Networking - What am I missing?
March 30, 2010 10:37 AM   Subscribe

I think networking is the missing element to my rather unsuccessful job search effort. Any suggestions as to how I could grow my network usefully? How much about "networking" is hype?

In the past almost-year since finishing law school, I have applied to a few hundred jobs. I've had two interviews, and I got my current job by way of the first of those two interviews. It's at a local university, essentially glorified data entry. Not enough money, no room to advance, and it's only temporary. More significantly, I'm not developing any useful skills.

I think that's the problem -- I don't have any specialized experience. I have a liberal arts degree and a law degree (but no law license). My resume is definitely weak, in those respects.

Friends and coworkers have emphasized to me the importance of networking. It's all I have to go on, at the moment, considering that nothing else is working.

The two big questions:

(1) How do I sell myself to someone, despite my lack of experience or particular education? People in my network have verbally offered their help in my job search, but it seems like they can't do much for me, given those deficiencies.

(2) Just as my education and background lack focus (given my disinterest in practicing law), my job search also lacks focus. Truthfully, there are plenty of careers I'd probably enjoy, but I have the credentials for none of them. I've heard of people "stumbling into" a career, and that's probably my only hope for finding a career I like. Most of my contacts are lawyers, unemployed lawyers, or folks in fields in which I don't qualify even at the entry-level. That said, who should I be meeting, networking-wise, and under what circumstances?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know you, but it doesn't sound to me like trying to stumble into something would be the most effective way for you to find a career you like. It sounds like that's how things have operated up until this point and that's what has led to this situation.

I think, in addition to a job that pays the bills, you need to get an internship in a field that interests you, an unpaid internship if necessary. If you find that you don't enjoy the field, I think you should get another, different internship after the first one ends.

Is there a reason you're not taking the bar exam other than a disinterest in practicing law? Honestly, that sounds to me like the biggest thing standing in your way in the job search, not the networking problem.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:44 AM on March 30, 2010

(In case my answer seemed to be ignoring the questions you actually asked, the most effective way I have ever networked is through internships and similar kinds of positions).
posted by Ashley801 at 10:47 AM on March 30, 2010

I think square one needs to be figuring out what you want to do, since the tone of your post makes it sound like you don't want to do anything in particular. If I was in your network, I probably wouldn't be out there referring you to people who want someone to do job X, since it's better for everyone if the employee who is doing job X wants to do it in the first place.

Once you have that figured out, then go about expanding your network. Obviously, connections in your field are good, but all sorts of connections can help you out. Most importantly, let people in your network know that you're looking for a certain type of work. They won't think of you unless they know what you want to do.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:47 AM on March 30, 2010

I recommend "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Farrazzi as a great book about networking by someone who is completely obsessed, a bit self-aggrandizing, and full of good ideas. At the least you should read the book so that you can recognize people like him and cultivate their friendship. Pure gold, friends like him.

Another, simpler book is "The Little Black Book of Networking" by Jeffrey Gitomer.

Both books will tell you something essential about networking, which is that it isn't an ATM. You don't just get to build up a network and use use use it. You must give freely to it. Part of the magic is in the unexpected ways it pays you back. You spend your time keeping up with people, and (more importantly) making connections. "Hey, you need xxx, and I recommend my buddy yyy."

You put in tons, literally tons, of time and effort to your network. The promise (and in my experience, the truth) is that it pays back in spades. Who knows if it is 1 for 1, or 1 for 2, or even 3 for 1. Doesn't matter, maintaining a network has to be something of an ongoing obsession or it is not worth even trying.

But that crap people call networking? Passing around business cards in a sterile environment. No connection. Just cynically using each other because you met at a (boring) business party. No that doesn't work.

Answering your questions:

1) it isn't your friends who will be helping you, it is *their* connections. Yes, let them help.

2) You should read the books I recommended. The answer isn't simple, but I'll try: "You should be meeting lots of people, not just people you think you can use immediately. You should be looking first to help, not take."
posted by Invoke at 10:49 AM on March 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

+1 Invoke. (good book recommendations too)

You need to add value to your network. If you don't add value to your network, they won't bother recommending you to others.

1) it isn't your friends who will be helping you, it is *their* connections. Yes, let them help.

To put it another (perhaps clearer) way: They're not helping you find a job, they're helping their other contact by putting someone with your talents in touch with them. If you haven't demonstrated your talent & passion to them, they will have little reason to think of you when they learn of a position being available.
posted by MesoFilter at 11:25 AM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

FWIW "Never Eat Alone" did not strike me as helpful--I did not get anything from it that suggested to me how to engage people, or how to present myself when I did. Although like Invoke says, if you meet someone who acts like Ferrazzi, make sure he knows you're looking.

However, I got my new incredibly awesome job entirely by making and sticking to a networking plan. I'll spare you most of the gorey details of the plan, but what ultimately worked (i.e., what got me the introduction that got me the job) was this: I talked to people (both friends and people I met at fundraisers, networking events, and in the courthouse) about their jobs, answered honestly about what I wanted out of my work, and made sure they knew I was actively looking to make a move. Eventually one of them (a guy I'd opposed in a case, years ago) said, "hey, my organization is hiring. The job is way below your level, but talk to [my friend]".

The hardest part was letting people know I wanted out of my current job and into something better. It was hard because I was afraid it would get back to my boss and hurt me; there wasn't much i could do about that. It was also hard because I had to convey how much I hated what I was doing and how much I'd like to be doing this very specific thing instead while still seeming like an upbeat, positive person you'd want to work with, who was well-qualified to be doing something she wasn't. That was easier to deal with.

I sat down and wrote out a statement of purpose (email me if you want me to send you a copy so you can see what I mean) that created a story connecting my prior public interest to what I hoped to do next. (Seriously, it was part of what I learned to do at Camp Obama, the training sessions for campaign volunteers) I never told anyone my story, verbatim start to finish, but any time I talked to someone about the work I hoped to be doing (which was very often), I stuck to the script. I was shocked when about six months into my heavy marketing campaign, a friend of a friend turned out also to be the friend of someone I had met at one of those networking events and when she was introduced to me, she identified me by my story.

It all sounds oogy and false and smarmy, but it does not have to be. In fact, if you're doing it right, it isn't. You connect with people by asking them about themselves and about their work and engaging them on topics of mutual interest. When the conversation turns to a question about you, or your work, you bring in your story. If you're honestly engaging people, you're not selling anything. If, while honestly engaging people, you remember to present yourself in the best light possible and create an idea of your interests and capabilities in other people's minds, they will remember you when something that might interest you comes along.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:44 AM on March 30, 2010 [9 favorites]

I'm still a 1L and everyone I know that got jobs for the summer, even the unpaid jobs, did so through networking.
posted by Neekee at 11:45 AM on March 30, 2010

How much about "networking" is hype?

Almost all of it.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:04 PM on March 30, 2010

Almost all of it.

Hopefully this is not a derail, but from that person's description of what they did, it sounds like they're doing all the quintessential wrong things that people tell you not to do when you network or do a job search.

The first thing that jumped out is when they talk about trying to get informational interviews, and asking people for advice on their area of law. The biggest rule of doing that is not to parlay it into the person giving you work or helping you find work. If you honestly just are after information, people are happy to help you. I ask people for advice all the time and have never been blown off once.

The second thing I see is the idea that doing an unpaid internship or going out and finding your own clients/picking up work on your own is this lowly/shameful thing or this drudgery that nobody should have to endure. I think the attitude that one shouldn't have to pay one's dues, and shouldn't have to start with work that may well be boring or beneath what you think is your level, is extremely self-sabotaging.

The third thing is what Invoke was alluding to up above. What did this person do for any of these people in his network? It seems like he/she was just trying to juice help out of them without offering anything in return. And it seems like the author didn't have any kind of ongoing relationship with most of these people, but just briefly popped out of the woodwork to try to get help.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:45 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, it sounds like a lot of this was carried out over email. Email's obviously very easy to blow off, and it's harder to develop a relationship that way. It doesn't sound like they're putting themselves in situations, other than the CLEs, where they'd be mostly communicating with people face to face, which has always been crucial for me.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:02 PM on March 30, 2010

Also consider volunteer work in an area you are interested in, passionate about, or even think you are interested in. This will provide you with real-life 'experience' and will translate well onto your resume. Do not discount the value of either the work or the connections you can make when volunteering - both may prove to be invaluable!
posted by dbmcd at 2:25 PM on March 30, 2010

You've got a law degree, but you haven't passed/taken the bar? Maybe employers see you as someone who is either (a) not intelligent due to the fact that you haven't been able to pass the bar [no matter how right or wrong they are] or (b) someone who won't be there [assuming there is a job not in the legal field] as soon as you pass the bar because they assume you went to law school to be a practicing attorney or otherwise work in the legal field.

Sure, there are tons of people who get jobs in the legal field without being attorneys (and many people who never tried to pass the bar because they've chosen another path), but for many people, the assumption is law school -> lawyer. And failure to get from A -> B seems like a kind of failure.

Getting a job because you've been personally recommended by someone is a great way to get a job, assuming you're qualified for it. I think 80% of the last dozen hires or so in my office (150 people, it's a law office of 50 attorneys and 100 "other") were referrals. (I was a referral as well and started there about 7 years ago.) And I know at the attorney level and law student intern level, I'd say I haven't seen a single one of those get hired since I've been there that wasn't referred by someone who worked there. E.g., "oh yeah, I practiced with him in a plaintiff firm a few years ago, great guy" or "yes, I was in a few classes last year when she was an L2 and I was an L3, smart", etc. That's not to say networking is required for every job, but for many, networking is very important. Getting a clerkship? Networking. Getting sponsored into some unions? Networking.
posted by Brian Puccio at 12:08 PM on March 31, 2010

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