Let’s not get hung up on the word “network.”
Because let’s face it: Lawyers and so many others have a negative reaction to the concept of networking. Often, it’s due to a misunderstanding of what networking is. It’s not a cynical attempt to make false connections with people to extract some benefit from them. Instead, think of it how it’s supposed to work in practice and in the context of your broader life. At its core, life is all about building genuine relationships and connecting with real people over shared interests.
Whether in your personal life or for your professional ambitions, connecting with people is at the heart of both.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s focus on the fact that the people in your orbit, and those whom you can bring into it, can be key in helping you, and you them, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not transactional, it’s relational, and all about making real connections. This is also why, in the professional world, relationships often lead to opportunity. People like to help people they know, and even more so if they consider themselves friends. So it’s time to strengthen your existing relationships and also find new ones, which ideally will be fulfilling for, and benefit, both of you. Here we lay out a framework for you to view your world of personal connection, which can tie back to both your personal and professional life.
Your Personal Network in a Nutshell
Your personal network consists of three types of people. First, the people you already know, which includes the ones you’re in frequent touch with all the way to those ones you’ve sort of lost touch with. If you knew them at one time, you know them. Second, the people you know of but don’t actually know, as in you haven’t met them or otherwise connected with them before. How do you know the people in this category? Generally, these are people you know by association, such as fellow undergrad or law school alumni, law firm alumni, people who are members of the same professional or civic organization as you. Because of your common connection, these people are more likely to be receptive to any outreach from you, and are more likely to help you. Third, there’s the new people whom you have yet to meet; that’s right–good old-fashioned strangers. All three groups should be part of your networking strategy.
People You Know
Whether you realize it or not, your existing network is probably quite large. It includes all of the people you know personally from childhood, undergrad and law school, your past jobs, your activities and hobbies, your past and present neighborhoods, parents at your kids’ school, your service providers (doctors, hair stylists, etc.), people you see regularly in your neighborhood, at the gym and other places, and people from every other aspect of your past and present life.
People You Know By Association
Your network also includes people you may not personally know yet but with whom you share an acknowledged association or commonality (alumni from your schools, members of your bar associations, members of your religious institution, etc.) When you’re searching for a job, you should take advantage of your schools’ alumni networks and directories. Most big law firms now also have active alumni organizations; you should use these resources to identify people you want to meet. Other organizations (religious, athletic, avocational) are also excellent vehicles for networking, as most members share common values or interests and are often willing to help each other.
New People You Can Meet
Once you are in a networking mindset, it’s easier than you might expect to expand your existing network. Take advantage of every opportunity to meet and talk to new people – in line at the store, waiting at the DMV, attending a CLE program, etc. Join industry groups and professional associations, and attend their meetings and events. You never know who you might meet and where the conversation might go. When you meet new people, ask a lot of questions, and talk about your career interests and goals. If you meet someone with whom you connect particularly well, ask for that person’s business card, and follow up with an email or an invitation for coffee or lunch.
Keep Track of Your Network
Keep good records of the people you meet and the interactions that you have – there’s no point building a network of contacts if you’re going to forget them afterward and fail to follow up. True relationship-building takes time, patience and persistence.
But meeting people and having positive, engaging interactions is how it all starts. And you know a lot more people than you realize who you can make a genuine personal and professional connection with, which will help you in both spheres of your life.