Casting your net
15 December 2008
Securing that vital training contract or pupillage in a shrinking graduate market can be frightening the competition is becoming fiercer and the chances of landing that dream job in law are diminishing. So lets get positive and help you to beat the opposition.
When you decide it is time to start your career, your search can take you in seven directions:
1. Using the internet.
2. Mailing cold at random.
3. Answering ads in journals.
4. Answering newspaper ads.
5. Going to recruitment agencies.
6. Asking for job leads from friends, family etc.
7. Attending events that have a business flavour.
My advice is to focus primarily on the last two options, because these are people you either know or you will meet face-to-face. This is what that awful and frightening word networking means. Do you know that you have been networking since you strung your first sentence together? It is simply the process of building relationships, and every relationship you have ever built has three fundamental steps: know, like and trust. As soon as you join a firm you will be told you need to network, even as a trainee, so why not start now?
Phone a friend
Your friends and family hopefully know, like
and trust you and so will want to help. Start by creating three lists:
First list your strengths, positive personality traits and skills. You do not need to brag, but neither do you need to be too modest.
Then list everyone who you think may want to help you and tell them that you are in the job market.
Finally, list which firms you would like to work for. Be as specific as possible, but ensure you do your research before adding the name to your list. Is it to be local, national or international? If you have a particular interest, does that firm specialise in that area?
Then ask your friends and family, past colleagues and gym mates: Please can you help me? Do you know anyone at these organisations? If so, please can you introduce me? This is much more likely to succeed than putting your energies into numbers 1-5.
Ask around five of these people to be on your board of advisers. You need people who are willing to give up their time and make calls or send emails on your behalf. These should be people of influence or people who have been around a bit like me. Keep asking the question: Who do I know?, and keep asking it until you find what you are looking for. Ask for nagging rights. If you are given them, keep asking, but do check regularly that it is okay for you to remind them.
So many young people say: Im going to do this career stuff on my own, I dont need parental intervention. Im independent, dont want to use the old boys network or be accused of nepotism. Rubbish, I say. No partner is going to employ you just because your dad is their bridge partner or they are your mums friends next-door neighbour. All that is happening here is that you are increasing your chance of an interview, which is a much greater chance than responding to an ad or using an agency.
Showing your face
Events with a business flavour could include drinks parties, dinners or sports events organised by potential employers, or even law fairs. You may even consider asking some of those friends and family members to take you along to some of their business events. Do your research and find out where lawyers go; then hang out there if you can. Get yourself known, raise your visibility and start selling yourself.
By attending more events more people will get to know you, but the key to success is getting people to like you. At the end of the day, if your academic qualifications are similar to your rivals, the one who is liked the most wins the prize, it is as simple as that. What do we have to do to get people to like us? When we meet people for the first time we have to S.H.I.N.E.
Smile the greatest tool in your relationship-building toolbox.
Handshake. Ensure it is firm, but not too firm.
I contact. (Yes, I know it begins with an e, but SHENE did not work.) As you shake hands, ensure you always look the other person in the eye.
Name. Yes, I know you think you forget names within a millisecond. But you do not forget, you just do not hear it. Why? Because you are not listening as you are too concerned about making a good impression. People will like you far more when you use and remember their names. As they say it, listen carefully and repeat it. If you do not hear it because they say it too quickly or it is noisy, simply ask them to repeat it.
Enthusiasm, energy and engagement. When you are enthusiastic about meeting someone, show some energy and engage in the proper manner. You will create that all-important first impression, which will ensure your relationship gets off to a great start.
Apart from shining, what else do you need to do to get people to like you? You need to ask good questions and listen carefully. Good networkers spend far more time being interested rather than being interesting. Let the other person do most of the talking, be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves.
The core principle of building relationships is about being generous and having a giving spirit. The greatest gift you can give to anyone at an event is your time and genuine attention to what they are saying.
Voices in our heads
I have worked with thousands of professionals, including many senior partners in major law firms, and around 99 per cent admit they are somewhere between anxious through to petrified of networking. So if that is you, you are normal.
When you walk into a room full of strangers at a networking event, do you ever start off having solo conversations that go something like this?
"How am I going to break the ice, because I dont know anyone, do I?"
"Ive no right to be in front of all those people. Im too junior to represent the firm Nobodys going to talk to me"
"What if Im asked something and I dont know the answer?"
"How do I move away from the boring village idiot?"
"People just arent going to take me seriously"
The majority of people have these thoughts simply because we all have two key fears in our lives: the fear of rejection and the fear of failure. Fear is a made-up word it is really an acronym representing the phrase false expectations appearing real. The above fears represent false expectations, because most people who attend business events are friendly, personable and welcoming. Yes, there will be a tiny proportion of rude people those who decide you are not important enough and start looking around the room for more significant people than you. Do not let this small minority get to you. They are not worth giving a second thought to. You do not want to be building relationships with these rude, ignorant people anyway, so excuse yourself and find the nice people who deserve your company.
Change the script
When you walk into the room, it is time to change your thinking.
"Yes, Im a little nervous, but I guess so are most other people"
"Im going to be a great asset to the firm I work for"
"Im going to be friendly, courteous and polite; that way people will like me quickly"
"If I pretend to act like a host, my confidence is going to build. For example, Im going to talk to people who I see standing on their own and introduce them to others when its time to move on"
"Its a business event, so everyone is here to meet new contacts Im going to spend more time being interested by asking questions rather than talking too much about myself"
"Im going to positively look for potential opportunities and follow them up"
"If at the end of the day all else fails, Im just going to have to fake it til I make it"
But why should you fail? Fail at what exactly? It is not an examination and you are not the defendant in a trial being judged. It is just a group of people, most of whom will be polite, friendly and welcoming. Focus on them and enjoy your networking.
Following up opportunities
When you ask the right questions and listen carefully, someone will say something that makes you think, Aha, theres an opportunity here. That should signal the start of your follow-up process. What would someone say
to you to get into this position?
"We could be looking for someone like you"
"I know someone whos looking for"
"My brother is a partner at"
"I could have a word with my firm for you"
"We may need someone in the summer for a few weeks"
"These are all what we call the Aha moment. "
If you spot an opportunity you must follow it up; you want that training contract, dont you? Otherwise, why did you attend the event?
It is at this point you should think, Business card. Have you been giving them out? Did you make sure you had lots with you? These considerations are important, but the most important aspect of cards is to ask for the other persons.
Why? To show interest in the other person. To remind you of the persons name if you have forgotten it. To know how to get in touch with your new contact. On todays cards there is so much information to enable you to contact them phone numbers, email and website for starters.
In a casual manner, simply ask for their card if you plan to follow up. Read it carefully, asking a question or making a comment about it. Ask (where appropriate) if you can contact the person on a specific day a few days later to continue the conversation to find out more information and arrange a meeting. Write down the agreed day on the back of their card so they see it. This helps remind you, shows you are organised and professional and, most of all, that they should expect your call.
Ask which is the best number to contact them on. When you have created a great impression they will often give you their mobile or direct-dial number a true indicator that they would be happy to hear from you. Straight after the event write on the card where and when you met and any important facts they told you. Keep and file all cards carefully you never know when you might need that person.
When you return home record the date you need to call them and start to research where relevant. When you meet someone at an event and you create a good impression, they start to like you. If they like you they will want to help you, so always make that call. You never know what it could lead to that training contract at your dream firm, perhaps?
Will Kintish is the founder of networking training company Kintish