The Difference Between Selling and Telling Is Simple; Selling Includes Benefit Statements That Influence Decision-Makers

By: Scott McEachern, legal practitioner coach

Staff Reviewing Resumes To many newer legal practitioners seeking a work opportunity, and even students when seeking a host for placement, solicit by sending very poorly written cover letters or even poorly worded postings within social media focus groups.  The shortfall within the solicitations is that most are telling rather than selling.

Your Words Are What Makes the Difference

How you choose to express yourself within an introduction may, and often does, make all the difference as to whether the introduction will lead to an opportunity or to a disappointment.  Everyone knows the expression, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and this expression is very true.  Accordingly, are you going to express yourself as boring, dry, unlikely to influence people (such as clients, opposing representatives, judges, among others, or are you going to express yourself as a dynamo who is ready to win friends and to influence people (How to Win Friends and Influence People is a book by Dale Carnegie).

Stating Your Benefits As Well As Stating Your Skillset

There will be very few, if any, employers or placement hosts that are unaware of what a law student or paralegal student, coming out of law school is trained to do.  Most potential employers or placements hosts are very well aware of what law school or a paralegal studies program entailed.  Accordingly, stating the skillset that you acquires within your education program is usually uninteresting.  Of course, it is possible that your life experience or education program did include something unique, and this should be stated; however, your introductory cover letter, or other means of introduction, should include more than just a reiteration of your knowledge base and technical skills.

Think As the Person You Want to Influence

Selling is easy when you think from the perspective of the person that you are trying to influence.  Simply ask yourself, what does that person want?  Even better, ask the person!  Try these introductory and qualifying questions:

  • What do you look for when hiring a new graduate?
  • What qualities in a placement student really stands out for you as of key importance?
  • What benefits to your office do you expect to receive from a placement student?
  • What can a potential employee do or say to help you feel most confident when you choose a winner from a pile of resumes?
  • What would an exceptional applicant need to offer your firm?

These questions, and hundreds of variations thereof which you can think up yourself, will open many doors.  There will be few, if any, potential employers or placement hosts who will be unwilling to answer these questions.  Most employers and placement hosts will highly appreciate that the applicant who asks these questions at the introduction stage, before trying to pitch for a spot, is demonstrating an interest in the needs and wants of the employer or placement host and, hopefully, doing so from a place of sincerity in wanting to ensure a good, mutually benefiting, fit.

With that said, this is a good time to mention a common faux pas that applicants, particularly placement applicants need to avoid; and this is the suggestion of willingness to take any opportunity whereas students seeking placement will sometimes answer, "Anything, I just need my 120 hours to graduate", in response to the question, "What are you looking for?".  This is the worst answer possible as the answer shows disinterest in anything more than putting in the time.  Instead, be specific with an answer such as, "I am wanting to gain better research and analysis skills by participating in the process of assessing the legal issues of clients and then contributing to the preparation of Memoranda that enable the practitioners in the office to attend to more clients."  Surely, with an answer like, an applicant will almost be guaranteed an open door.

Did you notice the benefit statement within the answer above?  The words, "... enable the practitioners in the office to attend to more clients" was the benefit statement whereas such phrase provides information about what the firm will receive rather than just what the placement student will get.

Choose Your Words Wisely
How You Speak Is More Important Than What You Speak

People are emotional beings and are, generally, influenced by emotion much more than influenced by any other means.  Of course, businesspeople, and especially legal people, are more likely to focus and make decisions upon logical and rational choices; however, emotional shoestrings can, and should, still be pulled.  With a placement host, a student that states, "I really want to demonstate a valuable contribution with the firm receiving significant benefits during my time here".  Firstly, when said sincerely, the positive energy will be picked up upon by the placement host interviewer; and additionally, the words, "during my time here" presumes the sale and suggests that the decision is already made which is an excellent method for influence in any form of sales, including selling for a placement opportunity or employment opportunity.

Always act as if a deal is a done deal."
~ Scott McEachern

Power of Words

In regards to the importance of choice of words, and to demonstate the difference that choice of words can make, watch the video below entitled, Power of Words:


Everything is a sale, whether that is asking someone out on a first date, proposing marriage, convincing your spouse to turn the channel back to the hockey game (or from the hockey game), etc., and obtaining an employment opportunity or placement opportunity is also a sale that requires influence by sellingh; and of course, people, including employers or placement hosts, only buy, meaning bring someone aboard, when the employer or placement host recognizes that there is a benefit to the employer or placement host.  Accordingly, stop telling and start selling - and do so by stating the benefits that the employer or placement host will receive rather than just providing a summary of the skillset you possess.  Be sure to express how your skillset will deliver positive advantages to the employer or placement host.

The Paralegal Coach is devoted to helping legal practitioners, whether as lawyers, paralegals, law clerks, or students, to develop and improve practical skills and to step over the gap from theoretical textbook studies into real world careers with full confidence.

The preparation for success is delivered via social media blogs, sharing of articles, publishing newsletters, presenting online continuing professional development workshops, and providing one-on-one mentorship sessions.

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