How I Networked My Way to My Dream Job Out of Law School

In this interview, an Oregon lawyer shares her story about her networking experiences and how they led her to her career path.

What was your first job after law school?

When I graduated from law school, I knew that I wanted a job in policy work, but I didn’t know which area. I was particularly interested in criminal justice reform, healthcare, or education. I knew that one way to give myself more time to make this decision was with a clerkship where I would get a wide range of experience and meet a range of people in different practice areas.

I was able to get a judicial clerkship out of law school, and shortly after starting, I began networking. I first met with a judge who gave me two names of people to meet with, and I followed up with them. I then met with someone at a healthcare agency, which started me thinking that the healthcare policy world was where I wanted to be.

How many people did you network with?

Lots! Each person I talked to would give me about two to three more names of people to contact. They weren’t all doing healthcare policy work, but they were all lawyers. Oregon is too small a community to say no to someone who is willing to talk to you. I gained useful information from each person and found that everyone knows someone who knows someone.

Did you have specific goals in your networking?

In networking I had two goals: the first was to be memorable and to make a personal connection with this person, and the second was to get another name. Lawyers you meet with already know that you are job searching. My goal was to help them remember my name if a job opening came across their desk.

When we met, we mostly talked about what they did, not what I was looking for. Like everyone, lawyers like to talk about their career paths and their motivations. I would ask them a lot of questions. I got this advice from someone early on. You don’t have to say what you want to do; just ask them what they do. You will usually find something to relate to, and that personal connection is what makes the person you are talking with willing to recommend your name to the next person. I had many meaningful conversations about things other than work – hiking, pets, law school, social justice issues to name a few which helped make that personal connection.

How long did the whole process take?

I began my clerkship in August 2013 and started having coffee dates a few months later. I spent about six months networking until I found the specific opportunity I wanted to pursue.

What were the most challenging aspects of your job search?

For me, the hardest part of looking for a job is always the first step, whether it’s networking or submitting a job application. The other challenge for me was answering the “What do you want to do?” question. This was a challenge because I felt that part of the reason I was networking was to discover what policy jobs were available.

I had to become comfortable with answering the question pretty broadly. I knew this was the beginning of a journey to my career path of choice, which is to influence policy at the state or even federal level. I did not want a traditional lawyer career path, and I would constantly feel the pressures of joining private practice, especially when I did not offer a specific answer to the “What do you want to do” question. I found that if I was confident and direct with my answer – that I wanted to do policy work and influence legislative changes to serve Oregonians – people respected that and wanted to help.

My advice is to look inward first – you know yourself better than anyone – and then determine the necessary steps to get to the future you want. As you gather information and learn more about career paths, you may find a better path. For me, it was all about the journey, not finding the “perfect job.”

How did you overcome any setbacks or obstacles along the way?

Another big challenge was to be patient during my job search and not get too stressed. I was really lucky to have my clerkship to rely on. It gave me stability, and I was able to be patient while I looked for a job.

Once I figured out what I wanted to do, sometimes I would have to say no to opportunities that I knew were not the career path I wanted. It would have been tempting to say yes just because it was convenient. I had to continue to listen to myself and know that I decided on this path and I need to be comfortable with my decision. I am beyond grateful that along this path I found people who did support me, and those folks are extremely valuable.

What did you learn through the process?

I learned that it’s very important to be really well organized about whom you are networking with, because when the networking tree grows, it can become a large number of people quickly. People don’t always get back to you right away, so I had to have a method to track contacts, follow-ups, thank-you notes, and details about where and when we met and what we discussed.

What advice do you have for recent graduates and new lawyers?

I found that people were really willing to help, so my advice would be to jump in and start networking. I found everyone to be unbelievably supportive and kind. People want to help. Also, I found it was quite valuable to follow up with the people I networked with and to update them on my search. I sent an initial thank you and also emailed the original person to let him or her know I met with the contact and what we discussed. I was surprised to find people appreciated my checking in with them.

How did you find time to make all those contacts and do all that networking?

In terms of reaching out to people, I used the same base information and varied it. The first email I wrote took me a long time to write, but once I had one or two versions, I started with the same email for everyone and changed the details. I did the same for every follow-up thank-you note as well, which cut down on some of the time.

In terms of actual networking, I tried to have two coffees a month. Or I would invite particular people to join me at a bar event. Or it might be a quick phone call over lunch. So the initial part of networking was time-consuming, but after that, once I got going, I got into a rhythm.

Is there anything else you found helpful?

I also found that meeting with so many people helped with my job interview skills. Networking is great practice for interviews. I became well-versed in what to say. Applying for 50 jobs sounds exhausting, but having one-on-one conversations with people is doable. That familiarity gave me a leg up and saved time in the end. For example, if I found out a job opportunity would be available in the near future, I would try to meet with as many of the people involved with that job as possible beforehand. Although these coffees and phone calls are not job interviews, they allowed me to get to know people in a more relaxed setting and they got to know me. It also gave me an opportunity to show that I could follow through and take initiative.

– Grateful for All the Support

The OAAP is available to assist with career transition. Please call 503-226-1057 to brainstorm ideas, hone your job search skills, and do some self-assessment.