Alex Janus

Networking

Today I received my final rejection letter for a 1L summer associate position. Naively, I thought that having a bit of firm and administrative law experience and being en route to a JD from a top 15 law school would have appeal somewhere. So I applied machine gun style: I sent my resume to over 30 firms in the Bay area, hoping I'd hit at least one or two. Turns out, it was more like zero. Over 30 little white envelopes filled my mailbox over the following two weeks.

So how do people do it? I have spoken to other 2Ls who had firm positions their first summer. The fact alone that firms claim to hire a few 1Ls every year means that it is possible. I left for winter break feeling confused about what I could have done differently to change the outcome of my job search.

I spent my winter break in San Francisco. I went to dinner one night with my friend George who goes to Stern business school at NYU, and a group of his classmates. They were on a class trip to learn more about Silicon Valley companies. I ended up sitting next to a guy who was a former attorney at a boutique firm in San Francisco. He got fed up with the life as an associate and decided to go to business school instead. We talked about his firm, his motivations for wanting to change his career, all the other people he still knew at firms in the city, and then changed topics. It was at that point that George interrupted us. He was shocked that I hadn't gotten contact information from the former attorney. "Aren't you looking for a job at a firm in this city?" he asked me. Of course I was. At George's encouragement I got his friend's contact information. George then proceeded to poke fun at me - about how he had to do all the networking for me, then he and his friends recounted recruiting stories, comparing how many business cards they had each collected at various social events. Apparently networking is strongly emphasized in the business school curriculum. In comparison, I'm not sure I've ever heard one of my professors mention it. Strange, since the two career paths are so similar.

Networking is essential, but it seems so silly to define it and teach it. It's the naturalness of it that makes a successful networker, forcing career inquiries can turn a pleasant conversation into a socially uncomfortable situation. It also seems like a skill that doesn't come as easily to women as it does to men. When I got back to school, I spoke to male colleagues who landed summer jobs through personal connections. Although women aren't totally excluded from the "friend of a friend" club, it is less likely for a woman to use her personal connections to secure employment. You could theorize various reasons: maybe women aren’t socialized to make career a priority in conversations, women are not as aggressive as men so they don’t raise potentially uncomfortable topics, or perhaps there is a gender discrimination aspect to it; the people in higher level positions are most likely males who are willing to help out other males. Also, because women are less likely to use these connections, I don't think people in positions to offer ties are as initially inclined to recommend a woman they know to a potential employer.

In my case, I just didn't know how to network. Nor did it even occur to me that I should. And frankly, I still have a lot to learn. I can get the numbers, but it's using the first meeting to foray into a job offer that I'm still cloudy on.

It would be helpful if law schools taught business skills the way the business schools do. Law school is supposedly vocational in nature, and one of the most important means to reaching that end is networking. Since men appear to have an advantage in networking, a curriculum that incorporates those skills may assist in alleviating those inequalities.

6 Comments

Manamana

I think that a lot is made in the discussion about women and advancement (that’s a broad category, and there are a lot of variations, but I’m talking generally here) about women’s perceived inability/reluctance to network, and the consequences this has on their ability to get mentors, get jobs, get deals, etc.
Despite all this talk, there is not a lot of practical instruction.  Telling me to “network more” or “be forward” is not a lot of help because I feel VERY uncomfortable asking people to do me a favor.  In the case of finagling a job, it’s a big favor.
I say this as someone who got my 1L summer position through networking.  Yes, I was qualified, but I was also in because of a phone call made on my behalf.  Done for me by my…boyfriend.  [Dirty little secret time here!]  Would I have asked the connection for the job otherwise?  Probably: it was a great position that I really wanted, and which was going to close in a nanosecond.  But it was a lot easier for the boyfriend to make that first call, and I don’t think he was plauged by the guilt or awkwardness that I was. The lesson?  It’s not what you know, it’s who you know—and making yourself make that call.  I’m still working on the last bit, needless to say.

Kalokagathia

    I agree with this 100% - it is one thing to tell me that networking is important - but that doesn’t eliminate my complete ignorance as to how to do it.
    I think that many women face a common barrier - we don’t want to be annoying, intrusive, or manipulative - and these are all adjectives to describe only our perceptions of what networking might entail. In reality, these are probably only perceptions - but I have yet to get over them - and I have yet to learn how to truly and comfortably network.

Eralon

I totally agree with this.  Networking seems sort of like a crazy thing to me- it’s totally out of my comfort zone.  Do you think that this difference has to do with men having a sense of entitlement to a position while women doubt our self-worth- maybe that we are hesitant to make that call because we aren’t sure we are good enough (or at least better than the others who would apply)?

KHernan881

  I have thought a lot about why I am often not willing to network. 
  For me, I think it is that I feel like asking for favors is extremely personal.  It may be because I have some serious socialization at work in my brain telling me that I need to be self-sufficient to be successful.
  I feel like if I ask for a favor than I am attaching my personal credibility and trusting the other person with something that is really personal to me—my needs, my weaknesses, my need for help.  More often than not, I am not willing to put myself out there like that.  Instead, I don’t ask, I don’t push, I don’t even suggest… I just try to do it on my own.  These feelings may not be as present in men that might not have any guilt attached to needing help and leaning on others.  Maybe they have less to prove.  I am not so sure about that but I do know what my feelings are and they usually keep me from really networking.

matti422

Um, I think what we have here is a failure to communicate.  Networking is NOT about asking for favors. It is about meeting people, knowing what their needs are, what your needs are and identifying mutually benefitial relationships.  And every relationship is potentially a mutually benefitial relationship.  Meeting people, keeping in touch and helping others is the key to networking, and we do this every day.  We are doing it right now, on this message board. Networking gets easier when you simply think of it as “making friends”...

KHernan881

You are right that all networking is not about asking for favors.  We are networking on this web community and I haven’t asked anyone for a favor.  I am also networking as I socialize with law school friends and go to my local chapter of the Federalist Society meetings even if I never mention that need a job or am in need of more clients.  However, that sort of on-the-sly networking that happens by chance as two people learn about each others’ careers and strengths is not where women have a hard time.  I’ll talk your ears off all day about my career.  I can always hope that you’ll remember those conversations when you have a chance to do something for me or pass some work my way. It is going to the next level and asking somebody to take my resume into the hiring partner or handing over a business card and asking them to call me when they are in need of my professional services that is uncomfortable.  These two situations are clearly asking for favors.  Even if I offer to return the “favor” or do something in return, it is still a favor that I am asking for.  It is still an attempt to gain from the relationship in a way that seems needy in my mind.

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