With the new school year starting, everyone at Legally Katie has switched from all Bar, all the time, to our awesome 1L readers! Last week you heard from Brittany about tips for your first semester. This week I am going share what I wish I knew during my first semester: networking sucks.
You are probably like yeah Katie, duh, because I don’t think I have ever met someone who didn’t dread networking on at least a surface level. But the thing is we also know that networking is so important. It can make the difference between getting hired at a great firm during your 1L summer or spending your time flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant.
So. Keeping these two things in mind, networking sucks but is necessary, here are my tricks for making every networking event more than just bearable.
Stay in Control
Personally, I think the worst part about networking is the small talk. Introduce me to a new person and my intellect drops significantly. If you don’t know anything about the Astros or the latest Blockbuster hits, well… there is going to be a lot of awkward silence. I had to figure out the hard way that not everyone is interested in the same things I am. What I (slowly) figured out is that having a few go to comments or stories on hand before an event is priceless.
You can’t guarantee that you’ll meet an attorney who loves Broadway musicals as much as you do, but you can pretty much guarantee that everyone thinks Chrissy Teigen is awesome, dogs are adorable, and sitting on a beach somewhere is better than whatever you are doing right now. Stay away from touchy topics like politics, global warming, and Trump’s latest scandal. Keep the conversation light when about current events and serious when it comes to your interests in the law and what you could bring to a firm.
Staying prepared with relevant topics can help to limit awkward silences and show you know your stuff. Not only will you feel more comfortable, but others will recognize your confidence and naturally gravitate towards you. This means more opportunities to network and the potential to gain meaningful connections. It is easier to remember a conversation in which you are genuinely invested, so by staying prepared with topics you know something about, there is a better chance of you making a good impression on the right people.
Know Your Limits
If you are anything like me, you are ready to work as soon as the sun rises but are also ready for bed as soon as it sets. During my first semester, I attended a few networking events that were mostly held in the evening. It seemed like later in the day was most convenient for the attending professionals and thus the most natural time to meet up and get to know one another. That’s all great but when you are usually in bed by 10 pm and an event doesn’t start until 8, you probably aren’t giving your A game to that amazing attorney you are chatting with.
Instead of pushing myself to attend late night happy hours and meet-ups, I realized that there is a whole world of morning people who enjoy grabbing coffee and talking over a muffin, just like me! Once I switched to morning and lunch networking, I was able to make so many more meaningful connections. Not only was I awake, but I was more focused and prepared with questions and topics of interest to engage in real conversation.
You may not be a morning person like me, but you can still apply these principles to be an awesome networker. Whenever possible, schedule networking opportunities when you are relaxed but focused. If you enjoy grabbing a nightcap and can hold your own at darts in a bar in Midtown, do that. Any professional taking time out of their day to network with students will be grateful that you are not only there but excited to be there.
No matter what time of day works for you, remember that things come up and sometimes you just reach your limit and networking isn’t in the cards. When this happens, don’t feel bad about staying home to rest and recoup. Your 1L year is arguably the most important of your law school career. Don’t push yourself to network and potentially miss or lose out on a great opportunity, because you were not at your best.
Ask for Help
Attorneys don’t expect you to know everything as a 1L. This was something I really struggled with during my first semester. As a perfectionist, I really wanted to put my best foot forward in every situation. But the thing is, that’s just impossible when it comes to law.
When in doubt, ask for help. Whether attending a conference you know little to nothing about or working around a schedule that is completely foreign, your legal colleagues present a wealth of knowledge. You may not know anything at Trademarks, but your new BFF could be a total beast at TESS (shoutout to my BFF, Lara!). Know your stuff but rely on your classmates when you just aren’t sure.
Sticking with a buddy during networking means you will have someone to bounce ideas off of and also someone to help fill in those awkward lulls in the conversation. Even if you don’t know the person well, surface level commonalities can make you feel that much more comfortable and make your networking that much more meaningful.
Keep these three networking tips in mind next time you are asked to meet with alumni and professionals. Most schools will have their first scheduled event within the next couple of weeks, so stay on the lookout. Networking sucks, but don’t miss out on an amazing opportunity because you feel a little out of place. Stay in control, know your limits, and ask for help so you can make the most out of your first semester.