What is networking? Is it going to your undergraduate alumni football tailgate? Is it catching up over coffee with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while? Is it inviting someone you recently met at a seminar to connect with you on LinkedIn? The answer is yes! All of these things, and more, are networking.
Whether you’re looking for your first job, trying to find a new one, or building your client base, there are so many enjoyable things you can do to network. Below are ideas on where to start and ways to strengthen your networking skills.
Focus your efforts
As with any new project or case, start your networking efforts by focusing on what you want and what you need to do to get it. Come up with a few ideas for the next position you want or the types of clients you’d like to get. Start with a list of 3–5 prospects, which you can always modify later. Use your research skills to determine if you know anyone who works for these companies, what organizations they belong to, what boards they serve on, and whether they’re on LinkedIn and are active in any LinkedIn groups. This may mean talking to an old friend from high school who works for your prospect company, attending a seminar where a potential employer or prospect is speaking or just casually asking your friends, family, or colleagues “so who do you know at . . .?” It can also mean engaging in discussions on LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social networking websites with the connections you’re trying to make. Just like with any other project, progression is key. Pursue every legitimate lead, referral, or idea passed on to you, keep track of your progress, and set up reminders to follow up with your connections periodically.
Do what you love
Networking takes time, but it shouldn’t feel like a chore. Pursue avenues that involve your interests. If you like giving back to the community, reach out to a nonprofit or other organization that interests you and find out what you can do to get involved. Being on a planning committee or board of directors is a great opportunity to showcase your skills in organizing, facilitating, and decision making. If you like sports, try your hand at coaching an adult sports league team or your child’s soccer or baseball team. Volunteering is a like a “hidden” job interview —if you’re resourceful and dependable, people will seek out your advice and assistance with other areas as well. But be careful about spreading yourself too thin; your time is like any other investment, so donate it to the areas where you reasonably expect to get a positive return.
Lawyers who are respected in their fields and stay close to their colleagues will come to mind first when another lawyer needs to refer out a case. As you work with or against other attorneys, remember that this will not be the only interaction that you will have with them, so make a good impression. The same goes for your job search: after every interview, always follow up with a thank you note or e-mail, regardless of how you thought the interview went. If for some reason you didn’t get the job but feel like you were a good fit for the employer, stay in touch with your contact, or form more connections within the organization. Another opportunity may arise, even years later, and you will be “in the know.”
Think of your networking efforts like a spiral: the job or the client is in the center, and you have to work your way through the spiral to get to it. Focus your efforts on what you want, stay connected with other professionals, and most importantly, do the things you enjoy.