Networking. No matter how you tweet ‘em up, link ‘em out or face ‘em down, if you are not professionally networking on a regular basis, you are clearly committing career suicide. And, let’s not leave out the importance of the old-fashioned, rarely done, one-on-one, face-to-face, in-person meeting, the one where you busted your budget by purchasing the latest designer jeans with built-in dirt and precise structured torn knees for the discounted price of $469.00 so that you can send the message that yes, you can and do fit in with the oh—so-influential-wanna-be-Melrose crowd.
There's no such thing as accidental networking. Networking is a mission. When you're headed to a function to meet and greet people who can further your career, you have a strong sense of Purpose. Even a chance meeting can provide a networking opportunity.
Once you discover that new acquaintances have professional power, you instantaneously decide to make the meeting worthwhile. There's no real secret to it. Most people, myself included, hate to admit we network because then we reveal we're actually using the world's greatest career-building trick. Maybe we think it smacks of cheating. You know you do it; I know you do it; others know you do it; and you read that you're supposed to do it, but somehow you deny you're doing it. I mean, only the etiquette-challenged would introduce themselves by saying, "Hi, I'm Jane. I'm here to network." Yikes.
How you network can make all the difference in your career success. If you want to get ahead, your networking skills have to be sharp, savvy and yes, leveraged in such a way to propel you forward. Smart networking allows you to gain promotions, be considered as a great candidate for a new job or considered spots in the public eye such as speaking and writing engagements or holding association positions.
When given a choice, people will always do business with people they know or with a person highly recommended by a valued and trusted member of their network. The benefits to networking are endless but you have to be good at it. Really, really good. Great networking improves your ROI on:
- Friendship benefits: You’ll make new professional friends that can last for a lifetime.
- Receiving and giving advice: You can get viewed as an expert.
- Opportunities: Whether you garner upward career mobility or are making a move, employers want people who are highly recommended from others in like or supervisory positions. Your network can give you that.
- Assistance on the job: You have somewhere to go for assistance, suggestions, referrals and even have someone covering your back or giving you a heads-up when you goof.
- Positive influence: You become who you associate with.
Here are five strong tips for successful networking:
1. Create a great profile on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is your biggest advantage for entry into good, solid networking. It has become the winning social media tool for career networking. Whether you are trying to grow your reach, find content or explore opportunities, this virtual meeting vehicle is the first and last stop for many professionals. The latest trend is for employers to seek out your LinkedIn profile at the same time they are reviewing your resume. Potential contacts who can give you career help will also check you out first on LinkedIn.
One of the biggest mistakes is to assume that LinkedIn is only worthwhile if you are pursuing a new job. Not so. It gives legitimacy to your current position. You may network with someone who will look up your LinkedIn profile to find out more about the professional you. However, you will generate no interest without a stimulating summary. LinkedIn is not a playback of your resume. To attract contacts, you’ll need to demonstrate your personality, take on the legal business world and show your worldliness. If you want to be taken seriously, you cannot go without a full and professionally written LinkedIn profile. An attention-grabbing profile will help you attract networking contacts. These are contacts that can help leverage your career. It’s not the volume of contacts, either. It’s the quality.
Here’s an example: Personally, I have almost 16,000 contacts. I don't know if this is a lot or not. It's what I have. I reach into my network frequently for all kinds of reasons. Here are people who help refer me to others for questions, articles, resources, candidates, employers, referrals. I receive requests for speaking engagements, make friends, do business, and more. Shoot. Someone called me in Los Angeles at 7:00 pm from Washington DC in a panic the other day. They needed a temporary litigation support paralegal in Denver. Could I help? Sure! I was able to reach into my network and find someone within 15 minutes of receiving the call. I hope I made a business acquaintance. It wasn’t about making money.
- Go to association meetings, seminars and get-togethers.
I’ve met the greatest people and made life-long friends. It’s one thing to join your association. It’s another to understand the networking advantages it brings. Face-to-face encounters render far longer benefits than an occasional email to someone you have never met. People tend to remember you. What will you learn from association networking? What’s happening in your community, new techniques, where the jobs are, the latest software, what firm is doing what (maybe even yours), information you can take back to management, salaries, and important trends. It’s a great way to stay current, uncover “hot buttons” in your practice specialty and who knows? You might even have a little fun.
- Don’t alienate every recruiter who calls.
Networking needs to include recruiters. Connect with them. They are invaluable. They hold the key to hundreds of contacts: HR, managing partners, CEO’s, COOs, VP’s, supervisors, in-house legal counsel, legal service providers, colleagues, managers and more. They know salaries, firms, trends, and in particular, where the field is headed. In fact, they often know if your firm is in trouble before you do. Why? They know who is bailing and most importantly, why.
Don’t be so smug if a recruiter contacts you about a new position. I can’t tell you how many times people ignore the call or treat the recruiter abysmally only to wake up a few weeks later to find their firm is merging or otherwise purging. Then what? Do you know where to go? You think back. “Oh! I’ll call that recruiter who called me about that job.” Right. Try calling them back after you have snubbed them. Most likely, they won’t even take the call.
- Network with colleagues in your firm.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to neglect to network within their own firm.
If you're able to build rapport with hiring authorities at your firm, you can be the first to find out about forthcoming internal promotions and strategically position yourself for growth. You can be first in line for a promotion, new position, head-up a department by hearing about it first. You can capture someone’s ear. For example, what if you like to write? Suddenly you’re the person in charge of the firm’s newsletter because you were networked with the appropriate personnel.
Similarly, you may discover the firm is opening a new satellite office in your dream destination, and if you're connected with the right person, you could get a head start on applying for the transfer.
Who do you know? Some of the most important people to connect with are the conduits to the power in your firm. That is, someone who can speak for your job category. Be sure to always network with colleagues, partners, associates, managers. You’ll get noticed. Hanging out alone in your office or cubicle will not move you up the ladder. One of the most difficult positions to find its way to a promotion is the paralegal. You have to create your own opportunity. Networking is the most vital tool you can have.
- Don’t ignore the benefits of networking.
You can benefit as your contacts develop. Continuing to build new relationships and nurture existing contacts can be hugely beneficial to you as members of your network grow into the next phases of their career. As they grow, they will continue to help you out – and vice versa. The higher they grow, the more beneficial they are to you. Sound callas? Not really. Everyone helps everyone out. You'll help others, they'll help you.
The key is to keep your networking process going without needing to ask for anything in return. Show genuine interest in other people and their hopes, wants, dreams and desires. Ask questions they'd be excited to answer. Listen carefully and you'll have surrounded yourself with a circle of people who would not only be willing but excited to help take your career to the next level. That’s what networking is all about.
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing; President & Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals and CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute. She has written 10 books on legal careers and hundreds of articles. Chere has been written up in national publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib and Newsweek. She is a former paralegal administrator in two major law firms, co-founding member of the International Practice Management Association, an exec in a $5 billion corporation and a national seminar leader. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. ©Chere B. Estrin2017