Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Networking 101 - Before the Event

You are going to a networking reception hosted by a local bar association.  Or you are attending a panel discussion at the law school which is followed by a cocktail reception.  Or you were invited to a local bar association's holiday party as a student member.  These are all great opportunities to meet people and develop relationships that will serve you well in your current job search and throughout your professional career.

But if you are anything like us, going to an event where you have to actively talk to strangers who you know nothing about makes you wish instead that you were at the dentist having a root canal - without anesthesia!  Before you schedule emergency dental surgery, hear us out - it's not so bad.  Like anything else, for most people, networking takes practice.  Once you do it a couple of times, it will start coming naturally to you.  

But first things first - we are not talking about networking where you ask for a job - please do not do that.  Nothing will make the person you are talking to run for the door more than having the first words out of your mouth be "Can you get me a job?"  Instead, think of networking as making professional friends - the operative word being "professional."  Just as your personal friends can recommend restaurants or movies that you may like, the professional contacts you make can refer you to opportunities that you did not even know existed.

So, how do you make these professional connections?  One of the ways to do so is to attend an event that will attract the types of people that you would like to meet.  In this series of posts we'll discuss quick tips to help you make the most of these events.  This first installment is all about what to do before the event to help you make connections when you get there.

  • Find an Event That Interests You:  Attend events where the topic is something you are interested in, whether it is an area of law you want to practice in, an employer you want to work for, or a speaker you want to meet, etc.   This will ensure that you have something in common with the other attendees to be able to start a conversation.

  • Prepare an Introduction:  Before you go, prepare and practice an 8-10 second introduction of yourself until you are comfortable with it but do not sound rehearsed.  Your introduction should tell the person you are meeting who you are and end with an open ended question to begin the conversation.  For example, "Hi, I'm Jane Doe and I'm an electrical engineering student at State University.  What did you think of about the presenter's point about electrical circuits?"  Also, prepare an exit strategy to extricate yourself from a conversation (but more on this in the next installment!).

  • Do Some Quick Research:  Do quick research on the topic of the event and/or the organization sponsoring the event, such as any recent developments in that area of law or any news headlines that the organization has been mentioned in.  We're not talking about research for a 60 page law journal article - just brief research to know enough that you can discuss these things intelligently if they come up in conversation.  In a similar vein, be aware of current events as they are frequently conversation topics (as an aside - you should be doing this anyway as a professional!).  Preparing ahead of time will help avoid any awkward pauses in conversation, but be careful to avoid any controversial topics.

  • Set a Goal:  Know what you want to accomplish by going to the event, whether it is to get more information about the practice area, a particular company, or to speak to the presenter.  And then try to accomplish it while there.  Having a goal will help you focus your energy on something productive.

  • Have a Good Attitude:  If you think of going to the event in a negative manner, then that attitude will carry over to the event.  If you think it is going to be a waste of time going in, then it will be a waste of time for you.

Look out for the next installment in this series, where we'll discuss what to do when you get to the networking event!