College graduates know that if they don’t network, they probably won’t find work--or at least not work that’s as meaningful to them.
One of our interns is in the throes of the post-college job search right now (wish him luck!). His efforts to apply for jobs and create professional connections have inspired us to think about what attorneys at solo and small law practices can re-learn from college graduates about networking.
The Do-Not’s of Networking for Attorneys
College graduates do their best to avoid certain missteps while networking. These missteps are as relevant to them as they are to established attorneys. Regardless of who makes them, they can almost always present a poor first impression.
Being Opportunistic: As you make connections, mind your tone so your introduction is not perceived as opportunistic, as wanting something from someone right away. Of course, all networking is based in wanting something out of a connection (practically every recent college graduate is eager for a full-time job). But, as an attorney, contacting an individual simply because of their proximity to an opportunity may not put you in the best light.
Behaving Presumptuously: Another dead-in-the-water mistake is presumptuousness. So, don’t expect preferential treatment because of a connection. Examples include a potential opportunity at another law firm or a recommendation to your firm by a contact. Nobody wants to feel pressured.
Not Maintaining Connections: People do want to maintain the new connections they’ve made. Doing so can pay off in the future and lead to new, exciting opportunities. Not maintaining connections can lead to missed opportunities. Of course, maintaining connections can be challenging and, to an extent, time-consuming, but it’s worth it.
Establishing and Building Rapport
In order to network successfully, you have to build rapport with individuals. College graduates know that establishing rapport is a bit of a balancing act, with a lot of emphasis on coming off the right way. In this way, building rapport in a networking setting is not dissimilar to building rapport with your clients, which we wrote about previously. We want to re-state some important points from that blog post, but in a different light:
Be Where They’re Looking: In order to build rapport, you need to know where to find your targeted potential connections. That will determine where you go, whether your local bar association or volunteering your time. After the initial meeting, it’s important to know where to find each other again. That could mean an online profile or perhaps through a shared interest group.
Be Quick on the Response: This is the preeminent rule of networking communication. Since a new connection took the time to reply to you (after they received an email from you, perhaps, unexpectedly), you should be quick to reply to them and continue the conversation.
Follow Up and Stay in Touch: After you have made a new connection, it’s important to follow up with them. Continued communication will keep you top of mind so that if an opportunity comes up, you'll more likely be top of mind. Now, that doesn’t mean you should reach out too much, either. No one wants to feel nagged.
Playing the Waiting Game
Unfortunately, networking is mostly a waiting game. Particularly when it comes to the job search. Even so, college graduates follow some tips that can be of use to attorneys as well:
Be Patient, As Unfortunate as that Sounds: Even though almost every professional values networking, it’s hardly a priority for everyone. An attorney who is beginning their own practice may not hear from that veteran solo attorneys for some time. After all, they are busy managing their own practice. A week or two may pass before you and other solo attorneys can connect. Be patient.
Don’t Be Idle, Seek Out Additional Opportunities: As you play the waiting game with new connections, continue to research other opportunities. Especially if you're looking for a new job, it can't hurt to have multiple opportunities up in the air. The world has shrunk because of technology, but the opportunities have proliferated. You may find an opportunity you never thought you’d be interested in.
Take a Hint: If too much time has passed without a reply, you might want to move on. That new connection may not be as interested as you’d like. But this is okay if you haven’t been idle while waiting. Another opportunity could be right around the corner.
Giving and Receiving
In the networking process, being able to give as you hope to receive is vital to a successful connection.
This does not mean, however, that your act of giving must equal what you received. If a new connection was instrumental to your being hired, you don’t necessarily need to find them a new job. But it would be nice to help them out if they ask. Or even just offer!
What we’re really talking about is gratitude and courtesy. A thank you note or a free lunch conveys your appreciation and your willingness to reciprocate. And so does maintaining that connection through routine communication.
As you cultivate your network, what matters most to the process is your genuine enthusiasm. Your authentic self. So, don’t exaggerate your skills, background, experience, or love of techno-music.
This may seem self-evident and obvious, but it’s not—for attorneys and for recent college graduates. We too often think that networking involves only presenting the straight-laced, yes-sir side of ourselves. Although there’s a rigmarole and etiquette to networking, the bedrock of all connections are commonalities between two authentically present people.
So be yourself as you go out to build your network. And let us know how your networking efforts are going. What event and conversation made the difference in your career or solo practice? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter @SimpleLaw!