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How to Ace a Networking Event and Build a Great Network

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By:  Katie Schellenger, J.D., Director of Legal Professions Advising

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Networking is a word that can strike fear in the hearts of many; others are energized by the thought of meeting new people.  At the end of the day, that’s all that networking is: building a network of new people.  The hope, of course, is that the individuals in your network will – at some point – be able to help you: with a job opportunity, by introducing you to another helpful connection, with a service they provide, or by hiring you to represent them.  As the old adage goes, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.”

Why, then, are so many people intimidated by the idea of networking?  Many feel that approaching individuals and asking them for something is uncomfortable.  And they’re right, it can be.  If you approach networking as the opportunity to simply ask for a job, you are likely to be met with disappointment.  Instead, you should think of networking as the opportunity to meet and connect with others on some level.  In many ways, it’s like a date.  Once that connection is made, the doors of opportunity open; not only does asking for assistance becomes much easier, but the responses you receive are likely to be more positive.   Below are some tips on how to successfully approach a networking event: 

1.     Research: you should know your audience.  Are most of the individuals attending the event lawyers?  If so, are they litigators?  Are they in-house attorneys?  Do they do transactional work?  Are they from a certain geographic area?  Are they alumni of a certain institution?  If you’re able to obtain a list of the attendees ahead of time, that can be even more helpful.

2.     Plan ahead: how are you going to present yourself?  Based on your audience, think about the characteristics you’d like to highlight in your conversations: it may be your interest in a particular field of law, or simply the fact that you’re planning to attend law school.  Be ready to work the facts you’d like to convey about yourself into your conversation.

3.     Look sharp: you should dress appropriately for the event; if it’s a business networking event, you will likely want to dress in a suit or in business casual attire.  If you’re not certain about the dress code, ask ahead of time.

4.     Smile!  This is the most important part: smile and be approachable.  Introduce yourself to others and find common ground: if you’re speaking with an alumnus of Franklin & Marshall, that’s a great place to start.  Maybe you share a hometown?  Maybe they follow the same sports teams you do.  Making a personal connection is the surest way to build a lasting contact.

5.     Take notes: after the event, jot down some quick notes to yourself about the people with whom you spoke and what you talked about.  If they’ve provided you with a business card, jot your notes down on the back of each card, which will help you to remember who each person is.  This will make following up – the next step – much simpler.

6.     Follow up: someone you’ve met at an event does not become a true part of your network unless you cultivate and maintain that contact.  To do that, reach out to the contacts you’ve made after the event: let them know how much you enjoyed the conversation.  Mention something you discussed so they can remember who you are.   If you are looking for a specific opportunity – like a summer internship – the follow-up email may be a good place to let your new contact know what you are seeking and to ask if they have any leads.   After that initial follow-up, stay in touch with your contacts!  Keep them periodically updated on what you are doing.

With these tips in mind, networking becomes much less intimidating: it’s simply about meeting people and building relationships.  The business opportunities you seek will flow from there.

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