In this economy, it is important to use all job search methods. Even after sending out resumes and cover letters in response to job postings or targeted towards specific law firms and judges, it may be that law students and alums are getting little response. Networking has always been a crucial tool in a job search for a legal job but it is even more important these days.
What is networking? Networking means establishing contacts and building relationships for career development. Networking gives you a chance to get in on opportunities earlier than others, not because you have asked someone for a job, but because you have told your network of contacts of your interests and goals and those contacts let you know of possible job openings.
So, what are the best ways to effectively network?
First, start with the people you know - friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. Although they might not have a job for you, they may know other people who will have a potential opportunity. Contacting a friend of a friend to discuss your career development and aspirations is much less intimidating than reaching out to a complete stranger. Tell everyone you know and meet of your interests and that you are looking for advice and information.
Second, join bar associations, student organizations and other professional groups. Volunteer. Put yourself in situations where you will have a chance to strike up a conversation with someone who does what you would eventually like to do. Networking in this manner does not require a boisterous, outgoing personality. You can network effectively by just listening thoughtfully and taking a sincere interest in others.
Third, if you are intimidated by the prospect of networking, try to remember that you are asking for advice, not for a job. In this way, you are not putting people on the spot. Rather you are exploring your options, gathering advice and researching the job market - all of which set the groundwork for positioning yourself in the right place for when a job oppportunity comes along.
Fourth, don't be discouraged or take it personally if someone is unresponsive. Try someone esle. Most people like to talk about what they do and are flattered to be asked for assistance and advice with your job search.
Fifth, follow up with people you have met. The sooner you reach out after your initial meeting, the more likely that person will remember you and keep you in mind when they learn of an opportunity that might be of interest to you.
Sixth, don't forget that networking is a two way street. If someone gives you a lead to either another contact person or potential job opportunity remember to thank them and let them know how things turn out. Determine what you can do for the people in your network - you don't want to be the person people hear from only when you want something.
Lastly, once you start networking, be sure to keep track of your efforts. Devise a system for organizing your network contacts and keep it updated.
Networking is an ongoing endeavor. Continue to network even after you have found a job. You never know when you might need your network contacts again.