You Need a Montage: Social Networking Scene

Okay, grasshoppers. Welcome to the fourth week of our holiday job search training montage. So far, we’ve revamped our resumes, reconsidered our cover letters, and mastered the process of arranging informational meetings, step by step by step. If you’ve kept pace, you’re probably pretty exhausted (especially if you’ve been dealing with final exams and papers as well). The good news is that at this point, the worst is behind you. This week, we have just a few more holiday job search tips to unpack before we’re ready to make the most of our winter vacation.

Today, we’re going to look at holiday job search tips #2 and #3 together: crafting a pitch and networking at holiday parties. It’s likely that you’ve already begun to receive invitations to various holiday parties—if you haven’t already attended a few. These mixers are a great way to interact with people in a more informal way. The part I often struggle with, though, is communicating on issues I deeply care about without bringing an inappropriately serious atmosphere to the party. After a conversation with Christina, though, I have a new strategy for mixing business with pleasure—and a well-crafted “pitch” is part of it.

Working on Your Pitch

There is a wealth of advice out there for creating a good “pitch” or “elevator speech.” Basically, it’s a clear, concise, memorable and appealing statement of (1) who you are and (2) what you do. Many sources (see, e.g., Above the Law) think you’re likely to get 30 seconds to capture your conversation partner’s attention. Christina thinks you’re better off aiming for only 10 or 15. Regardless of how long you decide to make it, the key is to practice it—try it out on classmates, colleagues, and career advisors. (You can also visit your career advisor if you’re having trouble coming up with one in the first place.)

Delivering Your Pitch

A note for those who don’t like barging into conversations: I hate walking into conversations cold, but sometimes you don’t really have a choice. If you find yourself running solo at a networking event, try to set a small, realistic goal for yourself, something like, “I will talk to two people before I leave,” or “I will stay for 40 minutes.” You may also want to break the ice by starting with someone else you notice hanging around the edges, unsure of how to open.

  1. GETTING IN: Know your audience. Many of us reach for legal jargon because our work is complicated, and therefore difficult to describe succinctly and clearly without specialized language. If you’re speaking to someone without a legal background, impress them with clarity, not sophistication. For example:

    Conversation w/Legal Background

    Conversation w/o Legal Background

    “This summer, I’ve been surveying state court cases concerning tent cities, looking for homeless litigants’ novel arguments.” “I’ve been looking for new ways for homeless people who live in tent communities to protect their interests in court.”

    If you’re at a law-related event, or someone steers you toward a stranger with the introduction, “So-and-so’s a lawyer too!” (this happens), you at least know that the person you’re speaking with shares some kind of background with you. But you still might have to tailor your introduction further. For example, I was at a networking event during my 1L summer and a lawyer from a firm asked me what I was doing with my summer.  I told her, “I’m working for an organization that represents political prisoners in front of international tribunals.” Her response: “Oh, so you represent terrorists?” Our exchange never recovered. I should have front-loaded more information about how we vetted our potential clients. Whenever you can, try and find out about the person you’re speaking with before you open. You can ask the person who introduced you for more information, or simply start your conversation with a question.

  2. GETTING THROUGH: Keep it short throughout the conversation. This is often where I fall down. When people ask me what issue is most important to me (water affordability, by the way), I have a 20-30 second speech explaining why all prepared for them. But it’s a crazy issue that almost always leads my conversation partner to ask a follow-up question. The hardest thing (at least for me) is not to take a person’s interest in my work and run with it as far as I can. I want people to understand my issue, and I want to go into depth with them. Keeping responses short is hard, but it ensures you don’t go so far into a topic that your partner feels trapped or bored.
  3. GETTING OUT: Remember, there was a point to starting this exchange. You’re there to figure out if you want to make this person a part of your network. You should focus on this next step in the process, not on any end goal. (In other words, don’t turn social events into informational meetings). There are three ways these exchanges may go:
    1. If you’re enjoying the conversation on a professional level, ask if you could get their contact info so you can follow up with an informational meeting later.
    2. If the conversation isn’t going anywhere for you, make a graceful exit (not difficult if your conversation partner is also sticking to short, clear responses). Something like, “thanks, I really enjoyed speaking to you, but I should really [hit the buffet/find my friend/etc]. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you in the future.” should do the trick.
    3. If you’re enjoying the conversation on a personal level and you’re still reading, switch to a different advice column.

Alright, everybody. See you Friday for the final installment. Until then…

Wax on, wax off,

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