Effective Networking for Career Success
Networking is an indispensable element in any job search. It is especially important for a career in international law. For many people, the term conjures uncomfortable images of small talk and throat-clearing pieties in boring and pretentious settings. Networking is often considered a necessary evil involving currying-favor to obtain a reward. But that is just one cynical view. On the contrary, if you enjoy meeting and getting-to-know interesting people, networking can be quite enjoyable, professionally rewarding, and even intellectually fulfilling.
What, then, is networking? Of course, several definitions apply depending on one's goals and objectives. But, for the purpose of this book, networking is the process of creating and sustaining a list of contacts and potential employers who can help you with your job search and career in international law.
Why is Networking Important to Your Job Search?
Effective networking is very important to a person seeking an international-law career for two principal reasons. First, international law, as a distinct practice-area of the legal profession, is still fairly new and evolving. Unlike the more traditional practice-areas, such as civil litigation or corporate and transactional work, opportunities to pursue a full-time career in international law are still somewhat limited. The number of full-time international lawyers is still relatively small when compared to the vast number of general practitioners. Moreover, job-openings or vacancies in international law are sporadic and lack regularity. Openings in this area are not widely advertised and generally are filled quickly. Information about these openings often spreads only through the word-of-mouth. Therefore, applicants who have established and maintained the right professional contacts through networking will be able to learn about, and submit a timely application for, a new opening.
Second, in recent years especially, the number of law students interested in international law has risen considerably. But the number of available jobs in international law has not kept pace with this increase. Therefore, the demand for these positions far outweighs the available opportunities. Thus when recruiting to fill an opening, potential employers often receive a mountain of resumes. It is hard to gauge a candidate's interest and suitability for an international-law career from these resumes. Thus, short-listing or hiring decisions are often made based on a resume. Recruiters lack any real understanding of the applicants. Networking is an important way to bridge this gap and educate a potential employer about you. By attending networking events, making interesting contacts, and building relationships, you inform employers, and even future clients, about yourself.
Developing an Effective Game-Plan
Networking is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort. But, with a carefully calibrated strategy, it can be quite a meaningful exercise. Here are some steps involved in preparing a game plan. First, develop a clear vision of your networking goals. If, as we assume here, it is either to build a career in international law, think clearly about why you want to do so. Would you enjoy being an international lawyer? What are your reasons? It is also helpful to formulate some rationale for wanting to be an international lawyer. Those with whom you network will want to know.
Second, to successfully navigate a vast and diverse field like international law, it is important to identify one or two potential specialized areas or themes on which you can focus. For, e.g., you can choose international arbitration or international litigation or international human rights. This is not to say that you if you choose one or two of them, you neglect the others. Indeed, on the contrary, be constantly on the lookout for diverse and interesting opportunities that may arise in all areas. But it does help to identify certain areas that you can focus on, and develop expertise. Educate yourself about these areas and become familiar with the latest developments. If possible, consider writing about these areas too. Try to create a niche for yourself in an area in which there are job opportunities (don't choose something too esoteric). This knowledge will help you considerably when networking.
Third, make a list of potential list of contacts who could help advance your international-law career. There are a variety of resources that you can use. They include law-school-employer lists, information from bar associations, alumni associations, scholarly and practitioner publications, and, of course, the Internet. Research the backgrounds and practice areas of potential contacts. Get familiar with them. For this purpose, Martindale Hubbell?s online directory, www.martindale.com, is an excellent source of information, especially for lawyers based in the United States. Then, develop a strategy on how to get in touch with your potential contacts.
Where Do You Go To Network?
It is a common perception that most networking takes place only at conferences and receptions. That belief is only partially correct. Conferences and receptions are, indeed, an important initial step for meeting and interacting with contacts. But networking does not end there. Diligent - but not desperate - follow-up effort is important. Thus, networking includes staying in touch through e-mail and the telephone, or a discussion over coffee or a meal.
What conferences, meetings or receptions does one go to network? There are several major international-law-related events every year that you can attend. For instance, in the United States, the American Society of International Law (?ASIL?) holds its annual meetings in Washington, DC in late March or early April every year. You can also attend the annual and spring meetings of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association. These events are excellent opportunities for networking and meeting international lawyers and academics. ASIL also has a number of specialized ?interest groups,? that meet separately throughout the year or during the annual meetings. If you live abroad and can travel, you should consider attending the International Bar Association?s meetings, which are held in different cities around the world each year.
Besides these international conferences and meetings, many potential networking events may take place in your city or town. They include panels at local bar associations, law schools, alumni events, seminars at law firms, and public speeches at a think-tank or club on international-law topics. Sign-up to be notified about these events in advance through e-mail lists maintained by several law schools and professional organizations. You should also consider joining one or two of these organizations. They are a great way to stay informed and meet others regularly. Many events and conferences do have registration fees. But these fees are usually nominal or substantially reduced for law students or new professionals. Register for these events as far in advance as possible.
Some "How-To" Networking Tips
It pays to prepare well before attending a networking event. Here are some tips to follow depending on the occasion:
- Homework: Try to figure out who is likely to attend the event. If the event is a panel or seminar featuring a potential contact, read about that person in advance. Get as much information about the event and the attendees as possible by calling the organizers or visiting their website. But do not annoy them!
- Dress: Dress appropriately for the event. Consider wearing business, but comfortable, attire, especially if the event is followed by a reception. It is important to make a good first-impression!
- Business Cards: Exchanging business cards is a sacred ritual performed at networking events. It is increasingly common now for law students to carry business cards. So, if you do not have any, consider getting some printed. Do not make your cards too fancy or dramatic. They are not supposed to be a mini resume! Make sure you carry an adequate number of cards to the event.
- Work Your Way Calmly: To be effective at networking, remain calm, yet confident and assertive. Survey the scene carefully. Locate and pay attention to those whom you want to meet. If a potential contact is surrounded by a large number of people already, do not barge right in. Find someone else you could talk to while waiting. Look for the right opportunity to introduce yourself without pushing people out of the way or abruptly barging into a conversation.
- Presenting Yourself: When you are about to meet a contact, adjust your physical posture and make good eye contact. Mentally rehearse an introductory line or two you can say to your potential contact. Do not deliver a speech. Say something sincere, not trite. It is important not to sound overbearing or over-familiar. Allow the other person to speak and listen intently to what is said. Do not interrupt or become confrontational. If you sense that your contact is distracted or is in a hurry, do not detain the person unduly. Offer a business card, and ask politely if you could have one in return.
- Follow-up: After the event, spend a few minutes taking stock of those you met and your conversations with them. Identify those who seem approachable and could be helpful. A few days after the event (no later than a week), write them a brief follow-up e-mail. Ask if they are willing to spend a few minutes over coffee or lunch to talk about a potential career in their practice area. Be honest and ask for advice. But don't be pushy or demanding. In most cases, I would advise against attaching a resume in an initial introductory e-mail. Instead, if the circumstances are right, you should gently ask your contacts when you meet them for a follow-up chat whether you can send one. Sending an unsolicited resume may seem a bit forward, especially if the contact has no available openings.
- Staying in Touch: Since opportunities arise fairly infrequently in international law, a potential contact may not be able to help you immediately. But if the person may be help in the long run, do stay in touch. Drop a line once in six months to touch base with them. If you publish an article or a note on a topic that interests any of your potential contacts, do send it to them.
Finally, stay engaged in networking even after you've obtained a position. For an international lawyer, networking is an essential exercise to stay professionally nimble and relevant.