10 Jun Mastering the Art of Networking
N – E – T – W – O – R – K – I – N – G; ten letters that make up a powerful word, regardless of the industry and a term that I have come to understand the significance of (almost too) well recently.
Whether you are a law student looking for an articling job; a newly-called lawyer looking for an associate position; or an associate trying to transition from one firm to another or to an in-house role, mastering the art of networking may be the key to successfully landing your dream job – or just any job, for that matter. So – where do you start?
Let’s back up a little bit; Albeit being recently called to the Bar, I can confidently say that I have been “networking” since the day that I started law school; by this, I mean I have drunk endless cups of coffee, had the same conversations hundreds of times, and, more times than not, left whoever I was meeting with that day feeling like I was no further with my job-hunt than when I had initially started. As depressing as that might seem, there is an upside to essentially answering the same questions over and over again – practice makes perfect. Cliché, right? Well, just like for OCIs during law school – or any interview, for that matter – the more you practice, the better prepared you are. And the end result? A more relaxed and confident you.
In the legal profession, similar to many others, good grades and an all-star resume will only get you so far nowadays. You know the age-old saying that you have probably heard countless times, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? Well, sadly, this is the reality. So, instead of fighting the inevitable, it’s time to get on-board the networking train. The good news is that, like with any skill, there are always ways to improve, and I have listed some key tips below that have proven successful based on my experiences so far; I can definitively tell you that mastering this skill will prove invaluable for the rest of your career (and yes, even if you switch professions!).
1. Be Prepared: Come to every meeting with goal(s) and/or objective(s).
This was the best advice recently given to me. I typically approach every meeting with three goals: (1) Learn their career trajectory. Not every successful lawyer had a linear path to their current stature. It’s important to understand how people got to where they did and the obstacles they have overcome, which will give you creative ways to help you achieve your career goals; (2) Build a relationship. This one is important because, while there might not be an opportunity at their firm/company at that moment, you never know when an opportunity will arise and having established a good relationship, you will (a) feel comfortable to call/e-mail them if you see a posting on-line; and (b) be top of mind for them if they hear of any upcoming opportunities; and lastly, (3) Ask for another introduction. Personally, I believe #3 is the most important, as it allows you to continually expand your network and have access to people you might not have had otherwise.
2. Be Assertive. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for What You Want.
Yes, no one will fault you for asking for a job – but the key will be how you do it. Typically, I wait until I have established a good rapport with the person I am meeting with, so I can comfortably ask them whether there is an (or will be) an opportunity with their firm/company. I also like to throw in a, “do you think there might be someone else worthwhile meeting with at your firm/company?”, which I feel is often well-received (and another good way to keep expanding your network!).
3. Be Mindful. Be Early and Keep Things Short and Sweet.
Again, another critical mantra. You will find that people are more than happy to meet with you, but you must be mindful of their time; this includes being early – I aim for at least 10 minutes prior to the set time – and keeping the meeting short and sweet – typically, half an hour to an hour (at most) is the standard length of time that most people are happy to give.
4. Follow-up. Send a “Thank-You”.
Always, ALWAYS send a “Thank-You” e-mail. Now, I’m not suggesting that you run home and do this, but typically that e-mail should be sent within 24 hours of meeting. I can guarantee you that person will never forget.
5. Stay Connected. Stay in Touch to Stay “Top of Mind”.
Don’t be afraid to check-in every few months so that you stay on their radar and are top-of-mind, should they hear of an opportunity. I typically diarize a month or two from the meeting date to follow-up, and have often found – and I believe that you will, as well – most lawyers that I have met with suggest that I stay in touch.
So – give these tips and tricks a try, and remember: Networking doesn’t stop once you land that “dream job”. As a young lawyer, you will network to build relationships inside and outside the office, secure new clients, find trusted mentors, and make career transitions. And lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you might not know first-hand – you never know when an opportunity will present itself!