Job seekers will agree that one piece of advice they often receive is to “network, network, network.” But in the midst of a job search (and, let’s face it, multiple other obligations competing for your time), it can be daunting to set aside a single moment for something that is not necessarily tied to a job opening. Nevertheless, Travis Usher, Recruitment Consultant at ZSA, emphasizes that “networking is a paramount feature of a professional career.”
Lana Driscoll, Senior Recruitment Consultant at ZSA, adds that we need to reframe traditional notions of what it means to “network”. “Networking is not just about getting a new job,” says Driscoll. “It is about building relationships with individuals who, hopefully, will be part of your circle throughout your career.”
Whether you’re looking to strengthen your network, or simply don’t know where to begin, here are 5 tips from our consultants on how to build and enrich your network:
1. The right time is now.
Networking is not something you tuck away and revive only when you are looking to make a professional move. “Networking should be a part of your day-to-day life,” says Driscoll.
“Most of us lie somewhere on a spectrum between ‘actively looking’ and ‘not considering any opportunities’,” says Usher. “While your approach to networking will vary depending on where you lie on this spectrum, networking is an important feature of your career.”
2. Reach out directly.
If you are actively in search of a new opportunity, Usher suggests that your definition of “networking” should go beyond industry events and cocktail parties.
“The most effective approach is a direct one,” says Usher. “Reach out to individuals at firms or organizations whom you admire, respect, or could envision working for, and ask them for career advice.” This is one way to get the conversation started, and provide you with insight on how you might go from your current role to your desired position.
3. Get out of your comfort zone.
In Usher’s experience, most lawyers are happy to help when asked for career advice. Still, some means of communication may be more effective than others. While e-mailing is one way to connect, Usher suggests making a phone call when reaching out.
“It is easy to send an e-mail – but also to ignore and delete it, “Usher states. “While it can be nerve-wracking to cold-call people, true networking will mean getting out of your comfort zone. Introduce yourself, briefly explain your story, and inquire whether the person on the other end of the line might have time for a quick coffee or a more substantive phone call down the road to share some career advice. This is a much more effective approach than simply blasting off a dozen generic e-mails.”
4. DON’T ask for a job.
If you are looking for a new role, Usher states that your goal should be to start a conversation with individuals who you see yourself working with. “Use that conversation to begin to build a rapport, and ultimately to add a connection that is on your side and invested in your success,” says Usher.
“The goal at first blush should not be to dazzle the person on the other end of the phone into giving you a job,” Usher emphasizes.
5. Nurture your connections.
It took time to build your network – so don’t forget to nurture it! Maintaining your connections is just as important as building them in the first place. Driscoll suggests that a great starting point for this is to adopt an approach that says “how can I help my network” rather than “how can my network help me.”
The legal profession relies on relationships. Practicing the skills required to grow your network will benefit you both in your legal practice and your professional development. Starting with even a few small steps now will help you to become a relationship-building guru – and provide you with access to a rich network when you need it most.