Career Planning: Building Your Professional Network

Career Planning: Building Your Professional Network

 Building Your Professional Network is part of our ongoing Career Planning Series with Ron Fox, Esq

Now that you have focused on the type of position you are seeking, you will be able to provide clear guidance to those who want to help you. But setting your goals, writing a resume, and having many acquaintances is not going to automatically lead to a job unless you are extremely lucky. You must take positive action to ensure that those in your field who need help find out about your availability.

Research continues by keeping up with new developments via professional journals and other legal publications. Many include advertisements for openings and while you know by now that very few appropriate positions are found by responding to an ad, read through them, even outdated ones, to familiarize yourself with the job descriptions, duties and responsibilities. Periodicals will also provide you with the names of those who work in this field and those who write about new developments. Of course, a small percentage of graduating students do find jobs through ads. It also serves to remind you that organizations which do what you want to do, do hire.

From your informational interviewing and your research you have compiled a list of many individuals and organizations and numerous places where you might like to work. Unfortunately, however, you do not know of any openings.

What you have to do next has been described in many ways, including networking and self-advocacy. Continuing the marketing analogy, it might be called promotion. Whatever term is used, the reality is that you have to work with and through people and make them aware of your qualifications, competence, and commitment.

Keep in mind the difference between marketing and sales. When Honda advertises, it is not selling a specific vehicle to a specific person, but simply making consumers aware of the name and the product's strong points so they will go to a Honda showroom where the sales approach is used. Similarly, as you make contact in person, in writing and over the phone, your aim is for them to remember you, your strengths, and your interests. Not until you respond to a call informing you about an opening will you be in a situation where you can "sell'' yourself.

Review the list you have compiled. Which ones would be "warm" contacts; i.e., lawyers more likely to respond to your outreach? There may only be three or four. I recommend sending them an email - about 3-4 paragraphs; i.e., why you are writing to that person, your background and interest in his or her field, and a request for 15-20 minutes in person or over the phone to ask advice on courses to take, books to read, associations to join and other lawyers to contact) DO NOT ask about an opening and DO NOT, until requested, include a resume.

If you are successful and do have the opportunity to meet, remember that the objective is to make the interviewer aware of your qualifications, background, commitment to the area, and availability. Ask about other people and organizations to contact, worthwhile courses and related professional groups to join. Leave your resume and request it be passed along if he or she comes across anyone who might be interested or may need help. In rare cases, the interviewer will realize how much he or she needs help only because of the talk with you and make you an immediate offer.

In addition to the many full-time positions out there, there are many additional employers who could use your help, but are unwilling or unable to assume the responsibility for another full-time employee. If you are prepared to accept a position working 20-25 hours a week, mention your interest in part-time employment. Such a position could lead to full-time work. Two such positions could be the same as full-time work for you as an independent contractor.

Building Your Professional Network is part of a ten part Career Planning Series.

Previous installments include:

Understanding Career Planning

Evaluating Experience and Skills

Narrowing Your Options

Finding Your Area of Practice Preference

Is Solo Practice Right for You?

How to Search for a Satisfying Position

Packaging Yourself

The "Six Bullet" Resume

Researching Potential Employers

Ronald W. Fox is the principal of Career Planning for Lawyers.  Since 1990, he has provided individual guidance to law students and lawyers in transition helping them search for and locate positions consistent with their personal values and their professional goals.