Networking

Networking is an important component of any job search. Networking includes contacting people you already know, as well as finding new contacts who may be able to help you locate jobs that are part of the "hidden job market" - jobs that are not advertised or openings that are about to occur. In addition, contacts may be helpful to you after you have found a job, by making referrals, providing business, or even by being a mentor for you.

1. Finding Contacts

Make a list of people you know who may have valuable information about careers or contacts to potential employers. Examples include family and friends of family; current and previous work contacts; acquaintances from social groups, churches, or activities; alumni you know from undergraduate or law school; Duke Law alumni; and current or former professors. Ask the people you contact for further referrals.

2. Rules for Networking

  • Ask contacts for information, not a job.
  • Contacts are most helpful when you can ask them something to which they can say, "Yes." For example, ask for advice, information about career opportunities, or a critique of your resume. If contacts are impressed with you, they will pass along to you information about potential jobs.
  • When you meet contacts, focus on them, not yourself or your own needs. Ask them about their careers, what they would do if they were in your position, etc.
  • Make sure your contacts have all the relevant information about you. You may provide them with a resume and update it when necessary.
  • You can ask contacts to refer you further, for example, by asking, "Given my interests and background, is there anyone else you suggest I speak to?"
  • Give positive feedback. Thank contacts for their time in person and in writing.
  • Keep good records of whom you spoke with and what you discussed.

3. How to Prepare for a Social Networking Event

Receptions, parties, conferences, etc. are great opportunities to gather information from people who may have knowledge and experience in a geographic area or practice area of interest to you.

Before the Event:

  • Study any list you can get of people attending. Decide in advance whom you will try to meet.
  • Make sure you dress appropriately. When trying to impress someone, it helps to wear a suit and polished shoes and have a good haircut, etc.
  • Resolve to be brave. It's very tempting to spend your time in a social setting with fellow students or people you know, but tell yourself that it will be a greater benefit to interact and mingle with potential employers attending.
  • Be well-rested and well-fed before the event. To be able to meet and talk with new people at the event, you will need to be energetic, and you won't have much time to eat.

At the Event:

  • To stay in top form, limit alcohol consumption and avoid messy foods.
  • Approach strangers and introduce yourself with a smile and a handshake. State your name clearly. Shake hands -- you should give a firm, but not-too-strong squeeze.
  • Try to use an opening line based on the current setting, and try to end your opener with a question. That way you immediately have something in common to talk about, and you give the other person the opportunity to talk. For example, "Isn't it great that Duke Law and Wachtell sponsored this reception?" Or, "What is your area of practice?
  • Maintain eye contact when talking. Eye contact communicates sincerity and interest.
  • Be careful about telling jokes. Do not tell ethnic, religious, sexual, or gender jokes. (Also be careful of political jokes.) Also avoid these areas as topics of conversation.
  • Don't take it personally if you try to talk to someone, and he or she does not engage with you after you have given it a good try. Move on and talk to someone else.
  • Remember that you are trying to achieve quality of contacts rather than quantity of contacts. Try to learn as much as you can about each person's firm, practice, and interests.
  • Try to impart similar information about yourself. In the end, you should each be able to remember something distinctive about the other person.
  • Wait for an appropriate opportunity or the end of the conversation to ask for a business card or to offer your own. Don't be offended if someone quickly puts your business card away or even writes on it.
  • If appropriate, ask for an opportunity for further conversation and further advice. Do not ask directly for a job. Do ask for referrals to other contacts.

After the Event:

  • Review any business cards you receive and make notes about the people you spoke with and what you talked about.
  • Follow up by e-mail or letter to any person with whom you made a connection, if appropriate. Reference the setting at which you met and something you discussed.
  • Think about how you can utilize these contacts for the future.

For more information on conducting a job search, writing a cover letter, interviewing, etc., see our other Professional Development resources.