Issues · Legal Practice

Learning to Love Networking

The number one piece of advice all students receive to help land a job is to network. I’ve spoken before how unnatural networking has felt for me. It’s awkward and weird and it feels odd to try to make superficial connections just in case one day in the future they can help me. It feels icky.

I think for many this runs counter to how we normally tend to socialize—in fact there are many articles on what women do wrong while networking that tries to shame us from doing what comes naturally to us.  FYI, I just googled “things men do wrong while networking” and one (1!) article appeared….

Anyway, I used to be really apprehensive about going to these events and making connections, but eventually I forced myself to interact more and that eventually resulted into feeling more open about networking opportunities overall.

From Hate to Love
So what did I do?  At first, I decided to focus on a really specific demographics of people I wanted to know and become friends with on a professional level (gasp, I know, friendship + networking is supposedly forbidden).  I made the decision to go to events that had the same types of people (often the same people) so that I could form a connection with like-minded professionals. This may mean you go to young professional events, women’s bar association events, or to your local Latino Lawyer’s Bar group—whatever community you want to build.  The reason I decided to be so narrowly focused was because I knew I’d more comfortable approaching like-minded people, and that with enough encounters it wouldn’t feel like awkward small talk. After enough events, I felt like I made large strides and gained enough networking experience within those groups that I didn’t feel hesitant to try networking with different groups.

Then I had to learn to get over feeling “fake.” Maybe it depends on the community you group up in but where I’m from there’s a stigma with not being genuine.  And I felt so F-ing fake going to network events making awkward small talk about things that did not matter to me. I was faking being genuine and I hated it. And let’s be real right here—it is super awkward to talk to say, a 50+ year old white man at these events because there is like 2 things we have in common—we went to law school and practice law. Basically.  So it feels forced when I’m trying to make small talk with someone so different from me just because it is difficult to find real commonality.

But then I realized that I needed to fake it and make the effort to bridge the gap if I wanted to make real strides in my career; meaning, I needed to learn to communicate with groups of people that have no connection with me and learn to do it professionally, amicably, and successfully—even if it didn’t feel natural. I’ll be honest, sometimes I feel like I’m doing a bit when I’m talking to coworkers because we have so little in common, but I think that’s just a side-effect of being a minority in the legal profession and it’s something we have to learn to manage.

Finally, I made it a point to attend networking events when I didn’t “need” a job as a way to take the stress off of being desperate to find a connection that would result in a job lead. If you’re still job searching that’s not so easy, but if you’re at a job—don’t get too comfy.  Make sure you get other and let yourself be known in the areas where you want to build a system of support.  You’ll gain real connections with people that will result in real support.
How did you overcome the awkwardness of networking?

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