I think many people feel apprehensive about networking because it can be an awkward situation. Perhaps it’s with a group you barely know; you feel weird about wanting to find leads on jobs; fearing awkward silence if you can’t think of something to talk about; or the worst– when you get iced out of a conversation when a third party joins the conversation. I can go on and on about how much I used to dislike networking. For those that don’t have a natural tact for networking it can seem overwhelming and confusing, especially when you’re still a student.
As a student everyone is yelling at you to “network!” But what does that even mean? For a long time I felt completely disconnected from the idea of networking because it just didn’t make sense to me. You mean, I’m supposed to go and talk to a bunch of well-to-do attorneys and somehow that will land me a job?! Does not compute. And on the surface, I was somewhat correct. You don’t get jobs by attending a ton of events and making small talk with almost-strangers.
So then, what’s the point of these events? For me, networking finally started making sense when I stopped seeing it as “networking” and realized this was just the preferred method of building a professional community. Once I realized networking was just another way to connect with people, the weirdness and awkwardness went away. Finally.
If you’re a student who’s starting to attend more networking events or are just trying to get over the awkwardness a lot of us feel with these events, the main question you have to ask yourself is what is your goal in attending this event? While many people’s goal is to find a job, you can’t walk into these events handing our your resume, sorry to say. Accomplishing the goal of finding employment through networking will require a little more finessing.
Instead focus on these three goals that may increase your chances of landing the job you want:
One. Build a personal connection. The big problem a lot of us have is that after the networking event we fail to follow through and communicate with the people we connected with. If someone at an event is interesting to you, does work you’re interested in doing, ask for their card, and then contact them soon after. A quick email re-introducing yourself will help keep you in that person’s periphery. And if you’re really invested in that practice of law then follow-up to ask for a lunch/coffee date to learn more about what the person does. I would say this is actually the hardest part of networking, but the work you put in can come back ten-fold if you really make an effort to connect with the right people.
Two. Increase your professional circle. I love attending events that are for Latina lawyers or with my law school. It’s a much more relaxed atmosphere. At Latina lawyer events, I’m with like-minded people. At my law school, I’m with friends. It’s great. But I have to make a real effort to attend other events that I know won’t be as fun. The reason to go beyond my “comfort zone” is because networking is actually pretty segregated. As much as I wish it were true, Latina lawyers and new law school grads are not at the top of the hiring totem pole (yet). So, it makes sense to expand my networking circle to include people with which I may not always interact. Additionally, as a student when you attend networking events where you may not know many people, you’re opening up yourself to meeting new people (i.e. new connections) and will learn about other areas of law that may interest you.
Three. Practice that self-promotion. I know, this topic, again? But it’s so true! Last week, I read a social media page that showed a survey result that said some women didn’t negotiate their salary because they didn’t want to come off as pushy. And one of the comments said that they should just try to be happy with what they were given. ::insert look of horror:: Girlfriends, that’s not how we gain power. So yeah, being comfortable in promoting yourself and just being able to talk about the good work you do is paramount. I’ll admit it’s not easy. At a recent event I started talking about Latinas Uprising and the work of this site. An endeavor of which I’m very proud. And yet, I became so self-conscious and embarrassed to talk about work I do, that I was worried I was having super premature hot-flash because suddenly I was burning up in that room. I probably looked like a freak. But I know that next time it’ll be easier to talk up the site and the work. It just takes practice. So work on talking about the work you do and the successes you’ve achieved so that it becomes second-nature. Not only will that make you a more interesting person at networking events, but when it comes time to talk about your achievements at interviews you’ll have plenty of practice under your belt.