I have lost count of how many times in one month our administration at BU tells us how important networking is. Moreover, there are always so many networking events going on it’s hard to keep up with who is going to be where and when, and how are you supposed to dress??! Frankly though, the most confusing aspect of it for me has been… what’s the point and how do I actually network?
I remember my first “networking” event with the alumni of Boston University School of Law. I was horrified. I had never networked in my life, and suddenly I was in the lions den. Surrounded by other ambitious, and loud, students. Everyone equally vying for the attention of the recruiter at a major firm, or the judge at the other end.
I left almost immediately. I couldn’t stand how some students literally acted as a blockade preventing me from even reading the alum’s name tag. It had felt so in-genuine to me, listening to forced laughs while every other student asked the same three things. I didn’t understand, was this networking? Why is it considered so important to network??
What’s more, I’m an introvert. I like to listen and observe. Yes, I can be outgoing and charming, and whatever else, but that requires energy that I usually expend trying to learn in class. Being thrown into an environment where you are all but forced to socialize is scary and draining for me. How is an introvert even supposed to survive such an intensely extroverted activity?
My quick answer is: (1) chug a Red Bull, (2) put on some fancy eye liner, and (3) smile. The physical act of smiling will make you feel and appear like a happy and interesting person. The eye liner gives me the confidence to walk over to a stranger, while the Red Bull gives me the energy to turn on the charm and actually think about what they are saying and what I am saying. However, this quick resort isn’t all that satisfying when you find yourself in a conversation (some-what) with another person. So here the tips I’ve learned over the semester:
- Actually say something. Seriously, nothing is more boring than listening to the generic questions. The usual “what do you do”, “what do you like about it”, etc., is great to open a conversation, but be creative and really listen. Everyone drops little hints in their answers about things they like or don’t care for. Don’t dwell on the things you could probably learn from Googling them, ask them real questions that you might ask a friend. They are people too, and are probably counting down the minutes until they meet someone who is interested in more than their credentials.
- Talk to the associates. The partner in charge of recruiting is an asset you probably want to at least say hi to, but networking is about building connections – not simply a list of potential employers. The newest/youngest attorneys will be able to give you an insight into what you may end up doing and they will give you a very real sense of what it’s like to work in that field, at the firm, etc. Plus, they are usually really open and help carry the conversation. They know it’s weird and hard to talk to random people, and will generally guide you through a conversation. They understand what you are going through. Older attorneys may be partners, but chances are they have no idea what it’s like to struggle as a law student in the current climate.
- You don’t have to talk to everyone. This was something I really struggled with. I have outgoing friends who will literally meet every person, and learn their names within the first hour. Which is great for them, but hard for me. I personally take more time to feel comfortable and work my way into a conversation. That’s okay. You don’t have to talk to everyone, if you are really enjoying a conversation with a couple people, then you have succeeded! You’ve met people that can be a guide for you! That is literally the point of networking. You don’t need a million contacts, especially if they won’t remember you…
- You don’t need to be BFFs with any of them. It’s scary and hard to talk to people, but let’s face it there are some people you click with and some you don’t. It’s okay to reserve your energy for people you like and walk away from those who you don’t really connect with. Just politely excuse yourself, and thank them for their time. At the very least, you got to practice.
What is the point of networking?
I’m ashamed of how long it took me to understand this. I felt really sleazy for the first few months at networking events, because to me it just looked like an event where individuals went to suck up for job opportunities or internships. While this is how some people will treat networking, you should not treat it like that.
Networking is about building connections. What does that mean? That means meeting people who are in the field you may find yourself in one day. It means finding people who have been through what you are currently experiencing and having someone older and wiser to get advise from or learning about unique paths people have taken to where they are. These are people who understand and who want to help guide you through the world when you are young and scared.
Yes, networking helps build professional relationships that can lead to jobs down the road, but networking isn’t about getting a job; it’s learning and living through others’ experiences. You can ask about classes they thought were really beneficial, or what they wish they had taken, why they choose to work at the place they are at, etc. Individuals at networking events are resources for you, just as much as you may be a resource for them one day.
Seriously, don’t go in their expecting to use them for a job, that’s not the point of networking. Not only will they smell that from a mile away, but you will just look bad for treating people as pawns in your race for a good position, and let me tell you reputation matters. The world is a lot smaller than you think, so be nice… and be genuine.
This post is not all-inclusive.
What I mean by all-inclusive is that there are so many resources and tricks for helping you learn to network and master your elevator pitch, and overcome any shyness you may have. Definitely take the time to seek out other resources to help you through the muddled process. These are my favorite online resources:
- American Bar Association
- Harvard Law School (this even has tips on following up!!)
- The Girl’s Guide to Law School
Last minute Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do follow up. Send an email 1-2 days after making a connection and try to maintain that connection. Ask about free time and the potential for a coffee date (not an actual date, but like a quick informational and friendly meet up).
- Don’t write an essay or demand anything. You want to be as polite and formal as possible. Remember, they barely know you, don’t make them hate you immediately.
- Do go to events alone. Introverts tend to use friends as crutches, try not to.
- Don’t get drunk. Seriously, nothing speaks worse about you than being wasted at a business event.
- Do get contact information from people you feel you have clicked with.
- Don’t create a stack of face-less cards. Quantity of business cards means nothing if they can’t put a face to your name or you can’t remember anything about them.