Networking: Introverts Unite!
While walking east down Pearson Street the other day, I ran into an alum from my law school days, thirteen years ago, in Kansas. She (her name is Jen) is now working for a Chicago non-profit. Among other topics, I asked her whether her organization hires new graduates. She responded that occasionally they do and that they are always looking for good people. She then mentioned that her organization would soon hold a fundraiser and asked me to consider buying a ticket. I agreed, of course, and as we parted, we scheduled a follow-up lunch to reestablish our friendship. As I headed toward Michigan Avenue to catch my bus home, I realised that, in a way, what she and I had just engaged in was networking. I know networking sounds cold and calculated to many of you, but as you can see from my encounter with Jen, it wasn't. It was quite natural. I asked her questions, she asked me questions, and, before we knew it, we were helping each other out.
Networking is the process by which you gather information and, in turn, share information with others, creating and enhancing connections for mutual benefit. It is almost always a two-way street, even when it doesn't immediately feel that way. This year, you may be the student who is asking for advice and information from a practicing attorney. Next year you may be the practicing attorney who helps out a law student. Networking is a give and take and involves developing relationships with people, which can take time. It is about being curious, asking for advice, posing questions, and displaying a desire to learn from others. If you approach it this way, you won't have to worry about pretending to be someone you are not or feeling like you are using people.
Students sometimes describe networking in negative terms, like "fake," "embarrassing," and "humiliating," but it really shouldn't feel that way if you approach it sincerely. Most lawyers know that a large percentage of available jobs are not advertised and are instead filled by word of mouth. They know that even the jobs that are advertised are often filled with a candidate who somehow made a personal connection with the employer. Since all lawyers know this, there is no reason to be embarrassed about wanting to make connections with people who can help you figure out what area of practice best suits you and to discover the hidden job market.
The best networkers are not necessarily the extroverted, gregarious types; the best networkers tend to approach the process with a positive attitude, a sense of curiousity, an interest in other people, and a desire to learn more. If you are sincerely interested in making connections and not just getting a job, you will eventually "click" with others and begin to develop relationships, which often lead to jobs.
For some of you, networking comes more naturally, but, for most of you, the skills must be learned, used, and reinforced. Begin slowly by trying different tactics and finding what works for you. Start out with your personal network - your parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, your spouse's or partner's relatives, childhood friends, college classmates, sorority sisters, fraternity brothers, law school classmates, former co-workers, neighbors, doctor, dentist, spiritual leader, and members of volunteer organizations to which you belong. Then move on to law school faculty, career services staff, career panel members and speakers, internship and externship co-workers, mentors, student groups, alumni, and young lawyer sections of bar associations. The Office of Career Services is here to help you as you begin to network. If you need a little coaching or a boost to get you going, don't hesitate to stop in - we're always here to help.
Marianne Deagle, Assistant Dean of Career Services
Originally printed in the March 2008 edition of the Career Services Newsletter