By Molly Timko • April 29, 2019•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Issues, Mentoring and Networking
Back home in Niagara Falls, I learned that it was somewhat shameful to get a job or any other advancement opportunity due to “having connections.” Perhaps this is due to some deeply rooted “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”
mentality mythology that seems to exist in my hometown. Nevertheless, I have since come to accept that this is simply not true. Networking is integral to achieving career success in virtually any field, and this is especially true in law school and the legal profession.
Believe me, I understand that networking events can be awkward and downright painful, even for individuals from more economically privileged backgrounds. However, for those of us with blue-collar roots, these events can be particularly daunting. Conversations typically begin with “what do you do?” You know, a question that could be perceived as rude or simply irrelevant among friends and family back home. In the legal profession, you should be prepared to respond to that question with a clever "elevator pitch."
Moreover, finding commonalities with fellow attendees can be tough, particularly when you’re a newcomer to the profession, or if folks back home tell you that networking is phony. Years ago, I attended a networking reception for new members of a bar association and I felt so out of place. I found it much easier to chat with the vendor representatives on the sidelines than with my fellow attendees. Although I came home with lots of swag, I didn't make any memorable professional connections.
When we entered law school, those of us with humble roots typically lacked the right connections and may not have had the proper role models to guide us through these unfamiliar networking situations. However, we also have the ability to use our connections to help others. Admittedly, I still feel a bit uncomfortable at networking or work events (even when presenting as my most “authentic self”), but I love when I am able to help someone potentially advance their career by introducing them to a person in my network. In addition, as a seasoned networker, I now find it genuinely interesting to meet new people and learn about their unique career paths.
Reconciling the cringe-worthiness of self-promotion with the importance of building your personal brand
I admire those confident colleagues on LinkedIn who seem to have mastered the subtle art of self-promotion. Personally, I still struggle with sharing my successes on social media and in real life. No one likes a bragger. But it is important to build your personal brand. As I mentioned in last month’s post, I found comfort in reading Alfred Lubrano’s book, Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams. In a chapter on office politics, Lubrano wisely states, “Lots of blue-collar people are taught as kids that boasting and self-promotion and credit-hogging are wrong and unseemly; but that’s precisely what’s needed to succeed in the office, as long as it’s deftly and subtly done. Got that? Good. I never have.” Me neither, Mr. Lubrano, but I am working on it.
Ms. JD readers with blue-collar roots: please share with me your wisdom for building your network and personal brand! I would love to feature you in a future blog post.