It is highly likely that your next job opportunity will arise either from your friends or from business contacts, so networking (i.e. building personal relationships) is so important for your job hunt. For a lot of junior solicitors (and older ones for that matter), networking can be daunting and a bit scary. I can assure you that it is something that gets easier with practice and, if you follow the tips below, can be so effective in helping you to find your next job or your training contract.
So, to get the most out of your networking meetings, I would suggest the following: –
1. Tailor which events you go to. It may not be prudent to focus on traditional “networking” events, like BNI, for your job hunt. Whilst there is likely to be at least one solicitor there, they will be focused on increasing their client base and are unlikely to want to talk to other solicitors, about job hunting or anything else! Instead, I would aim for events where most of the attendees will be solicitors, such as lectures run by your local law school or accountancy firm, or social events run by your local Junior Lawyers Division group. At these sort of events, the attending solicitors will be more relaxed and more focused on socialising, so, in turn, will be more open to discussing job opportunities and how they will be able to help you.
2. Dress to impress. No matter what type of event you go to, ALWAYS dress smart and focus on your appearance. Make an effort to wear a suit or business dress. Men – polish your shoes and have a shave. Women – keep jewellery simple and don’t overdo the make-up! When you first arrive, visit the bathroom to make sure that you still look smart after travelling.
3. Get there early. If there is a schedule to stick to, you may find that you don’t have enough time to talk to everyone that you would have liked to. Being punctual also makes a good impression and leaves you free to chat with the other early arrivals. This is particularly helpful if you are nervous, as it will settle your nerves to break the ice in a more casual manner. I have often found that my most effective networking and best business relationships have developed from contacts that I have spoken to before the networking officially started.
4. Listen 80% and talk 20%. Networking should always be interactive, but in general, others would rather talk than listen. Therefore, initially at least, give them your full attention. Listening builds trust and says “I care about you”. Take care to listen carefully to everything they say and ask questions that demonstrate that you have heard them.
5. If you get point 4 right, most people will, at some point, inevitably ask you about yourself and what you do. When that happens, take twenty seconds (not twenty minutes) to reply. Be focused and tell them exactly what you do and what help you are looking for. For example: “I am currently finishing my Legal Practice Course and am hoping to specialise in employment law when I qualify. I’m here today to expand my network and meet other solicitors in the area. Ideally, I am looking for contacts who can help me to find opportunities to obtain a training contract and offer me advice”.
6. In general, when asking for help, it is better to be indirect than direct. For example, most people will clam up if you ask them “can you give me the names of some of your friends?” but will be more open to respond to “who else do you think I should be talking to?”/”do you have any advice for me?”/”are there any local groups that you think I should get in touch with?”/”what would you do if you were me?”. These questions are far less threatening and will often elicit a response that gives you a name or contact details for someone who can help. It is important at this stage to ask for information only – don’t ask them directly for a job! This will come across as pushy and will make them less likely to want to help. When someone does help, offer them something in return if you can – e.g. the name of another contact that may help them, or advice on a project they have discussed with you.
7. Be optimistic and upbeat. If you are having fun, they will have fun. And if they’re having fun talking to you, they will be more likely to want to help you.
8. The follow-up. Ask for a business card from every person that you interact with so that you have their contact details.
After the event, ALWAYS contact everyone that you made a connection with, either by email or phone. Thank them for their time, tell them what you are going to do/have done with their advice and let them know that you enjoyed interacting with them.