Tips for Networking
Most people will tell you they found their current job with the help of someone they know. It’s no secret that your contacts are critical when it comes to career advancement or finding a new position. It’s important to continue building your network and to recharge it regularly so you have active resources to turn to whenever you need them. Here are some tips for keeping your network alive and well:
- Keep on building. If it’s early in your legal career, you may be thinking you don’t yet have a network. However, a little examination will reveal that your list of contacts already includes friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues, and most likely former college professors and students, teachers, roommates, and other people with whom you interact regularly or have spoken with in the recent past. Many successful networkers compile a database of these resources for future reference -- you should consider doing the same, adding new names as appropriate.
- Don’t limit your circle of contacts. Expand your network to include professionals at varying experience levels, not just your peers. Look beyond your law firm and the legal profession for potential contacts. You never know who might have helpful connections.
- Carry a business card. This often-overlooked, yet critical, networking tool is especially important if you are in the job market. Many employers provide them, but it’s surprising how many professionals don’t keep them on hand even when attending industry events. If you don’t have one, why not make your own? It doesn’t need to be fancy -- just your contact information will suffice. If you’re job hunting, you might also consider including a personalized “tag line” that describes in a few words what your expertise is -- similar to a skills summary on a resume, only shorter. Utilize your home computer system or visit your local copy shop for help in preparing your business cards.
- Attend networking receptions preceding business functions. Make an appearance at professional association meetings whenever possible. Arrive early to mingle with other guests or the speaker before the program begins. Scan the sign-in sheet to see who’s arrived, then seek the people you want to meet.
- Be alert to new venues. Networking isn’t just for business occasions. Make an effort to always carry those business cards with you when attending social gatherings as well, such as sporting events or holiday parties. You never know whom you might meet at these events.
- Be open about your agenda. Not all networking activities should focus on uncovering job leads. But be upfront if you’re looking for assistance in your employment search, and be prepared with a 15-second sales pitch. Others will appreciate your candor and be better able to help you.
- Don’t be too aggressive. While it’s important to communicate regularly with people in your network, don’t become a disruption. One way to demonstrate interest in maintaining the relationship without being a pest is to forward a note of congratulations if you’ve heard they’ve won a particularly arduous or lengthy case, received an award or earned a promotion recently.
- Remember pertinent information. After meeting someone and swapping business cards, jot down a few notes about your conversation on the back of the one you received to jog your memory later.
- Show appreciation. Always let people know you value their help. A simple thank-you note or e-mail is appropriate to express your gratitude for a job lead or helpful information.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Many legal professionals are uncomfortable with the whole idea of networking, especially at first. For some, the prospect of facing a crowded room full of strangers is daunting. If this sounds like you, then start small. Attend an event with a friend who can introduce you. To initiate conversation with the new people you meet, ask them how they know your companion. Another method is to join committees or volunteer in your community, which may provide more chances to network one-on-one.
- Never give up. Even if those you meet aren’t able to help you immediately, maintaining your network and your positive attitude ultimately will pan out. Remember that networking is reciprocal: By offering your assistance to someone, whether it is advice, a vendor recommendation or a job lead, you become a contact for each other.
Networking should be practiced consistently throughout your legal career -- it’s not a one-time event. Offer your expertise as a resource and keep your ears open for opportunities for your contacts, and you’ll find most are willing to return the favor. Even if you aren’t actively job hunting, establishing a wide range of contacts can help you enhance your knowledge of the legal field, sharpen your interpersonal skills and maybe even bring in new clients to your firm. With the multiple demands of schedules and increasing case loads, it can be a challenge to devote quality time to building and maintaining your network. However, by simply taking a few proactive steps and being aware of opportunities, you can recharge it periodically so it’s up and running when you need it.