August 15, 2014
When networking first seek to provide value to the person with whom you are networking. Then help people help you by being specific about what you want, what you offer, and how they might help.
1) Provide value
People are busy. Make yourself attractive by providing ideas to the person with whom you want to meet. Consider ideas to help build their practice such as topics they can write or speak about that is interesting or timely, including Congressional, judicial, or regulatory developments that may affect their practice. Also, consider ideas that can benefit their clients, partners, firm, associates, etc. Perhaps, depending on how well you know the person, you can help by providing gift ideas for their assistant, their kids, their spouse, etc.
2) Be specific about your agenda upfront
For best results, you will likely find it is important to talk less and listen more at these meetings. For the few words you do speak, however, it will be helpful to state specifically what you are looking for or why you called the meeting even if you think it is obvious. Proceeding in this way helps you both stay on track and focused on the stated goal.
Sometimes, the meeting is purely informational for the purpose of learning more about what it is like to practice a certain kind of law in a certain type of environment. If that is the case, say so and be clear about your objective and what you would like to learn.
If you are looking for job, be clear about the opportunity for which you are looking. You may not want to be so aggressive by disclosing that you would take a job working with that person at his or her firm but you can certainly articulate the characteristics of your dream job (notwithstanding the obvious similarities). Would you like to work at a firm? If so, what size? What practice area? What niche within the practice area? Where is the firm located? What is the ideal ratio of partners to associates? Try to be concise and methodical about your aspirational position. And stay on point; state your top priorities (even if you would settle for something else) so the person with whom you meet is clear about your preferences and can try to help directly or refer you to someone who may be helpful.
3) Be specific about what you offer
Even if you are only looking for information, it is possible that the person with whom you are meeting will be in a position to refer you. Don’t rely on them to sell you or read your resume. Be prepared for this possibility by giving them your canned elevator speech. Your two minutes should cover what makes you unique or otherwise qualified for what you want. Be succinct. If they want or need more details or paper, they will ask. So, forget about giving someone a writing sample or even your resume. Have the materials handy in case you are asked but it is probably more helpful for the person to have an electronic copy of your resume.
4) Be specific about how they might help. Consider making three “asks”:
a) Back to your agenda item. If you seek information on a practice area or a legal job environment, ask questions which you think will be helpful or, better yet, ask them what information they think would be most useful for you to know. If you seek assistance in obtaining a job, be direct in how you think they can help. Some examples: (i) they could provide you advice about steps you should take; (ii) they could send your resume around to decision makers at their firm, (iii) they could connect you with a particular person or legal employer whom you know they know, etc.
b) Keep in touch. May I keep you posted regarding my progress? If you receive a lukewarm response, there is your answer. If not, you have kept the door open for future contact. If you receive an invitation to keep in touch, that would be a reasonable time to offer to send an electronic version of your resume.
c) Other contacts. Could you provide the names and contact information of two people whom you think would be helpful for me to meet? It does not hurt to ask and usually you will get at least one name (and they will likely offer to send an e-mail connecting you to the person which would be ideal). Obtaining additional contacts can dull the pain of a dud networking meeting. Perhaps one of the person’s contacts is the one that will offer you the job!