Drinking, Job Searches, Small Law Firms

Size Matters: How To Network Without Getting Wasted

It is hardly shocking that a woman who chooses to operate under a pseudonym is an introvert. If left to my own devices, I would stay at home watching television and looking out my window. I am talking Boo Radley here.

Unfortunately, momma’s got to earn the money to pay the cable bill, so I must force myself out into the world. Oh, and momma needs a new job, so I have to do the single most painful thing a girl like me must do. No, not hook. I must… NETWORK.

In the past, when attending networking events, I would bring a friend, get drunk on cheap chardonnay, and leave without speaking to anyone new. That is apparently the wrong way to network. So, recently, I decided to really put myself out there: I have started attending networking events (well, at least one networking event) alone. I got there late, hung alone in the corner awkwardly playing with my phone, drank cheap chardonnay, and left without speaking to anyone new. Alas, it was time for me to ask for help…

Luckily for me, I did not have to search far for advice on networking. There are thousands of listicles about how to network. Most of them were useless (e.g., they suggested foregoing chardonnay), and most were geared towards people who did not consider “fear of public speaking” as a scarier thing than death. (Yes, I am one of those people.) Thanks to my LinkedIn news suggestions, I discovered a subset of networking articles geared towards introverts. The advice was earth-shattering….

Here are some of my favorite tips:

First, from an expert at Forbes:

1. Set a goal.

Rather than aimlessly go to a networking event, go with a purpose. Determine before setting foot in the joint how many people you wish to speak with or how many cards you wish to get. And, do not let yourself out of there until you complete the task. This advice seemed revolutionary: many introverts I know have a fear of failure equal to or greater than their fear of crowds. So, instilling a specific goal seemed genius. (Of course, if the introvert is unable to get the number of cards he set as a goal, he will likely have an even more disastrous experience than if he merely failed to network — but as they say, no risk no reward.)

2. Don’t overdose.

Like most Americans, I always assumed more was better. I would go to every possible networking event I could find in a month and then I would not go back for six months. I had the same attitude toward networking events as I did with gym visits. According to Forbes, consistency is key. It is better to go to fewer events and do so regularly. Apparently only two or three a month is enough!

3. Choose wisely.

It never struck me that I should attend networking events that interested me. So, I went to “networking for lawyers,” “networking for young professionals,” “young professionals happy hour,” “lawyers happy hour,” “business professionals happy hour,” etc. I do not really like young professionals, business professionals, or most lawyers, but I thought that those were the right events. Apparently, they were the wrong ones. I would be better off going to a whittling meetup or needlepoint circle (if I actually had interests and those were them). Consider this: “if you go to a seminar you’re interested in, you will not only be excited to go, but you will have gained something even if you leave with a single business card.” Mindblowing, right?

4. Be prompt.

Aim to be one of the first people to the event. That way there are fewer people there and you have an easier time of finding someone to speak with, without having to fight for the attention of a large group. And, we know nothing could be more intimidating for us introverts.

5. Don’t linger.

You do not want to be stuck in a conversation past the point of having things to say. Also, you do not want to be the last person at the event. So, pick up on natural breaks in conversation to hand out your card and make an exit. And, after you have met your goal of getting x business cards, get the heck out of dodge.

Next, from Lisa Petrilli writing for Harvard Business Review:

7. Prepare.

This means not only coming up with talking points and answers to commonly asked questions. Quick, tell me what you do in a way that does not make me sad or bored. Go! Now that you have done that initial legwork, you should also attempt to determine who will be attending the event. Often, rsvp lists are public. Try using social networking sites to make contact with a few people before going to the event. According to Petrilli, “this pre-introduction leads to a more relaxed and productive in-person connection. By reaching out, you open the door to potentially rewarding business collaborations, and you do so on your own terms.”

Finally, some homespun wisdom I have gained out there on the mean streets (by which I mean the ballroom of many Doubletree hotels):

8. Limit yourself to two drinks.

There is nothing worse than a sloppy networker. While it may make you think that you are looser and more capable of interacting with strangers, you are wrong. Odds are you will say something inappropriate, fail to respect personal space, or misstate facts. “A friend” got a little tipsy at a networking event and convinced the head of litigation at a Biglaw firm that she had trained her dog to use a litter box and could do the same for the partner’s multipoo. Don’t trust me on this? Consider the gospel of Patti Stanger: “if you f*** with tequila, you get babies.” While doing it at a networking event may be one way to ensure that you get a business card of someone new, it is hardly a sustainable professional development tactic.

9. Take advantage of friends and family.

When I have done networking in the past, I only thought about reaching out to people I knew in a professional capacity. Recently, I reached out to contacts that I was introduced to through personal connections. The result was much more useful. Last week I had a conversation with a contact of my father’s who felt compelled to try to help me because he miraculously liked my dad. While I did have to hold my tongue when the man went on and on about my dad (he clearly did not know about the softball incident of 1991), it turned out to be a fruitful conversation.

10. Put away your phone/blackberry.

I am guilty of “answering important emails” during networking events instead of speaking to strangers. Not only does it defeat the purpose of going to networking events, but it also looks lame. You are not convincing the other attendees that you are super-important. You are at “Metal Shop For Lonely Lawyers,” after all.

So, my silent ones, take these tips and get out there — at least three times next month. We all know that networking is important to professional development. Hopefully, these tips can make it more bearable.

And, for my SF peeps, I am starting a small-firm introverts networking group. Email me if interested. This way we can go to events together and hang around awkwardly.

When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at Valerie.L.Katz@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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