M y last #CallingonChristine article focused on why networking is important for an in-house attorney. This article will look more at the mechanics – how do you network effectively while being true to yourself and still doing your day job?
At its most fundamental, networking is about meeting people, and is as hard or simple as it was in kindergarten. As a small child, you either walked up to someone and said hi, or you sat down next to someone and started to play with the same toy (no conversation needed), or a teacher introduced you to someone who also needed a friend. These three techniques (and I strongly encourage you to use all three) also work in the grown-up world.
If you love parties and big events, and are able to enter a room of 100 strangers and leave with 99 friends, then you are very much like the child who can walk up to a stranger and say hi. And while large event networking is a skill that can be learned, if this is not your cup of tea, do not focus all of your networking around events that demand that skill. Instead, seek out smaller group settings, and focus on things that you enjoy – not for profit or pro bono work, community involvement, or causes for which you have a passion. These are the ‘play alongside’ scenarios where you have guaranteed openings for conversation due to shared interest. You can also ask trusted friends (the teacher) for introductions to others. Here, it is better to be specific. “I would really like to be introduced to [attorney]. She has a lot of experience with businesses in transition, and I would love to invite her to lunch or coffee.” Many of us think of this latter approach as being applicable only during a job search, but it has real value throughout your career.
As I noted in the prior article, how you network depends very much on who you are as a person and your personal circumstances, including how you want to use your most valuable resource – your time. There is no one ‘right’ way to network, and I encourage everyone reading this article to comment with their own networking tips. For now, however, here are my top ten lessons learned over time.
– Do not pretend to be someone you are not. Simple and easy. Be yourself. As a young associate, we were encouraged to learn to play golf, because that was viewed as an ideal form of networking. If you enjoy golf, then golf. But if not, do something you enjoy.
– Introduce yourself to people. Whenever you can. Just walk up and say hi. Although this lesson is fairly simple, in today’s busy world it is easy to overlook. When you are at continuing legal education (“CLE”) programs or other events, get off e-mail, put your phone down, and say hi to the people around you. When I speak on a CLE panel, I always try to spend time before the panel introducing myself to people in the audience. If you are in the audience, say hi to the people seated next to you, and feel free to walk up to a speaker after the event and say hi. Remember that an introduction does not have to be a long conversation, just a quick hello. You can exchange business cards, send an invitation on LinkedIn or use the Find Nearby function on LinkedIn to ensure that you can continue your conversation later.
– Attend CLE or other programs in person whenever you can. It is very hard to meet anyone via webinar.
– Think of networking as being about nothing more than getting to know other people. Do not think about what you will get from a relationship. The gives and gets can be subtle and sometimes, will show up years after you first met.
– Get to know people who are different from you. This is a basic tenet of most diversity and inclusion programs, and it makes sense. You will learn more when you open yourself up to different experiences. You also will be a better coworker and manager when you are comfortable with a wide range of people, with different backgrounds, experiences and thoughts.
– Do not limit yourself to the law. From my former CEO, I learned the importance of making connections in the business community.
– Be methodical, but genuine. Make networking part of your personal development plan. Think about the types of people you would like to meet, and where you might meet them. For example, when I started doing international work, I needed to know about the law in countries around the world, and to develop a network of external counsel around the globe. I met these development goals by joining the American Bar Association, Section of International Law. As part of your development plan, make a list of networking activities and goals. These goals should be purposeful (not just meet three new people, but meet three new people for a reason). Make a list of people to invite to coffee or lunch, with an understanding of why you want to get to know each person; a list of people you met recently and with whom you want to follow up; and a list of people in your existing network with whom you have not communicated recently. But when you speak with these individuals, default to lesson one. Be yourself, and display a genuine interest in getting to know the other person. As a side note, I am thinking of a personal development plan as a living document – something on your computer that you change, update and edit each month – and not the more formal development plan required as part of your company’s performance review process.
– Set stretch goals. Just because you consider yourself to be shy or an introvert does not mean that you should never go to cocktail hours or large ‘life of the party’ events. As noted above, networking at these events is a skill. It can be learned and honed through practice. And I think many of us, as lawyers, probably identify as introverts. But we are usually very detail oriented, Type A, planners. Just make a plan.
– Make sure that there is a reason why you attend a majority of the events you attend. Networking is important, but your time is your most valuable commodity. A charity, cause or mission in which you are interested? Great. A friend invited you? Also great, and ask your friend to introduce you to some people while you are there. A chance to learn something new? An opportunity to get to know people you have never met before, especially if they are different from you? These can be great reasons to attend. But an event in which you are not interested and where you are not aligned with (or have no interest in) the cause or purpose of the event? Unless it is absolutely mandatory, it might not be the best use of your time.
– Take advantage of unique periods of change to put your networking into high gear. Examples include starting a new job, getting a big promotion, joining a new organization or not for profit board, or moving to a new city. These changes create a window of time during which people will want to welcome you to the new role, company, organization or city. A networking outreach will seem natural, and even better, will make the people you contact feel good about both themselves and you.
Those are my top ten lessons learned, and honestly, they are not always front of mind for me. Sometimes life just gets too busy. The value of your network might not be obvious as you sit as your desk each day, but every now and then, you realize how valuable a resource it is, to both you personally and to your company.
Until next time…