Cultivate Career Opportunities by Investing in Your Professional Network
By Rebekah Hanley
Assistant Dean for Career Planning and Professional Development
Networking is a key component of professional development. It can also be intimidating. But it shouldn’t be. You have extensive experience with it. Really, you’ve been networking all your life, since your first trip to a community playground or first day at elementary school. Now, as a law student or professional, you need to enhance your skills and systemize your networking to make it work for you professionally. Here are some ideas to help you gather new contacts and put those connections to use.
Cast a wide net. UO Law classmates and alumni will be helpful resources throughout your career. But especially in a tough job market, you need to reach out farther as you develop your professional network. My professional network includes people I have met through my children’s schools; while volunteering for philanthropic organizations; and during walks through my neighborhood. It includes high school friends I have known for decades as well as lawyers and non-lawyers I have met this month. Make an effort to start a conversation with someone you don’t already know every day. You never know how a new acquaintance might help you professionally.
Building and maintaining a network takes effort, but it can also be fun. Note that the word network includes “work.” Keeping records of your emails, phone calls, and in-person conversations is helpful. Being persistent with follow-up takes discipline. But don’t lose sight of the genuine pleasure you can find while engaging in this aspect of your professional development; what you call socializing, I call networking. So RSVP yes, and discover that networking can really be netplaying. Alumni tailgate? Absolutely. Bar association golf tournament? Count me in. Frohnmayer Award Dinner? See you there. Joining professional associations and attending conferences may not seem quite as entertaining, but all of those organizations and events include social components and benefits.
Make the most of every opportunity. Attending the right events is just the first step. Once you are there, approach people and engage them in conversations. Exchange business cards. Ask them to introduce you to others at the event or to share the names of their colleagues who like to offer career guidance to lawyers who are just starting out. Even better, arrange to volunteer at the event; I’ve heard several stories of students and new lawyers landing jobs while greeting participants or assisting speakers with technology at a conference.
Ask for help. Many aspiring lawyers are hesitant to ask for favors, and therefore don’t do it. That’s a mistake. Be assertive, and let others know what you need. Asking makes you look motivated and ambitious. Most people are more than willing to assist others; give them that opportunity by asking for help.
Use social media wisely. Many students and alumni use LinkedIn as a professional networking tool and Facebook as a social networking tool. Be careful. Your friends are professional contacts, too. The comments and photographs you share with friends online reflect on your judgment. Consider Facebook to be your electronic resume; don’t post anything there you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see.
Don’t rely exclusively on electronic communication. Some lawyers do not use text messaging or even email. Some have Facebook pages that they rarely – if ever – check. Know your audience. In reaching out to established lawyers, telephone and in-person contact are often the best ways to connect.
Students, start now. Lawyers love to talk to law students. They like to share their law school stories and to offer career advice. When you reach out to established professionals in our field, prepare to listen. You can learn a lot from their experience. You can also lay the groundwork for a long-lasting mentoring relationship.