s professional summary, which Milin says focused too much on soft skills such as interpersonal, flexibility and decision making. The new summary brands Fox as a paralegal professional supported by her education, core competencies and interest in returning to the legal field.

It could also be incorporated into Fox’s LinkedIn profile, which Fox knew she hadn’t been utilizing enough in her job search. Quast, who developed an extensive action plan to help Fox, suggested that she update her LinkedIn profile picture. Quast also recommended that Fox network on LinkedIn to boost her number of connections to more than 400 and to ask for three recommendations from people who know her well.

Quast and Saxer both gave Fox tips for narrowing the focus of her job search. “Pick two industries and two companies from each industry, then … connect with people at each of those companies using LinkedIn … to set up informational discussions and network your way into getting a job at one of those companies,” Quast wrote in Fox’s plan.

Finding the right words

Fox says she plans to be more strategic in her search, and also intends to utilize tips Quast gave her for closing an interview.

“I had left it open-ended at the end of interviews, but Lisa gave me good advice for asking how I matched up with the qualifications and other candidates, so I could address any issues on the spot,” says Fox.

Saxer, who focused on helping Fox with networking, echoed Quast’s LinkedIn advice and gave Fox tips for connecting — and reconnecting — with people in the legal field.

Saxer says one of Fox’s hesitations — “I haven’t talked to some of these people in years” — is one she frequently hears in her practice.

“Look at it this way,” Saxer wrote in her plan for Fox. “If a credible, professional person sent you a really nice note and you were in a position to help — would you? Of course you would, and most people would … if properly approached.”

Send that LinkedIn invite if you think the recipient will remember your name and have a positive association with it, Saxer says. “Stop second-guessing whether you think the recipient could be helpful or whether they’re going to reject your invitation.”

Fox has already begun to work on her LinkedIn profile and is looking forward to applying the experts’ strategies and rebooting her search in the new year.

“I’m going to set weekly goals for myself and not put too much pressure on myself,” says Fox. “I’ll set a goal each week that’s something achievable and that’s leading me in the right direction.”

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