Law students are some of the busiest people in the world. Between working, attending class, and making time for family, who has time for networking? Along with everything else you need to do, networking can become a chore that gets pushed down the list of priorities.
Networking must be prioritized. It can lead to job referrals and other professional opportunities. Compared to other methods, candidates with job referrals are more likely to be hired. Despite its importance, networking is not regularly taught in classes. It also is a difficult skill to master alone. How can law students make networking simpler and successfully build their network? Here are a few tips I have found helpful.
Start with the “gimmes.”
Do you have friends or know folks with similar interests to your own? When you don’t know where to start networking, start with people you know, with whom you have a positive relationship.
Once you have identified people like yourself, reach out to see if they can help you get in touch with people in their network. If your friend/acquaintance attends social or networking events, attend with them. That way, they can introduce you to people they know, and you won’t have to face the pressure of going solo. It’s a nice excuse to get together with friends and people you enjoy, and a natural way to grow your web of connections.
Be strategic. Get involved.
A common way to meet new people is through common interests; therefore, student organizations make great networking hubs. However, you can’t join every organization on campus, so focus your energy on one or two clubs and commit to them for a whole year. Surrounded by people interested in what lights you up, it will be easy to discuss classes, club events, and if you’re feeling bold – volunteer or join the board of student leaders. Stay as engaged as you can by attending socials, workshops, and other organization events. The more you see and work with the same people, the better chance you have to build positive relationships.
LinkedIn is a great tool for connecting with peers, future mentors, and industry professionals. It may be crucial to finding your next job. It is important to create a LinkedIn profile and update it once or twice a year to reflect new milestones in your career. Here are three easy steps you can take to get started:
- Use a clear, professional headshot of yourself;
- Include details about your previous professional and educational background; and
- Write a concise bio to introduce yourself, discuss goals, and give an idea of who you are as an individual.
Connections or prospective employers can review your professional and educational background before interacting with you. This can help prove that you’re looking to enter the same field as another LinkedIn connection or that you are a qualified applicant for an open job position.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your LinkedIn connections. If you connect with an attorney who works in an area of law that interests you, LinkedIn creates a perfect opportunity to reach out to them.
Although you don’t necessarily have to be active daily, do post professional milestones to keep yourself visible among your connections.
Take every opportunity to socialize.
If you are invited through work, classes, or a school organization to attend a party or social event, just go. Go with one of your ‘gimmes’ if you feel insecure going alone. Business deals don’t happen in the office; they happen over dinner. Social events are your chance to meet key business contacts of interest, and (hopefully) make a good impression on them.
Take an interest in the personal life, as well as the professional life, of the people you meet. Take note of small, but important details they reveal to you and use this knowledge to help make conversation the next time you see them. They may be flattered that you paid attention to a subtle detail they mentioned to you earlier.
Forgetful? Better keep track.
Building genuine connections is the first step, but keep track of what you learn.
It helps to keep notes of the names of your networking contacts, as well as key details you want to remember about them. This may include their job, personal interests, community involvements, hobbies, the last time you met with them, common interests, or more. You should track these details on an Excel sheet or even on your phone’s “Notes” app.
The act of following up is the centerpiece of the networking strategy.
Follow up periodically and offer to catch up over coffee or a meal, or even invite your contact to go with you to an event. In your initial follow up, be polite. Re-introduce yourself and explain why you’re reaching out to them. As a student, a good time to follow up is at the end of a semester, when exams and major projects are done.
When you follow up, approach these conversations with intention. Your notes from past conversations will come in handy. For example, if your contact told you they were getting married, you should congratulate them and ask about their wedding. If they started a new job, ask how they’ve been enjoying it.
All that remains for you now is to take that first step to building a larger, stronger network of your own. No matter how busy you are, how impossible it seems, time dedicated to building strong professional relationships is time well spent. You never know when you’ll need to tap someone for their expertise, and you never know when someone will need you for yours.