We’ve all had that feeling before. The sudden adrenaline rush that shows up right before you’re one chance to pitch a product to your most important client. That flood of nervous energy you can’t seem to shake, but instead paralyzes your body the moment the hiring manager walks out and says hello. The feeling that you must have miscalculated and that now you’re in just way over your head. This is how a lot of people feel when it’s time to network. So they stay as far away from networking as possible. But there’s just one problem. If you’re looking for a job, or want to lay the foundation for a future one, then networking is one of the most effective things you can do.
Now don’t get me wrong, some people do just fine without taking single stop into a networking event. And perhaps you can too. But at the end of the day, there’s not whole lot of benefit to running away from the crowds and deciding that you’d prefer to meet fewer people than your peers and competitors. Not only do you lose out on the chance to “build your network” as some people might say, but you also forgo the chance to meet some pretty interesting people, to hear about issues from different perspectives, to quickly catch up with current trends and changes, and to build a couple of good relationships along the way. And equally as important, you skip out on the chance to help someone else to do the same.
Just last week the law school put on a pretty interesting networking event with a couple of our school’s partner law firms. The point of the event was twofold. On one hand, it gave students an intimate and safe venue to speak with attorneys from various major law firms, all of which will come back to Northwestern to recruit next fall during OCI. But the event was also pitched as a time for students to practice their networking skills. To think about how to ask the right questions, telling the right stories, and effectively engaging in small talk. I personally suspect that the networking spin for the event was partially a response to this year’s economy. Since less firms are doing hiring this year, specifically amongst first year students, I suspect that the school assumed it would be a good use of the event to give students time to practice interacting with attorneys.
Our careers office strongly encouraged students to attend the reception, and they flooded our Inboxes with email reminders. And the students responded. The final turnout reached max capacity. And so sixty to seventy students put down their books for a few hours on a Wednesday night and made their way to the law school for the chance to speak to attorneys from McDermott Will & Emery, Perkins Coie, Ropes & Gray, and Winston & Strawn. All four firms tend to spend quite a bit of time at Northwestern, and I personally ran into a couple of lawyers that I had met previously, including an employment attorney from Perkins Coie, who I had just run into a week before the event, as well as an attorney from Ropes & Gray, who I met last semester. I also found the chance—right at the beginning of the event—to strike up conversation with an attorney from McDermott. I had seen this person at Northwestern once or twice before, but I never the opportunity to chat with her until this reception. We had a pretty good conversation and ended up trading a few Northwestern stories since she was an alum.
As this last conversation suggests, I personally tend to look at these events as a good way to meet new people, rather than a venue to gain an edge. As a result, I usually tend to be pretty comfortable, and I typically end up talking to a pretty good number of people (recruiters and attendees). You might say that one of my incentives is that because I’m personally interested in the Chicago market, there’s a good chance I’ll run into many of the people again. But I’m not so sure that’s the case. For one, that idea does’nt really crossed my mind at these events. Instead, I usually tend to spend more time thinking about the things I mentioned above. That I’m in a venue where the odds of meeting interesting people, building new relationships, and learning are high. And it’s also a great venue to be a resource for others, as people often rely on you for pieces of information, need you to introducte them to someone you know (including recruiters), or maybe they just need a spark of inspiration, which they might find because of your energy or generosity.
In any event, the reception turned out to be pretty fun, and for me was well worth the time. For others though, it’s hard to say whether they feel the same way. I suspect that many of the 1Ls would say that the event was not worth it. There were fewer attorneys that showed up than expected, there were a lot of law students at the event so face time with the attorneys may not have been optimal, especially for the less outgoing, and frankly the event was “practice” and and not the real thing. But I do know a few who enjoyed the experience.
Also, most of the students at the event were 1Ls and not 1Js (term for first year JD-MBAs). While some JD-MBAs do participate in the OCI process, many decide not to work full-time during the first summer and instead take classes at Kellogg and the law school. But even if that weren’t the case, the JD-MBAs tend to be pretty skilled and comfortable at networking events, so many of them may not have found this “practice” event useful. But personally, I tend to think these events are gold mines. Less so for the hope of reeling in that rare six-figure salary job offer and more because it’s a great chance to meet (or see again) a lot of people and recruiters, the majority of whom are there to do the same thing. And in the end, there is no doubt that there will certainly be students who find jobs and firms who find employees along the way.