One of the most important parts of the job search for new legal professionals is networking. Making connections with established legal professionals who are willing to reach out to current law students is an invaluable part of making progress toward getting your career started. Students at the Florida State University College of Law have many opportunities to do this including participation in Networking Noshes organized by our Placement Office, checking out local events hosted by the Tallahassee Bar Association, and by attending mixers organized by College of Law student organizations. To get the most out of these events you should be prepared to network efficiently and effectively and the following are some simple tips for those of us for whom networking may not come naturally:
Get Organized: Once you begin networking you should set up a contact record to keep track of the individuals you have met. I recommend setting up an Excel spreadsheet that includes their names, contact information, the networking event where you met, their job/position, and the topics you discussed. Whenever I get a business card from someone, I always write down tidbits of information related to what we spoke about for my spreadsheet. The more information you include in your spreadsheet, the more you will be able to remember about the person, how your conversation went, and what details you may need to relate when you reconnect.
Work the Room: Networking events are sometimes very short and you will want to maximize your time and meet with as many professionals as possible while also making a lasting impression. Spend about five to ten minutes with each person, depending on how your conversation goes, and always be prepared with your “30-second sell”. Your pitch should include your competencies, areas of interest and any other educational or career-oriented information that you would want people to remember. Do not be afraid to ask for tips on entering the area of practice you are interested in pursuing and about the types of things these professionals deal with in their practice. You can even get their perspective on the legal job market both in the city where they practice and in their area of practice if that is important to you. After you have had an opportunity to effectively present yourself and learn something about an individual, politely excuse yourself before moving on to another person. Also, do not forget to get a business card from each person you meet so that you can contact them after the event.
Establish Relationships: The most important reason for making each of these contacts is that you are establishing business relationships. During networking events do not just go through the motions of a conversation and then move on. You should make an effort to get to know and learn a little about each person you speak with. A kind, warm approach is normally well-received and will help you stand out. You should also actively show an interest in the other person and what they have to say. Asking questions, being excited, smiling, and asking for details are good ways to show that you are engaged. Even if you are nervous, be upbeat and friendly and people will respond!
Follow-up: After these events, it is extremely important that you always follow up! If you never follow up with a person you meet, you are effectively cutting off the professional relationship that you established during an event. You should always write, call, or e-mail a thank you to people who give you information, advice, and referrals. If you spoke about something specific, bring it up, or send a copy of an article you may have run across on the topic – it will be very well received and will show your dedication to the relationship.
Networking is extremely fun once you get into it and have the opportunity to put some of these tips into practice. You never know who you may meet or what you may have in common. It is extremely important to make these networking connections because they are an investment in your future. It is not uncommon for College of Law alumni to attend these events and sometimes they are looking for people they may want to hire in the future. Letting yourself shine through, staying organized, and following up on these relationships will give you a leg up on the job search and help you solidify your future.