Networking: Your Most Important Job Search Skill

Networking: Your Most Important Job Search Skill

The most important element of a fruitful job search (and, for that matter, of business development for career advancement) is effective and relentless networking. You need to look outside your circle of lawyer friends and acquaintances. Even if you are conducting a passive, or “stealth” job search, tell everyone you run across during the regular course of your daily activities (in person, online, and through social media) that you’re interested in a particular type of law and would like to meet experts in that field.

Think of every introduction anywhere as an opportunity to start a business relationship. Look at all your "non-professional" organizations and activities and note who else is a member or attends. Carry cards with you at all times. You never know who knows someone who can get you in the right door. Ask for contacts and for informational interviews; asking directly for a job is likely to bring a conversation to a dead-end if there are no current hiring plans.

Merely attending events won’t help you advance your job search; it’s essential to participate actively in alumni and bar associations and/or civic, social, charitable, and political organizations and talk to everyone possible about what they know about the job market.

If networking doesn’t come naturally for you, try these techniques:

  • When you discover an event that might be a good networking opportunity, register immediately, put it on your calendar, and prepay. That way, you’re less likely to invent excuses not to attend.
  • Before the event, get yourself in the right frame of mind: Give yourself (or have a friend give you) a pep talk. Be prepared with information on current events, either general news or law-related, to get conversations started.
  • Arrive early so you don’t have to face a crowd ­already engaged in conversation. When you’re one of the first to arrive, you can introduce yourself to others as they come in.
  • Volunteering to work at events is a good way to meet people. If you staff the registration table, for instance, you talk to many of the attendees as they arrive, which breaks the ice for you to chat with them later. Staffing the registration table also helps you identify specific people you should make a point of meeting.
  • Don’t restrict your conversation to people you already know. Your goal is to meet as many new people as you can. Remember, everyone else attended the event to expand their contacts, as well, so they should be open to your approach.

Are you tongue-tied when meeting new people? To make those first few moments a little easier, prepare a short introduction that is clear, clever, memorable, and a conversation-starter. It should include your name, title, and firm name OR the type of position you’re seeking; your area of practice and geographical focus; and your goal for attending the event. Be brief but provide enough information to make a connection.

For example, I might say, “Hi, I'm Valerie Fontaine with SeltzerFontaine. I'm a legal search consultant, otherwise known as a headhunter for lawyers. Although we're based in Los Angeles, we place attorneys with law firms and corporations throughout California and across the country. We're always on the lookout for great lawyers to place and exciting opportunities to fill.”

After you introduce yourself, ask questions to get them talking, then share related information about yourself. This can lead naturally into the fact that you’re interested in a particular type of law or new opportunity.

If you’re still at a complete loss for words, safe ways to get the conversation moving include questions such as:

  • What do you think of this event?
  • Are you a member of this organization?
  • How do you know the host or honoree?
  • How often do you attend these functions?
  • What brought you here today?
  • What type of work do you do?

All of these questions can lead to the topic foremost on your mind: pursuing your career goals.

Collect business cards and, as soon as you leave the event, make notes on the back with the date and event, what you discussed, or other identifying information. Follow up with an email or note saying that you enjoyed meeting them and, depending upon your need for confidentiality, include your résumé in the event they hear of something that may be ­appropriate for you or wish to pass it on to someone who might be interested in your background. Look them up on LinkedIn and request to connect. That way, you gain access to their connections as part of your extended network, as well.

Valerie Fontaine
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