By Megan Lutes Everyone says, “network, network, network.” But what does that mean? When I began my career, it essentially meant driving downtown, paying for parking, buying an attorney coffee, and listening to them talk about their career for 30 minutes, then thanking them as they wished me luck in the job market and went on their way.
As with any skill, there is a technique, an “Art and Science” to networking. Networking is not just about meeting people it’s about maximizing the meeting and maintaining the contacts. Keep in mind your ultimate goal -- to build a strong network of people who can vouch for you, recommend you, support you, from whom you can learn and on whom you can lean. You can consult your network for information, inspiration, and knowledge. And if you’re worth your salt, they will do the same with you!
A few general sentiments:
1) Do not network if you have neither the time nor the capacity to make a good impression. Meeting an influential person in your industry and leaving a bad impression is far worse than not meeting them at all.
“It is better to not network at all, then to network poorly.”
2) Provide direction -- be specific in asking for what you need and/or stating your purpose. Many people want to help, but don’t know how. A piece of this is understanding your own goals. Are you seeking another name/referral with whom to network? Are you wanting to educate them on what you do? Maybe you want to raise awareness about your services so they will call on you in the future. Do not reach out to someone and say, “Can we meet?” Consider exactly why you wish to meet with them? A good example is, “I would love to meet for 30 minutes to gain insights around whether moving in-house from a law firm is the right direction for me.” Or, “I would appreciate any insights you may have regarding ABC company and their corporate culture.” Or perhaps, “X thought we would make a great connection because we both care about diversity, equity, and inclusion and as such, may share some potential partnership opportunities.”
3) Do your homework. Whether you are searching for a job, a referral source, or making a connection for your business, enter the call with basic knowledge about the person with whom you are speaking.
4) Treat a professional networking meeting as you would a job interview or business meeting. Send a calendar invite with a subject reminding them who you are and the purpose of the meeting. Show up on time. Do not check your watch, cell phone, or emails during the call, especially if on video.
5) Follow-up to maintain and nurture your network. If, during the call, you promised deliverables, make sure you deliver them in a timely fashion. Find ways to stay in touch with your network, whether through follow-up meetings, virtual coffees, sending them holiday cards, sending them referrals (everyone loves that!) -- or even something as simple as commenting on their LinkedIn posts.
Remember, networking is not about an immediate result (getting a job offer or making a sale); it’s about building relationships and gaining insights.
“The purpose of networking is not to memorize someone else’s path and replicate, instead, it’s to garner insights that help you to create your own.”
On the other side -- if someone is reaching out to network with you, here a few sentiments:
1) Give back. If you had mentors, colleagues, or others in your community who helped you get to where you are in your career, be open to meeting with professionals who are also seeking your insight or support.
2) Listen first. Before starting the dialogue telling them about yourself, inquire as to how your support can be most useful and/or their purpose for the meeting.
3) Respect their time. Even if you are doing someone a favor by meeting with them (e.g., a law student requesting a networking meeting), they may be paying for parking, taking time away from studying, taking time off a job, or time away from a project, to accommodate you. Be kind and courteous by giving them your full attention during the meeting.
At the end of the day, we are all part of a network. It’s a small community of professionals who can help build one other up and support one other. The basics really only involve being respectful, courteous, and supportive to each other.
About the Author: Megan Lutes is the Chief Legal Officer and was Co-Founder of The Conscious Inclusion Company, an organization focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Megan is also the Director of Legal at Convoy, Inc., a technology startup in Seattle. Megan is actively involved in the legal community as well as deeply involved in driving forward diversity efforts in the community. She sits on the advisory board for CenterForce USA and the executive committee for the ACC. Megan is a keynote speaker and is/has been a featured speaker for various summits, including Women, Influence & Power in law summits, ACC summits, the Women in Legal & Corporate Leadership summit