How to Network when you don’t Know Anyone
No one likes that guy who casually name-drops that his father/ mother/ great aunt Agnes is/was a barrister/ lawyer/ High Court judge/ leader of the free world.
No doubt that we’d all like to be that guy too.
But no matter how hard it appears, it’s still possible to network even if your parents have nothing to do with law and are instead artistic and not so secretly disappointed that you didn’t follow their career into pottery. (In my case, a former architect who was disappointed to learn that I can’t draw).
What’s needed is resourcefulness, a knack for small talk about things other than the weather, and shedding any kind of embarrassment about talking with strangers.
What the hell is networking?
Networking, simply, is building relationships. It’s not asking people for jobs (although that may be an added perk later on) but gaining an insight into what a career may or may not entail. It’s more along the lines of establishing meaningful relationships before you jump headfirst into your first job.
You’re probably already doing it without realising it. Have you spoken to a person from another law school? Told a friend you wanted to get into commercial law?
Networking is valuable because majority of jobs may not be advertised at all, and a referral through a contact can help to get your awesome cover letter and CV to the top of the pile.
Will People Talk to Me?
Most of the people you’re contacting will probably have had a similar experience and usually are happy to chat. Not only that, but you are validating their expertise and life experience by picking their brains.
Ask Everyone (and I mean everyone)
‘But I don’t know any lawyers/barristers/policy makers/law students-turned-baking-entrepreneurs!’, you say.
At first glance, this may seem like the case. Your parents might not have finished high school, don’t speak much English and/or have no idea what a moot is. Or your circle of friends might appear to be as clueless as you are.
But there are simple ways around this.
Your network can include family, friends, former work colleagues, that person you met a party last week, that guy who did little athletics with you when you were five, and so on.
What about the people your parents went to school with? Maybe your brother has a friend working in wills and estates, or your family recently sought conveyancing advice? Or your friend’s-flatmate’s-boyfriend’s-best-friend just got an entry-level job in a small firm?
Your brain, by this stage, should be screaming ‘let me talk to them!’ No matter how tenuous the connection is, anyone can provide valuable advice.
‘But’, I hear you say, ‘I have no interest in wills and estates, conveyancing or small firms’.
By speaking to people outside your areas of interest provides valuable insight. They also went through the same things as you. They probably had to decide whether or not to grab a coffee or study for another hour during uni, what placement to do, what area of law they wanted to pursue, hating or loving constitutional law and so on.
The small circle of people you originally started with has now expanded. These people went to law school (x at least 200 students in their cohort) had professors (who also did law and know their university cohort and have even more contacts through professional experience) leading to even more people working in the law. You get the point.
If you feel nervous, or uncomfortable about contacting complete strangers, you shouldn’t. Are they a fan of the same A-League team as you? Do they know your second uncle Frank? Using these connections and things in common might make it easier to contact a complete stranger.
If you’ve analysed your networks and still come up short, University is another network you can rely on. It might be easier to have your careers advisor contact that barrister you wanted to talk to, rather than an email from yet another law student. Your university would also have an alumni network to pick from, as well as the potential added bonus of being covered for insurance should you do some work experience.
Have a look into networking events, mentoring programs and work experience opportunities organised through your uni.
Always Thank People
The best advice I’ve ever heard about networking (and my life generally) is actually the most simple. Thank everyone. Genuinely.
Even if your conversation didn’t leave you more knowledgeable than before, or it didn’t lead onto another connection, or it was just a brief replied email, they have taken time out of their day to give you advice.
Thanking people also has the added bonus of cementing your relationship and having a greater likelihood of people keeping you in mind should new opportunities come to light.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 13 March 2014.
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