Today, the art of conversation has changed with the use of technology and our ability to text, instant message, or upload a story to Instagram. The idea of going to an event that requires some level of face-to-face networking is daunting — and a bit of a foreign concept to those of us who interact through our phones more than in person (i.e., us Millennials). It’s truly awkward and uncomfortable to walk up to a stranger and say hi, but to engage in a full conversation with someone more senior than you is scary and pushes us way outside our comfort zone.
Young associates, however, need to embrace the act of networking because the connections you make are the ones that will help you in your career in the long run. While you may feel like you have nothing to add to a conversation so early in your career, consider that the people you are meeting were once where you are now and have a plethora of knowledge they are more than willing to share with you. These new connections you will make are likely to become your mentors and sponsors, future clients or coworkers, and potential collaborators for writing and speaking engagements.
Make New Friends
To start network, begin with baby steps and work within your comfort zone:
The next step is to branch out and join associations and diversity groups. You don’t have to be in a specific diverse category to go to a diversity event, allies are often welcomed, too. Yes, it will be scary but you just have to go. It’s an interesting way to meet people, and people will want to talk to you because they are curious about your interest in the group or cause and your (possible) connection to that.
How to Navigate a Networking Event
Go into any networking situation with a rough game plan. There is no need to stay the entire time, but plan on staying at least an hour and talking to a set number of people — set yourself a goal. What do you want to get out of this event? Prepare your elevator pitch and have a few questions ready to ask that will start a conversation, whether about work or personal interests, so that you feel fully prepared. Follow these pointers when you arrive:
After the event, connect with the people you met on LinkedIn and start building a rapport with them. Send them a small note and initiate next steps with them, whether that’s simply staying in touch or engaging them on a project you want to work with them on in the future.
An Eye Toward the Future
At any stage of your career, you never know the direction your career path will take you, so building your connections will be paramount to your success. Having an internal champion in your firm will help you make internal moves into that sexy practice you are dying to join or act as your advocate when partnership comes up. If you decide to go in-house, often your first move will be at mid-level and are often through people you know or lawyers you have worked with on the other side. Or in the event you choose to leave law practice to explore teaching, banking, consulting, or recruiting, a network of people who know you and your work product will be helpful for you in making these types of moves and industry introductions.
Business is all about interacting with people no matter the business you are in. Push out of your comfort zone and start getting to know others in and out of the industry. The benefits will be endless.