Networking Failure

I haven’t posted anything recently, mostly because there has been nothing noteworthy to post. No interview offers of late, and very little beyond the standard rejections that have been slowly filtering in to my inbox. I did however get one unsettling bit of information. I’m uncertain what to do with the most recent insight I have been granted into the legal job market. It sorta implies most of my actions have been for naught these past few months in my grand networking pursuit.

I had a horribly enlightening conversation recently where it was explained to me in unvarnished terms exactly how networking is supposed to get you a job.  And it explains my current problems completely. I also think most people are using the term ‘networking’ incorrectly at this point.

So if we assume that at least 50%, if not more, of the jobs out there are un-posted and instead gotten through networking, the old question I started out with still stands. ‘How does one get a job through networking?’

There are actually 2 distinct concepts of networking at play. In the vast majority of cases, when someone says ‘networking’ they are actually referring to making business contacts. The standard concept of mutual benefit in which one party wants to sell you something, and you might want what they are selling. Think in the context of all of the legal luncheons I’ve shown up to where the majority of the guests are consultants: the consultants were selling services targeted to attorneys, and the attorneys were interested in the services because (in theory) the valuation services would get them a higher damage award. You can also think of this type of networking as the social / business meeting where two attorneys in complimentary specialties have an unofficial reciprocal referral arrangement. I send all my bankruptcies to you, and you send all your collections to me (I know, those two are usually linked and not complimentary but use your imagination damnit.) The main concept to take away from this first type of networking is that the relationship is reciprocal and continuing.

The second type of networking is much more ephemeral. It is the unilateral concept of networking. One side has nothing to offer, and the other has everything. You could almost more accurately describe it as a favor. An intern works for you for free (or damn near) and in turn you help them get hired, somewhere. Or the unicorn of the legal world, you meet the well connected individual who goes out of their way to call in a favor to get you hired with a firm; for no other reason than they like you. Now, granted, this type of networking is not completely unilateral. There is the implicit understanding that at some point in the future, you could in turn help the person who helped you. It’s not 100% required, but there is an understood obligation if the need arises.  I guess a bit like organized crime… I will do this service for you, but in return I will come asking a favor of you at some point in the future.

So… What I was told is that most positions are unlisted, in fact in many areas, they are completely unlisted. The first run at these positions goes to the nepotism hires (legacies?), the next hit goes to any interns who might be working there. Whatever left is what we are talking about now. A great many firms don’t  bother overtly looking for someone to fill these positions unless it is absolutely mission critical. And most critical positions are higher end lateral positions anyway, so they are out of reach to anyone without 5 yrs of on-point employment. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t open positions at the firm; these open positions are subcritical and can be filled at their leisure. The way these positions are filled is a steady trickle of phone calls from the friends and networking contacts of the partners. Firm A calls Firm B and after some smalltalk says they heard Firm B is looking to fill out some associate positions, and ‘oh hey by the way, I know this great guy who I would love to see working there…’ They vouchsafe credibility upon the applicant in a way a cold resume can’t. But more than that, Firm A has just told Firm B they would like a small quid pro quo. Hire this person and we will continue sending work to you, in fact we will probably send more because I like the person you are hiring.

To give this a more personal flair, I worked at an internship for 2 years continuously, for free and in truth at substantial cost in time and money to myself. The overarching idea was my investment of time for the benefit of the office I was working for would compel an obligation in them to hire me, or possibly work on my behalf to get me hired elsewhere. Although I was initially offered a position, the offer was rescinded as so many others were in the summer of 2009 for a variety of unfortunate economic reasons. The implication then was that the office would actually expend some effort to rectify the situation and reach out to connections elsewhere in an effort to help me secure a position. But that didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened. No calls on my behalf, no contacts, damn near no interest. A new intern replaced me rather quickly and the office started calling him “the new Azrael.” I stopped by the office sometime later and happened to meet them… they were excited to actually meet their namesake. It was weird and depressing. I had been replaced and ignored almost instantly. Some of the failure to engender any sense of obligation likely was because it was a government position. Imagine trying to get a recommendation from someone at the DMV. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you get the idea.

Most of my networking attempts have ended with a half-effort by the networking source. They feel magnanimous for granting you their time and they bestow upon you a handful of contacts seemingly pulled at random from their email address book (which if you are doing your research correctly you have probably already reached out to with a cold resume anyway). But you are at least granted the the use of the source’s name to put in your email and say “oh hey, I had lunch the other day with so-and-so (drop name here) and they said you might have an associate position I would be perfect for…” But the personal phone call and recommendation that actually gets you in the door is reserved for someone else.

So… what is my take away from this? Apparently I need to go hunt unicorns.

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