Sir Marcus Edward Setchell is the retired gynaecologist to the Queen and I had the pleasure of meeting him last week at a Biomedical and Health networking event. Many of my friends couldn’t fathom why I attended a Biomed networking event, given that I am 100% set on becoming a lawyer. The simple answer is that I believe networking is integral to having a successful career in any discipline.
Do you watch your phone ring while you ignore it, do you shop online so as to avoid the chaos in shops, do you text someone when you’re outside their house so you don’t have to encounter their housemates and do you pray you don’t bump into anyone you know when you’re wandering around town? You’ve probably all done one of these things at least once because we live in an antisocial time where we try to minimise the amount of physical interaction we have with other human beings. It has therefore come as an unwelcome realisation to many who are seeking employment, that there is much to be gained through ‘networking’.
Networking events can be incredibly helpful to get ideas about current affairs, different jobs, what people actually do in these jobs, and how to go about getting yourself one of those jobs.
The most important thing to do before a networking event is prepare thoroughly. Be sure to check what the appropriate dress code is, and if you don’t know, always dress formally. There are many different types of networking events but two of the most common in the legal sector are:
- A lecture followed by a Q&A/ meet and greet. Research all the people who are speaking at the event, so that if you get a chance to speak to them, you’re prepared to ask relevant questions and show that you’ve researched the topic they’re speaking about. If there is a Q&A session at the end of the talk then make notes as they’re speaking, so you can show you’re engaged in the topic and also interested in further clarification of any issues raised. Also, by taking notes about cases, articles and opinions mentioned by the guest speakers, you can add these to your application form when applying for a job in positions where this area of law is relevant.
- Networking over drinks. The most important thing to do is be confident and have purpose when approaching people. If you’re a student, you probably have the least to offer others in the room, but the most to gain. Although approaching many different people and having an almost identical conversation with each of them might seem painfully dull, you will eventually gather the courage and ask for what you want. Do you want work experience at their firm? Do you want to know their thoughts about a recent case judgment that falls within their area of expertise? Do you want general advice about how law firms recruit and what you could do to stand out? Then simply ask. Most people who attend networking events are prepared for these questions and are usually very willing to help.
Admittedly, it doesn’t always end well. I attended a cross-profession women’s networking event (which several men actually had the audacity to turn up to!) and had a rather awkward conversation after exclaiming ‘oh, you’re a judge’ to someone who had previously given a speech about her life as a judge that evening, but her face was not visible to me through the crowd and she looked nothing like her photo from Google (which had obviously been taken many decades before). Nonetheless, that same evening I had a rather more fortunate conversation with Her Honour Judge Sarah Munro QC, whom I asked for the opportunity to be her marshal for a week and she accepted my proposition within 10 minutes and was one of the most remarkable women I have ever had the chance to work with.
As it is becoming increasingly apparent that you need to have experience before you can even get work experience, it is more important than ever to make useful connections. While you may have idly passed your days during the summers of your university years, many thousands of others were doing internships, volunteering and working various jobs. Some people mistakenly believe that doing a Masters degree will make them ‘stand out’. It is simply no longer the minimum requirement to have a good degree, because quite frankly, companies are inundated with applications from graduates who have a 1st class undergraduate degree and a Masters. Especially now that many universities offer financial incentives for people to do Masters degrees and have increased the different subjects to do them in. While this does encourage more graduates to do a Masters, it also inadvertently increases the chances that your degrees will be in fields that have no relevance or use to you in the job you’re actually applying for. You therefore need to be able to offer something more than just good academic grades. Networking is a fantastic way to meet people and can often lead to fruitful experiences that will make you stand out.
P.S. Although it is common to hear about networking events through societies or groups you’re part of, sometimes you just have to take advantage of any situation you can. Before getting on this train I had no idea who Rio Ferdinand was. However, I did see a man of about 45 take a photo of Mr Ferdinand on the platform. As it is not everyday that fully grown men take photos of other men I concluded he must be famous. I also took a photo of him and sent it one of my male friends, who quickly identified the footballer. I googled Mr Ferdinand’s life for about 20mins and then approached him to introduce myself. Should I meet him again I would confidently remind him of this encounter and ask him if he wanted to be part of my charity work.
*Disclaimer: This caption was for light-hearted humour only. I have never actively sought after a sugar daddy and to the best of my knowledge Rio Ferdinand does not have any sugar children*