Sitting in for Meredith Haydon this issue, we welcome Susan Sneider as our guest columnist for Your Career.
Networking Expands Horizons, Opens Doors and Maximizes Career Satisfaction
When people ask me what networking is, I often start with identifying what networking is not.
Glad-handing, pandering and pushiness are neither networking skills nor prerequisites to successful networking (and are, in fact, really incompatible with it). Working a room, while a great skill and potentially an initial networking step, is not networking either. Networking, it turns out, is actually something quite methodical and long term. It is equally accessible to extroverts and introverts alike and is best viewed as a marathon, not a sprint.
I define networking as the building and sustaining relationships over time to provide value to others. The heart of networking is helping others. The good news is that in the process of helping others, people are likely to experience their own personal and professional benefits in the future.
Networkers are people who generate positive energy and a genuine interest in talking and, most significantly, listening to others. After an encounter with a good networker ends, you’re left feeling that you’ve met someone that you’d like to get to know better.
For in-house counsel, internal corporate networking—both within and outside the legal department—is critical for job security, promotion and status. Perhaps equally important, networking expands one’s nonprofessional horizons, maximizes career satisfaction and creates possibilities otherwise not anticipated.
Several general counsel quoted in A Lawyer’s Guide to Networking identified key networking opportunities for in-house counsel.
Hilary Rapkin, senior vice president and general counsel, WEX Inc., articulates the importance of internal networking: “Internal networking is essential to becoming a better lawyer and furthering one’s career. When working as an in-house counsel, it is essential to understand what motivates and drives your business partner/clients. It’s equally important that our clients see us as ‘real people’ and not intellectual snobs; someone whose guidance and counsel is sought. The more we develop good personal relationships with our clients the better we can fulfill our role of protecting the company’s interests and advancing its strategic business objectives.”
Anna Richo, executive vice president and general counsel, UCB, discusses the career-enhancing aspect of internal networking: “Most lawyers coming in-house are not cognizant of the importance of internal networking. And, even if they are consciously aware, most assume that the networking is simply within the legal function. That’s a big mistake. From a career standpoint, the fastest way to advance is when business clients tell the general counsel that you are an important part of their business team, contributing to the unit’s growth.”
Bjarne Tellmann, senior vice president and general counsel, Pearson plc, explains how he teaches his in-house lawyers to network both internally and externally: “One of the cornerstones of our (over 250 person) legal department’s culture is importing and exporting excellence. We seek to nurture and nourish our legal department’s curiosity in the profession, the company and the world beyond our ‘patch.’ Creating that culture requires two characteristics: avid learners and networking. Avid learners celebrate new ways to learn and shamelessly borrow excellence from others’ work. Networking is the vehicle for seeking out new ideas and bringing them back to share.”
My philosophy on networking is consistent with how Mike Evers views the role of his firm, which he discusses in this month’s Culture Fit column. Helping others and adding value unselfishly almost inevitably leads to good outcomes.
The next time you are given the opportunity to help a person in your company, whether professionally or personally, step up and say an enthusiastic “yes.” A positive outlook coupled with a willingness to help others will improve your daily approach to life and enhance your long-term prospects.
Susan Sneider is an internationally recognized consultant in the legal and financial industries. Founder and principal of New Vistas Consulting, she is the author of the American Bar Association’s best seller, A Lawyer’s Guide to Networking, and the author of Chapter 16, “The Relationship between the Legal Department and the Corporation” in the West/ACC Treatise, Partnering Between Inside and Outside Counsel. A former general counsel, law firm executive and practitioner, Susan acts as an executive coach for GCs and consults, trains and facilitates retreats for law firm and legal department clients. None of the content in this column may be reproduced without prior written permission of the ABA.