What is so important about networking, and why is there so much emphasis on networking in the job search process? Networking is not easy for most people. However, “who you know” can make a huge difference in a job search, and in life. And now is the time to begin to build relationships that will redound to your benefit during your entire career.
There are countless stories about students who have gotten jobs because a work colleague put in a word with an attorney at another agency, and that person referred the student to someone else, who hired them. In one example, a first-year law student attended an ABA event during the summer after his first year where he met an attorney who practiced at a small corporate international law firm. The student kept up the relationship throughout law school and even spent a few months working as a law clerk for this attorney in the spring of his second year. Although the firm liked the student’s work, they didn’t have a permanent spot for him at the time. But the relationship paid off. The student got a call from the firm the day after the bar exam with an offer – and he was thrilled to accept.
Here is how to get started, and some Dos and Don’ts for networking:
DO: Prepare in advance for every networking interaction.
- Preparing will make you more confident and relaxed.
- Be sure you know what you want to get out of the meeting, be focused and clear about your goals.
- Prepare and practice your self introduction (or elevator speech) and think about how best to describe your career interests and past experiences.
- Think of a story you can use during an introduction, or talk about an interesting case or matter you worked on this past summer.
DON’T: Approach a networking event, or a meeting with a contact someone has referred to you, casually without preparing.
- You should always be prepared, and dress as if you are interviewing for a job, unless you are invited by the contact to “come as you are” directly from law school.
DO: Join groups and reach out to attorneys.
- Identify one or more groups attorneys attend you can join and go to their meetings. The American Bar Association, DC Bar Association and the many GW Law student groups are a great place to start.
- Reach out to GW Law alums who are working in practice areas you are interested in, and ask to meet with them to discuss ideas for your career. The CDO can help you identify these contacts.
DON’T: Pass up the opportunity to meet practitioners during law school. The best way to figure out your practice interests and what practicing law in a particular area really involves is to talk to attorneys. This includes getting to know your professors.
DO: Attend networking events.
- Take a friend with you, if that will make you more comfortable.
- Approach people standing alone – or in groups of 3 or more first. They will be the easiest people to target at a networking event.
- Be a good listener and show interest in the conversations you have.
- Arrive early so you can get comfortable and see who is coming.
- If you need a place to start out – go to the food table, or near the bar, so you can casually meet people as they approach.
DON’T: Waste time talking for too long with someone who won’t be a good contact for you.
- Practice extricating yourself gracefully. And, at events, remember to be a professional and beware of drinking too much.
DO: Follow up with contacts.
- Send an email or note to follow up with contacts you make. It is best to do this within a few days of the event.
- Request a future meeting to discuss your career goals or to continue the conversation you started at the meeting.
- If you don’t hear back within a reasonable amount of time, follow up with the contact again.
DON’T: Give up. Not everyone is going to respond or find time to meet with you.
Networking is not only about meeting people at events or in large groups. Meeting with attorneys one-on-one can be just as effective, or more so, so seek out as many opportunities as you can to talk with practitioners. The relationships you begin to build now will pay off, not only in your job search endeavors, but in your future professional career.