Wednesday, April 27, 2016
To me, networking initially felt a bit like asking a boy on a date, except that I knew I had nothing of substance to offer. The initial e-mail was always a little nerve-racking. "Hi! You don't know me, and you're incredibly busy, but could you take some time out of your day to have the same conversation I've had thirty times this month about the legal market in x city."
Sometimes the person I e-mailed completely ignored my e-mail. But, just like dating, I eventually found enough contacts that I landed my first job. And my second job. A few years later, I finally feel like I have a tiny bit to offer some contacts. I love taking time to meet with younger attorneys or law students. After a few years of making small efforts over time, I have a reputation of being an excellent networker. I've managed to find people jobs.
So, how did I go from awkward to awesome? Painfully, slowly, and steadily. The first step for me was to identify a specific goal. For me, my goal was a job in the legal profession in a particular city. The next thing I did was create a list of small steps. I was careful not to start trying to complete the steps until I had a big picture plan. I knew I could modify the plan as time went on -- and I always did modify the plan -- but it's helpful to have a plan start to finish for what I could do to accomplish my goals.
If you're in school, ask an advisor what steps you need to take. If you're in a job and have a particular goal, identify someone who has successfully achieved that goal and ask them what it took to get there. Ask them who they met and how they went about doing it. For some things, you can network simply, by grabbing coffee. For others, you'll need to network in a more sustained manner, by joining an organization or a group that meets at regular intervals. All of this depends on your goals, but it always begins with three steps:
1. Identify who you need to know
For career hunting in the legal profession, I knew I'd need to research the major players in a particular city. I could identify those players by looking at local legal publications, researching firms, and talking with law school alumni in the area. If you can't figure this out, find someone peripherally related enough that you can ask.
2. Meet the people you need to know
After identifying who I needed to know, I knew I'd need to decide how to get to know those people. Would I start by looking for alumni connections or common interests? Was I gusty enough to master the cold e-mail? (The answer to this should be yes, you never know what will happen and a non-response just does not matter.) Was there an event I could attend where I would likely meet the person?
3. Maintain a relationship with the people you met
Maintaining a relationship with people you met in order to network is by far the most difficult aspect of networking. I was always advised to try to maintain relationships by e-mailing people I met about news articles that reminded me of them. You might be able to do this by reading trade publications, but I found it incredibly difficult. My best advice is to become involved in something that a lot of the people you've met attend. In the legal profession this is easy. Between bar associations and American Inns of Court groups there are numerous groups attorneys regularly attend. Figuring out what people attend, joining, and seeing people regularly helped me more than anything because I never felt forced to say something incredibly impressive on any one particular occasion.
Once you've laid out your plan for achieving these steps, feel free to start slowly. Set a goal of researching for a particular amount of time each week, and then let it go. Send one scary outreach e-mail every week, and then let it go. Slowly but surely, you'll be on your way to developing a network.