by Elise Gelwicks Powers, Founder of Eleview Consulting
Elise has specialized in making communication skills and emotional intelligence concrete and actionable for over a decade. In founding Eleview Consulting, she interviewed hundreds of executives and partners to understand what the top-performing professionals are doing differently than everyone else. This research and insight are the foundation of the firm’s programming. Eleview Consulting trains associates and partners at the world’s leading law firms on effective communication, emotional intelligence, and relationship-building skills. Elise has been featured in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and ABC News. She is LinkedIn Learning’s leading expert on career acceleration and networking.
The thought of starting to network as you explore new professional opportunities can feel overwhelming at best, nauseating at worst. In fact, research from Harvard in 2014 found that when people think about networking they develop a sudden affinity for personal cleansing products such as toothpaste and hand sanitizer. It makes us feel physically dirty. Why? Because many of us feel like we’re using another person (whether that other person knows it or not).
A mindset shift is required if you want to land the most highly coveted jobs in the legal industry. The most effective job searches leverage relationships to learn what opportunities exist and to increase the likelihood of consideration.
There are three key principles for successfully networking your way into a new law firm position:
1. Build Relationships BEFORE You Need Them
Ideally, you’ll start networking before you’re desperate for a job. Think of your professional network like a rainy day bank account. You wouldn’t start saving when an emergency expense pops up. You save before you need the money so it’s waiting and ready for you. This also applies to your professional network. If you wait to reach out to people until you need that new job, people will feel used.
Invest in professional relationships early and often. Attend industry events, take clients out to lunch, and initiate coffee with an old classmate from law school. Add value to the people you meet by making introductions and sending interesting, relevant articles. This build trust and goodwill. You can’t predict who will be able to help you when you’re on the job hunt so build a diverse spectrum of relationships over time.
2. Ask for Advice, Not a Job
There’s an old adage in the startup fundraising world of “If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money.” When a founder is seeking investors, they start by asking potential funders for advice. The money follows. When networking, don’t put people on the spot by asking for a job. Instead, seek out their perspective on their career path and firm culture. This makes both of you feel less pressure going into a conversation and makes the discussion more organic.
If you have a 30-minute call scheduled with someone at a firm you’re interested in, use the first 28 minutes to hear about the firm dynamics and the work they do. Then, at the very end, express your interest based on what they told you. Transition to the “ask” with “Everything you’ve told me has reinforced my enthusiasm about this firm. What do you recommend I do if I want to best position myself for an open opportunity?” The magic of this question is that it feels genuine, it allows the other person to put themselves in your shoes, and it gently encourages them to offer to help you.
3. Stay In Touch
Relationships are built over time through regular, ongoing communication. A one-time interaction with someone is a transaction and is unlikely to be fruitful or meaningful. With the competing priorities and constant distraction we all face, your networking efforts will be more impactful and less time intensive when you take a methodical approach to staying in touch. Try creating a spreadsheet to keep track of the people you meet and a few notes about your discussion. Proactively set a calendar reminder to follow-up in a few months if you haven’t already reconnected.
A record of the people in your network also allows you to easily update key people on your progress. The benefit is two-fold. First, your network feels invested in your job search because they know about the recent developments. People who feel invested in your success are more likely to advocate for you. Second, you create opportunities to stay top-of-mind in case opportunities have popped up at their firms since your last conversation. Aim to send an update to your key professional contacts every six weeks.
A solid professional network creates an army of advocates. These are the people who will do an internal referral, connect you directly with the hiring manager, and give you the inside scoop on which groups are hiring. The value of these relationships will payoff long-term, well beyond your current job search. And, if you apply the three strategies listed above, you want even feel the urge for hand sanitizer.