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Networking is a crucially important part of your career journey. The ability to form beneficial professional connections, outside of your immediate circle, will really positively impact the later stages of your career. If you’re in an early career stage and aren’t actively networking – you definitely should be.
But how are you supposed to network in the remote working era? We wanted to find out, so we invited Toby Hornett, legal career coach and solicitor, to speak on this topic at March’s instalment of the Virtual Lunch events in partnership with Flex Legal and Crafty Counsel. Toby gave a fantastic talk, and imparted loads of practical advice on remote networking.
Here are the main takeaways from the session:
Let’s start by understanding why networking is important to begin with. Try and think about the key differences between working in an office and working remotely. The first things that probably come to mind are how much you miss casually grabbing a coffee with colleagues, or how much you really don’t miss commuting. Those are good things to consider, but there’s something really important you probably didn’t consider – your peripheral network.
Your peripheral network are the people you interact with outside of your immediate professional circle. In a real-life office setting, you’re constantly exposed to new people on the peripheries in the day-to-day flow of working life. Toby reminded us that meeting these new people, and increasing your ‘social capital’, is ultimately key to your later career progression. It’s these connections that might land you a job in the future, or be an inside connection for a company you eventually apply for, or even just offer you good career advice. Toby gave us the helpful diagram you can see above to explain this.
When working remotely, you obviously won’t get exposed to this peripheral network as easily as you normally would. In the last year, professional networks have gotten smaller as people now only really interact with the people they immediately work with. Smaller, tighter networks have become the new norm. If you want to maintain the career benefits of expanding your peripheral network, then you’re going to have to be proactive, and make remote networking a habit.
The best way to form any habit is to start small and work your way up. Networking and expanding your peripheral network is no different. As Lao Tzu once said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. He probably wasn’t referring to professional networking over the internet during a global pandemic, but it’s still a handy phrase.
Toby encouraged everyone to think of someone you want to keep in touch with. This could be old employer, colleague, lecturer, or anyone else who has helped you in the past. Start with that person, and reach out to them. Send them an email or LinkedIn message letting them know how you’re doing or how they helped you on your journey. The aim here is solely to reach out and establish a dialogue, nothing more.
The key to successful networking, Toby noted, was to ‘pay it forward’. In other words – make contact when you don’t need anything. Establish a good relationship with someone that has helped you in the past, and could potentially help you again. You should of course be realistic about whether you can keep semi-regular contact with this person, but if you can reasonably do so then you are investing in this relationship for the future. You’re paying it forward, meaning that when you do need something, they’re more likely to pass opportunities your way.
When you’ve done it once – it’s time to step it up. List 2 or 3 additional people you might want to speak with more often, and reach out to them as well. You could thank them for ways they’ve helped you previously, update them on where you are now, or even just engage in a casual conversation.
Networking is just like exercise – little and often is the best way to go. Good habits form over time, and require small but consistent effort to make long-term gains. Networking is the same. Make a point to send a message to one or two people a week, and hold yourself to account for doing it. Networking doesn’t have to be anything beyond short, sweet, informative, and friendly updates. Even just casual thanks, or links to interesting people or articles, are more than enough.
The more you network, the easier it will get. Set your sights higher. Identify people on your periphery who are ambitious potential connections, and do your homework. LinkedIn is a really easy way to do this. Look them up, learn more about them, and try to think of a good way to get a conversation going. Remember, you shouldn’t expect something from them immediately, and not everyone is going to respond. However, if you reach out to ten ambitious peripheral connections and you make one good connection that could help you in the future, that’s still great progress. Keep this up over time, make a habit of it, and you can build yourself a solid and healthy peripheral network without even needing to leave your home.
So there we have it, a good starting guide to networking in the age of remote working. Just to recap, here’s the main points you should take away from this:
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Sophie is Head of Learning & Development at F-LEX Legal - an award winning legal tech startup helping law firms and organisations manage a flexible work force and supporting lawyers to make smarter life/work choices.
As part of her portfolio career Sophie runs various learning and development and networking forums for in-house lawyers and mentors junior lawyers. These include Flying Solo for small and solo legal teams and Aspire for junior in-house lawyers which she runs for LexisNexis UK. She also works with schools and organisations to promote social mobility within the legal profession, working with The Social Mobility Business Partnership and Aspiring Solicitors.
She trained as a lawyer in the City and worked as an in-house lawyer for 10 years including as Head of Legal for Virgin Radio and Ginger Media Group.
Outside of work she is happily married with three sons and enjoys morning walks along the beach with her two dogs.
0330 161 1234