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How to Network Effectively in Different Scenarios

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Law students networking.

By Katherine A. Erwin

Some people are natural networkers, and basically network all the time: in line at the grocery, at the airport, on the sidelines at a softball game. For those who don’t do it automatically, I want to touch on three different categories of networking you should be aware of—social networking events, one-on-one networking, and social media—and give you some practical tips for each.

Social Events (e.g., conferences, receptions, business dinners, and cocktail parties)
Embrace your inner social butterfly and follow these pain-free steps to make the most out of your next outing.

  • Don’t skip them. At least stop in, and meet a few people. You may end up enjoying yourself.
  • Arrive early, not late. This gives you a chance to check out the nametags to see who is coming that you know or might want to meet. It makes it easier to start up conversations with others who arrive early (as opposed to trying to break into a room full of established conversation groups), and you can position yourself to see who comes in.
  • Have a goal, but make it a pretty simple one. I’d suggest it’s a better goal to make a few real connections than to collect a pile of business cards.
  • Look people in the eye, not over their shoulder, and practice some comfortable get-away lines. Heading to the restroom or to refill a drink generally works.
  • Most important, follow up with those you met, even if you are not sure they will be of much immediate help in your job search. A brief email, written note, or even a casual invitation to a lunch or event can further the relationship.

One-on-One Networking (e.g., Informational Interviews)
These are short conversations designed to help you learn about an employer, practice area, or market. Why are these important? 75 to 80 percent of job postings have already been filled by the hiring manager putting out the word within the organization and his or her own personal and professional network that there is an opening. In this tight market, putting out the word like this generally results in a large number of qualified applicants, who are coming in generally with the personal recommendation of the insider who told them about the job. You don’t want to be one of the anonymous people whose résumé comes in through the online application process; you want to be one who comes through with a personal recommendation of a trusted insider. That’s what you are setting out to achieve with one-on-one networking.

How do you get informational interviews? Think of your network as a series of concentric circles. First and foremost, you want your close network, your “inner circle,” to have a very good idea of what you’re looking for. What if they had a great lead for you, and you never asked? If you’ve decided you want to work for a firm that does aviation law, you want to make sure that all your friends, family members, and former colleagues know it, and to introduce you via email to anyone they know in that area.

The next stage is reaching out to those people, with a very specific request—for example, “Our mutual friend Mary suggested you might be willing to share your insights on the airline industry, given your experience as a pilot/lawyer/data analyst for United. I’d be grateful for a few minutes of your time in person or by phone to pick your brain.” Your goal is to make it easy for them to say yes, not easy to say no. How do you do this? Do not ask them for a job. Do not ask them to introduce you to the general counsel of United. Do not include your résumé. Make your request short, upbeat, specific, and convenient for them. Remember, you are not asking for a job, but asking for advice and insights—people love to be the expert, and they will rarely turn down a simple request.

When you do have an opportunity to meet or speak by phone, remember what you are after—advice and connection, not a job. At the end of each of these conversations, say, “Thank you so much for your time and the great information. Who else would you suggest I speak with?” If they make suggestions, ask if they are willing to make an introduction via email. Be open, be diligent, and always follow up with thank yous. And remember, always be listening for their needs—a babysitter, an article, information on the great hotel where you stayed in Portland last year. You have two equally important goals—to get information and to make a real connection.

Social Media (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn)
I’ve saved this for last, not because it’s more or less important, but to emphasize the fact that it doesn’t take the place of one-on-one networking. We’ve all heard stories of people who got jobs without getting out from behind their computer, but I will tell you that it doesn’t happen often. Online communication simply doesn’t take the place of meeting with people face-to-face. There are, however, certain things that every job seeker should be doing with respect to social media.

First, take some time to clean up your Facebook page and your Instagram, Vine, or Vimeo feed. You’ll hear this from others, but that is because it is so critical: potential employers are going to look you up, and they are going to draw conclusions about you from what is on your social media. Don’t keep yourself from getting in the door somewhere by something you posted from that wild party in high school or college.

Second, use LinkedIn effectively. It is a powerful networking tool, whether your primary goal is job search now or business development later on.

  • Update your profile, and if you are openly job hunting (you don’t have to worry about a current employer finding out), include what you are seeking in your profile or in status updates. And keep reminding people (that is, your network) by reposting it every 2 or 3 months.
  • Feed your network. Spend 10 to 20 minutes a week looking through the People You May Know sections suggested for you, and of each of your past employers and schools, and inviting people you know to link to you. The reason? If you determine that you are interested in a particular law firm, you can search your network on the firm name, and up will pop everyone in your network (and their networks) with a connection to that firm. You can then reach out to them for an introduction, and follow the steps I outlined in the One-on-One Networking section.
  • Finally, join groups that look interesting; learn the lingo, read articles that people in the group post, get a sense of who the thought leaders in the practice area are. You can always drop a group later if it proves to be unhelpful, or if your interests change.

Even if it seems daunting, you can do this. I worked with several law students who started out absolutely opposed to networking. By breaking the process down into small steps, they got really good at it, and ended up landing jobs that way. Start today, and don’t stop.

Katherine A. Erwin, is special projects director with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism in Chicago. After practicing corporate and securities law in Chicago for 20 years, she started the Chicago office of a legal placement agency. Most recently, Erwin served in the career services office of the University of Chicago Law School and as career counselor to attorneys and other professionals. Learn more about the Commission at http://2civility.org.

Vol. 43 No. 6

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.

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