“You should network.” It probably ranks somewhere between “build your personal brand” and “start contributing 10 percent of your income to a 401(k) at age 22” among the things career experts tell us, presumably for our own good, that often just result in making us feel bad or inadequate. (There’s also, “Don’t borrow too much money for law school,” but that’s another column.)
But I can’t argue that building a network isn’t important. In thinking about how much I dread networking, I realized that virtually every job I’ve had in the past 15 years has resulted, at least in part, from the intervention of someone I knew—in other words, someone in my network. I hate it when career experts are right.
Here’s the thing: Networking conjures images of awkward speed-dating events and informational interviews, of superficial chitchat and elevator pitches. Those sound like things only reality TV stars would excel at. But that’s making networking way too complicated and intimidating. In fact, let’s not even call it “networking.” Let’s call it “generally being friendly to people.” See how folksy and easy that sounds? So here are three tips for generally being friendly to people:
1. Ask people about themselves
When you meet new people, whether volunteering at a pro bono event or attending your school’s networking event, ask them about themselves. Don’t be intrusive, but be friendly. Inquire whether they’re from this city originally, what led them here, or how they got into their current career. People are much more than their title or what they can do for you and, if you treat them that way, they’ll be much more inclined to help you.
2. Let people get to know you.
Law school is a competitive, stressful environment that emphasizes grades and rankings. And as law students with laser-like focus, it’s easy to lose perspective and think those things represent who you are. But you’re not your grades or your school. Those are, maybe, informative, but when I meet with law students and young lawyers, I’m much more likely to remember people who have genuine personalities apart from that. There are thousands of people who went to Harvard. But how many people have a dream to create a (possibly first ever) realistic lawyer TV drama?
3. Offer to help people when you can.
Does it so happen that your high school job was doing office work for a TV producer you still keep in contact with? Offer to make an introduction for your TV-dreamer friend. If you don’t have anything to offer but your time, offer it to the pro bono project your new contact runs. Going out of your way for others generates good feeling that often results in opportunities coming your way.
If you follow these three tips every day, your network is guaranteed to grow. And, hopefully, you won’t even have to think about networking.