As a law student in this day and age, it’s inevitable that you have had the following word engrained in your conscience: networking. Whether it’s your family wary of the legal job market, practicing attorneys attending events at your law school, or your career advisors doing their job, you have (or will) be consistently reminded of this infamous word and how important it is. So you have probably been told the why, the where, and the when of networking, but have you learned of the what and the how?
Let’s pull back the curtain and start with the what. What is “networking”? Merriam-Webster defines it as “the exchange of information or services among individuals” and more specifically “the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” While this is a great definition, you’re likely unsurprised and unimpressed by reading this. Also, reading a definition won’t make it any easier for you “to network,” so allow me to conceptualize it: networking is simply “cultivating relationships.” It’s not begging partners for an interview, it’s not selling yourself in an elevator pitch so someone will look at your résumé, and it’s not soliciting strangers with emails; but rather, it’s cultivating relationships.
Start with Yourself
Know Your Personality
Before you begin your networking endeavors, start by making yourself as presentable and networkable as possible. First, if you don’t already know, it is helpful to take a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (these can be searched for online). The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator consists of 16 distinct personality types which illustrate a person’s psychological preferences when interacting with others. Other than having a better understanding of yourself and your tendencies, knowing your personality type will greatly help your ability to network because it can show you which kind of events or mediums you will be most comfortable. When you’re comfortable, networking becomes easier and more effective. Most relevant, is the extrovert/introvert distinction to see which settings you prefer. For example, extroverts will likely flourish at larger social events and gathering whereas introverts will prefer one-on-one interaction. There are other personality tests available online such as DISC and StrengthFinders, to name a few.
Have a Professional Online Presence
Second, it’s very important that you have a professional online presence. This includes cleaning up your act (if it needs such cleaning) on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. But most importantly, this entails having an up-to-date, polished LinkedIn account. In the year 2015, any person who is serious about networking in the 21st century would be foolish not to have a strong LinkedIn account. If you don’t already know, LinkedIn is a professional social network site which allows job seekers (the vast majority of law students) and employers to view each other’s credentials. Think of it as a less intrusive way of you presenting your résumé since it’s far from shameless solicitation but is just a mean to cultivate a relationship. But why use LinkedIn instead of a paper résumé? Well, for practical reasons, it can’t get lost, you don’t have to carry it around with you, and it’s readily searchable, like being part of a limitless virtual résumé book. Next, you can put as much information on your LinkedIn account as you want. The truth of the matter is that no legal employer will read your résumé if it’s more than a page long (with the exception of older, second career students). Last and most importantly for networking, your LinkedIn—and not your résumé (I hope)—has a picture of you! Imagine all the people you’ve met only once and had a short conversation with; can you readily picture their face when you see only their name? Probably not. Now imagine this scenario from the perspective of legal employers with whom you’ll network with; do you think they’ll remember you simply from seeing your name on a résumé? Of course not! LinkedIn, of its many uses, can be used to aid the memory of whom you’re networking with so you don’t become an amorphous being sending emails or making phone calls. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” An employer seeing you rather than your résumé will not only remind him or her of your credentials, but it will instantly humanize you and allow for that relationship to cultivate.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s imperative that whenever you think of the elusive, catch-all term “networking” you think more specifically about “cultivating relationships.” This series of blogposts focuses on tips and advice to law students, from a law student. I hope to encourage you to cultivate relationships and become champions of networking while I destruct the concept into more specific and tangible practices rather than the prevalent “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Chidi Madu worked as a summer intern in 2015. Chidi is a rising 2L at the University of North Carolina School of Law pursuing a certificate in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Prior to Lawyers Mutual, he interned at Fortune 100 insurance companies, humanitarian aid organizations, and government legal practices.