How to Get an In-house Legal Job: The Art of Networking with Strangers

But what if you’re already doing this and you’re really looking to expand your network? How do you start engaging with and cultivating new relationships?

This month’s post will address interacting with (yikes – scary!) strangers.

Don’t Be a Stranger

Ironically, the best strategy for interacting with strangers is to find ways to not be a stranger since it is human nature to fear (or at least be suspicious of) the unknown.

Birds of a Feather…

For instance, organizations connect people who are united by a common goal, which makes it easier to break the ice. Thus, you might want to join an organization (and feel free to expand beyond law-related groups) – just be sure the group’s mission really means something to you.

Existing members may not appreciate a phony in their midst so be thoughtful in your decisions and don’t just join an organization because being a member makes you look good.

The more you genuinely identify with a group’s mission, the more likely you’ll want to get involved with their activities, the more potential there’ll be to develop deeper relationships with other members, and the more you’ll gain from the experience.

Don’t Be a Hummingbird

There is a plethora of organizations in the bay area to choose from – the trick is figuring out which ones to join. Choosing among them is a little like picking extracurricular activities for college applications.

What was true back then, still holds true now: the quality and consistency of your participation is more important than the number of organizations you’re involved with.

So choose wisely. You might want to pick groups with enough resources to host several events a year because the more regularly you attend events, the more likely it is that you’ll be interacting with the same group of people – which means they’ll more quickly cease being strangers!

Scratch Their Back First

Similar to developing your existing relationships, the best policy is to be generous in your interaction with other groups. Once you’ve got an organization and specific event in mind, think of it as an opportunity to showcase your skills by volunteering.

Volunteering may mean helping out on a specific committee or project, facilitating introductions between others or spreading the word about the organization and its mission among your own network.

3 Top Tips for Navigating an Event

Now that you’re attending an event, here are 3 helpful tips on how to approach it, particularly if you’re planning to go alone:

  1. Set a realistic goal.It’s always good to give yourself a target (ex. introduce myself to # new people), but don’t set yourself up for failure. Start small (ex. 3 new people) and work your way up.You can also have fun with your goal — ex. “I want to meet at least 1 person who tells me about a favorite restaurant I haven’t tried.” This focuses you on the quality of the interaction, rather than just getting someone’s name.
  2. Prepare before you go.As with most things in life, preparation is key, and GI Joe was right: knowing is half the battle. If it’s available to you, review the event’s attendee list to see if there are people attending who you know.These days, it’s quite possible thatwho you’ve worked closely with someone on email, but haven’t met them in person. Those are ideal folks to find on an attendee/invite list.

    Even if you don’t know any attendees on the list, see if there are companies that you’re familiar with because you know someone who works there. An easy conversation-starter is “Oh! My friend ____ works at [company name]. Do you know them?”

    If there isn’t a posted list, look at the organization’s website for background information about their leaders. This is a good way to either connect with those individuals or members who know them. Also, try scanning the check-in table when you arrive. Most events have name-tags and you might see some folks you know.

    Finally, don’t forget to prepare conversation-starters in advance so you aren’t caught off guard with nothing to say beyond introducing yourself. Think of questions that you’d want someone to ask you, since a natural response after answering a question is, “So what about you?”

  3.  Look for people who are similarly situated.Seek out small groups or people who are by themselves – they are the folks who’ll most likely appreciate you introducing yourself.

Get LinkedIn to do the Legwork

Share that you’re attending a particular event with your LinkedIn network (stay tuned for more LinkedIn tips in our next post) and ask those planning to attend to contact you. Not only can you meet up with those in your network, but also they may know other folks who are attending that they can introduce you to or keep an eye out for.

Note that sending the event to your network also helps publicize the event, which the hosting organization will appreciate (see the point above on being generous).

Anything Worth Doing…

While doing pre-event research takes more time than just showing up and hoping for the best, you’re already investing the time and energy to attend, so why not make the most of your efforts?

Additionally, for those of us who are anxious in a room full of strangers, a bit of work up-front can help make us feel more prepared, reduce stress levels and connect with people faster.

Next Up: LinkedIn Best Practices

Join us next month when we share what we know about leveraging the power of LinkedIn.

Our final topic of the “How to Get an In-house Legal Job” series is networking. Our last post addressed developing relationships you already have, which often yields the most meaningful results.