'Networking' is a word that often strikes fear into most trainee solicitors. Entering a room full of strangers to engage in forced conversation is hardly something most people get excited about! However, as a trainee (and throughout your career as a qualified lawyer) you will be required to attend your fair share of networking events in order to drum up business for your firm. Consequently, it's something you're eventually going to have to get comfortable with. Despite common perception, once you have mastered the basics it can be an extremely useful and (dare I say) enjoyable experience!
Here are my 'top tips' to get the most out of networking as a trainee solicitor:
Tip 1 - Be prepared!
The real work begins before you attend a networking event - make sure you find out who is attending. Most networking event organisers will provide you with a list of attendees prior to the event itself should you request this, and this can understandably be very useful. Once you have a list, make a note of any individuals that you think it may be useful for you to speak to. Don't forget, we are living a social media age - therefore it's easy to put a name to a face (LinkedIn, Facebook, Google and Twitter will usually tell you everything, from what they studied at university to the fact they had a summer job in Sainsbury's back in 2007!) Find out what people do that is relevant to your area of law and select two or three individuals to remember, locate and engage with during the event.
(Extra Tip: before you do your LinkedIn research, check your privacy settings - it may inform someone if you've looked at their profile!)
Tip 2 - Entering the room
The worst case scenario is that you have arrived late, people have already sectioned themselves into groups and you end up standing on your own. Don't panic! To avoid this try to arrive relatively early, ideally with a colleague or friend, as this will allow you to create your own group and encourage people to gravitate towards you as they enter the room. Remember, it's okay to simply join a group of people, but read their body language first. Closed Circle of three or more people? Probably avoid. Two people talking at an open angle? Go for it.
(Extra Tip: the ideal handshake is firm and dry!)
Tip 3 - Listen
A lot of people see networking as an opportunity to advertise themselves. Whilst this may be true, don't forget that the main purpose of networking is to make a connection with people. Due to this, a good listening ear is essential. Listening enables you to ask meaningful questions and the quickest way to make a connection with someone is to show a genuine interest in what they do. Asking questions, therefore, is key. Remember, it's okay not to know the intricacies of someone else's job. If someone tells you they are a 'media publications research analyst', it's okay not to know what that is. Ask them to explain - people love to explain what they do!
(Extra Tip: remembering a person's name is so important. Repeat it at least three times to yourself to remember it!)
Tip 4 - Relax
Remember, you are a trainee, not the CEO of a multi-national company. When you start networking at a junior level it can feel more like 'socialising', which is fine. Don't make the mistake of being too formal or discussing work too much. At this stage it is important to just make connections, and often the best way to do this is to steer conversations towards non-work related topics (hobbies, interests, sports etc). This will allow you to plant the seeds of lifelong connections, which may prove fruitful in the years to come.
(Extra Tip: try to avoid unpleasant topics, such as how much traffic you were just in or how hot it is, or how you have a cold).
Tip 5 - Follow up
Maintain the connection by exchanging contact details/ business cards. Add them on LinkedIn, invite them for a coffee, or at the very least acknowledge them at the next networking event!
(Extra Tip: don't be disheartened if you don't get a response - sometimes it's just not meant to be!).
In summary, networking is a skill that every trainee needs in their arsenal, but you will hopefully now see that there is more to it than simply handing out business cards like a blackjack dealer! Relax, be confident and you will own the room in no time.