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Bar News - February 18, 2015

Opinion: A New Lawyer’s Guide to Networking, Job-Nabbing and General Brown-Nosing


Speaking in public, and to strangers, is one of mankind’s greatest phobias, and I’ve seen the prescriptions of Ativan to prove it. Not everyone is at ease chatting.

For many, networking is a dirty word invoking images of awkward conversations had by awkward people about awkward subjects while trying to awkwardly juggle awkward finger food. “Networking” often is such a self-serving endeavor that it is uncomfortable for all involved.

You need to have a goal when networking, but the goal shouldn’t be to get a job, land an interview or meet 100 people in 60 minutes. How about trying to make a friend? Finding one person with whom you have something weird in common? Finding someone with a problem you can solve? An attitude of servitude makes all the difference.

Pay attention

First, consider your state of mind. Too often, we approach our daily lives mindlessly. We approach most moments without considering how we’ll approach them. We just go to work. We just go out with friends. We just do a lot of things.

But life is not a Nike commercial. It’s important to always put your best self forward. Doing that means recognizing that you have a best self and acting like the kind of person other people want to be around. This may be simple advice, but it isn’t stupid advice. It also isn’t often followed, which is why those who follow it stand out and succeed.

Gee, you look nice

Carefully select your wardrobe - always. Better to be overdressed than underdressed. This doesn’t mean you dress formally for what will clearly be a casual event. Just don’t dress super casual. Think about what your particular “look” communicates.

Refuse the booze

Unless you’re Peter O’Toole, don’t drink at a networking event. Don’t have a drink beforehand to loosen up. If you must drink, stay away from hard liquor and have a single drink. Alcohol, while widely believed it to be a mood enhancer, is actually a depressant.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Prepare your script. Think of a couple of interesting stories to tell; stories that have been well received, not new ones. You’ll need two basic scripts, an all-about-you script or elevator speech and a general conversation script. These are not verbatim, memorized Broadway scripts. You just need a general understanding of what you’ll talk about, not the exact words.

For the general conversation script, read the day’s important news stories before heading to any event. Avoid the opinion sections. A networking event is not usually the place to have opinions. Pay attention to those stories with the most human appeal, the type that people will want to repeat. With every repetition, you are remembered.

The “about you” speech comes after the question, “So, what do you do?” In America, this means discuss your job, your work. In Europe, in actually means discuss your life, your family, or your real passions. Regardless of geography, your answer should highlight what you can do, have done and will do for others, not what you want others to do for you.

Ask open-ended questions. If the other person does most of the talking, when you leave, she will believe you are as smart as she thinks she is. Later, you can find out if there are jobs on the firm’s website.

And then...

After the event, be sure to follow up. If you promised to send someone an article, do it right away. If you didn’t, but someone mentioned a subject he loves, send an article. If you want to find out about a job, send a handwritten note reciting how nice it was to have met him and that you found his advice to be very thought-provoking and you’d love it if he could spare the time for a cup of coffee next week. Most importantly, end the note saying when you’ll call to make the appointment. When you call (do not email or text), to get past his gatekeeper, say that Mr. Important is expecting your call. It’s true; it was in your note.

When you meet for coffee, that’s the time to be open about needing work. Be honest about what you’re looking for and ask if he can think of three people you should talk to for advice about your hunt. When you call those three people, you can say that Mr. Important told you to call. It’s true.

Still scared?

If you are still uncertain about your game plan, bring a friend and turn the whole thing into a game. Compete to find the most interesting person, judged based on a comparison of anecdotes afterwards. See who can use the word “boondoggle” in the most conversations. Don’t see who can get the most business cards. Networking well is about quality not quantity.

It really just boils down to the Golden Rule. Practice it and be conscious of the needs and perceptions of others, and you’ll succeed.

Kirk Simoneau

Kirk Simoneau is a partner at the Manchester firm of Nixon Vogelman Barry Slawsky and Simoneau. He is a graduate of the NH Bar Association Leadership Academy and a member of the NHBA New Lawyers Committee.

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