Posted: October 25th, 2011
This is a recent article from our OCPD Weekly Newsletter, sent to 2Ls and 3Ls.
You’ve heard it over and over again. Networking is the key to success. Networking will help you find a job.
If one more person tells you networking will solve all your problems, you’ll scream!
Take a step back. Think about all that networking entails. It is a skill – much like analyzing a case or presenting an argument. Like all skills, these take education, practice, and time to develop.
Networking is not just about finding a job. It’s about building relationships. This is a skill that you will use throughout your professional career. Employers – whether law firms, government, or public interest – expect law graduates to not only have excellent analytical skills and writing ability, but also be able to develop connections with coworkers, clients, and potential clients. By building rapport with colleagues, community members, and other professionals, you begin to establish the trust that is the foundation of a business relationship.
You already do a lot of networking. Are you on Facebook? LinkedIn? Twitter? These sites are about building relationships. People who are active in social networking generally enjoy personal engagement, enjoy getting to know people.
Nevertheless, you’re not going to get very far if you limit yourself to online networking. You have to get out there, attend professional events, volunteer, take part in community activities. Just show up.
Once you’re there, here are some tips for “working the room.” The more events you attend and the more actively you participate, the more skills you will build. As you get more comfortable in this type of environment, you will see that building relationships gets easier. Who knows, it might even turn out to be fun!
Have something to talk about. If you’re going to an event sponsored by a specific group, see if that group has been in the news lately (it’s easy to run a news search on Lexis or WestLaw). If you know who is going to be there, read up on their bios. Keep up on what’s going on locally – what are people talking about outside of the law school bubble? None of these things may come up in conversation, but you’ll feel more at ease knowing you have something to break an awkward silence.
LISTEN. This may be the most obvious, but hardest to do. You’re nervous, you’re thinking about the next thing you want to say in the conversation. Focus on what the person is saying and let the conversation flow naturally.
Get over your distaste for “small talk.” Small talk is the foundation of any relationship. How did you meet your significant other? Chances are you didn’t immediately start out with discussion of serious issues like money and children. Small talk allows you to find the connection on which you will build a deeper relationship.
Finally, DON’T check your Blackberry/iPhone, text anyone, or look at your phone in the middle of a conversation. Nothing says “I’m not interested in what you’re saying” more than this. If you check your messages out of nervous habit, leave the phone at home (or in the car, at the very least).