Can it really be true that a large number of employers are hiring someone they either know, or learned about from a personal referral? Can it really be true that a large number of employers don't take the time to comb through piles of resumes, conduct dozens of interviews or even post open positions? Can it really be true that doing well in school may not be enough? The answer, of course, is yes; and it means networking is more important than ever.
To be clear, I'm not talking about big/mid-size law firms that interview on campus. Those employers are mostly hiring off of resumes and interviews, and if you handle those well you may be able to get a job without much networking. However, many other employers are looking for people they know and trust. If that doesn't work, they ask trusted friends or colleagues who they know and recommend. Think of these two levels of association as Circle 1 and Circle 2.
So how can you make sure you are in one or both of those critical circles? Generally, you need to build and expand your network. More specifically, you need to increase the number of people who know and value both you AND your work. How?
Professors are a great place to start. Many employers trust the opinion of our professors and will call them when they have a job open to ask who they recommend. If you're the confident, outgoing type, volunteer to speak in class and nail every answer. If you're more of an introvert, that may mean you go to the professor's office to discuss a hypothetical running around in your head or go over your exam. Volunteering to do research for a professor is a great way to show your work ethic and skills.
The Career Development Office is another great place to network. I'm obviously meeting with numerous attorneys, hiring partners and recruiting coordinators each week. Angela gets calls all the time from employers looking for people and asking her opinion. Make sure we know you and what you're looking for so we can help create good matches between you and employers.
Your family and friends are a great network that many of you probably don't take advantage of. Even if you don't have any lawyers in the group, my guess is someone has used a lawyer to draft a will, handle a divorce, sue an insurance company, etc. Get some names of lawyers from your friends of family and see if they would feel comfortable introducing you.
Lastly, set up informational interviews with attorneys who do the type of work you'd like to do. The goal here is not to get a job right now, but rather to get on the radar screen of someone in your desired field. Ask them their advice and then ask if you can stay in touch with them. Then do what virtually nobody does: follow through! You will stand out and put yourself at the top of the list if they (or someone they know) is hiring.
Networking is going to play a role in the job search process for a vast majority of you, so embrace it. Take a small step today toward growing your network and follow it up with another one soon after; you'll be on your way!