Virtual Networking Tips
Social distancing doesn't have to mean social isolation. With work-from-home and stay-at-home orders still in effect in many places, it is more important than ever that we continue to connect with people and build relationships with intention. While there may not be receptions and social events happening, use this "downtime" to expand your network with other law students and lawyers through 1:1 virtual coffees, digital hangouts, and social media. This applies to both people who are actively looking for jobs and for those that already have jobs. Many of the same traditional networking rules apply to virtual networking, but I would argue that virtual networking can be even more impactful as long as you're intentional. Effective virtual networking takes time, effort, and preparation. Remember: When you work on your network, your network works for you.
1. Make a list of people you want to connect with. LinkedIn is a good place to start for research. Why are you reaching out to this particular person? Are they practicing the area of law you want to practice or learn more about? Are they doing something (professionally or personally) that piques your interest? Be clear on why you want to connect. Be strategic, intentional, and authentic. Network with people more senior and more junior, and your peers. Consider a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, industries, and thoughts. Don't be afraid to think big! Why not create a global network? In the digital age and during COVID times, there's no reason to limit yourself by geography.
- Focus on quality over quantity - strive to meet at least 2 new people a week to start with.
- Law students: While looking externally and reaching out to lawyers in the community is a great way to build your network, don't forget your classmates, deans, and professors. I challenge you to get to know at least one new person and your professor from each course. Consider making yearly (or as appropriate) check-in appointments with your dean. You will thank yourself later.
2. Send a thoughtful, personalized message. Always conduct your due diligence on the person and their work, so you can be specific and tailor your message accordingly. Are they on social media? Did they recently publish a paper or speak at an event? Did you go to the same school? Do you have a common interest or mutual connection? Tell the person why you’re reaching out and what you hope to gain from the interaction – be succinct and to the point. Be respectful of their time. Always ask if the person is open to speaking with you – don’t assume it’s a yes. Once they’re open to a meeting, ask for their availability or suggest a few times and dates – as the asker, you’re working around their availability. Use 30 minutes as the default time, unless discussed otherwise.
- If you have a mutual connection, consider asking that mutual connection to introduce you two. But do not be afraid of cold emails/messages - as long as the outreach is intentional and thoughtful, it can be very effective. It may be daunting at first to reach out to complete strangers but this is your career, so get in the driver's seat as quickly as you can. If you're nervous, do it anyway. Power through the discomfort in a way that works for you. Like with anything, the more you do it, the better you'll get.
- Check, double check, and triple check that you're spelling the person's name correctly. It sounds profoundly basic, but you'd be surprised at how few people take this extra step. First impressions may not be everything, but they are important.
- Be respectful, but don't be overly formal when addressing someone (i.e., addressing me as Ms. Chopra is not necessary). As the default, address them by their first name (unless you're contacting a professor, judge, etc.). Also, unless you know otherwise, don’t assume that someone uses a commonly known nickname (i.e., if their name is Robert, don’t assume they go by Rob or Bob – address them as Robert at first). Pay attention to how they sign their name on the email.
3. Research before your meeting. Prepare a list of specific questions for your meeting so you can keep the conversation focused and get the most out of it. Have a few general questions on hand in case the conversation does not flow. Remember: most people want to help, but help them help you by doing your homework.
1. Use video chat if that's a possibility. This is the best way to mimic a real-life meeting. Don't forget to dress appropriately.
2. Be mindful of the time. Keep track of the time during the meeting. Stay focused, and don’t check your phone for anything else but the time – the person in front of you or on the call should be the most important person at that moment.
3. Consider creating an end-of-the-conversation rhythm to avoid any awkwardness. Wrap up the conversation with a considerate statement like “I want to be mindful of your time and want to end with one last question” or something along those lines. At the end, consider asking if there are any other people they’d recommend speaking with. You can also ask whether they have any resources, podcasts, websites, books, etc. that they’d recommend. Don’t be afraid to share your own finds that may be of value to them. If someone volunteers to make an introduction for you – take it seriously. Relationships are assets, and they’re expending that finite social capital on you.
1. Always, always follow up. Follow up with a thank you note soon after the meeting. Follow up again after you’ve implemented their advice, and let them know how it worked out for you, if applicable. Follow up to keep them posted on how things are going. Stay engaged with what they're working on. Think about how you can be of service. Can you connect them to someone you know that's working on something similar? Following up is crucial to building a relationship – be intentional, be helpful, be curious, and be genuine.
2. Add the person on LinkedIn with a quick note. Adding a note personalizes the request and helps you to remember how you two connected later on. Unless you have a personal relationship with them, don't add them on other social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram, particularly if they're private accounts.
3. Keep a running list of all the recommended resources, books, etc. and all the feedback you receive. Create a spreadsheet or use an automated contact management program for your network so you can reference the list later. Attaching keywords to each contact and/or interaction can be an effective cataloging tool. If it’s helpful, set reminders for yourself to follow up.
NOTE: This is a stressful time for everyone - don't take unresponsiveness personal. Everyone is fighting their own battles right now, so be respectful and understanding.