By Alex Janus • February 05, 2007•Mentoring and 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.