When Networking Means Careworking

The Bencher—January/February 2017

By Samantha Divine Jallah, Esquire

I sat in my car for what seemed like an eternity, trying to talk myself out of it. It was a networking mixer and it awakened grave fear within me. I planned on attending it as a part of my business development efforts. The “happily ever after” I was seeking was more business, which would lead to more money and recognition for me and my team. The plan was perfect—until I had to muster the courage to enter the event. 

Walking through the door, I immediately felt uncertain, intimidated, and lost. My smile was tense, my palms were sweating, and my legs were shaking when someone mercifully said, “Hi.” His greeting was the only small talk we exchanged before the instant interview began. He wanted to know where I worked and what I did there. I answered and tried to mirror his questions. But before I could get to my “pitch,” he saw someone more important and rescued himself from my pitiful company. That was the first of many failures that night, and after a few more crashes, I left worse than I came—no new customers, no relationships, and no confidence. My networking and business development efforts have changed since that night, as I have learned the importance of caring, compassing, and circling. 

Start by Caring

My first mistake that evening was my expectations. I expected to manipulate others into bringing their business to me. I expected to resolve their problems without investing in understanding their challenges. I was more concerned about my pocket and pride than their needs. My failure that night taught me to care more. Networking wasn’t about handing out cards and exploiting people; it was about caring enough to understand their needs and share a solution, whether that solution involved me or others within my network. I learned what Zig Ziglar meant by, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If networking is about creating relationships, then caring is a great place to start.

Let the Compass Guide You

A compass has four cardinal directions—North, South, East, and West. Our networking perspectives should mirror the compass. Imagine you’re the point on the compass where the North–South line intersects the East–West line. When you strategize about your business prospect or your career progression, you’ll naturally network North. You look for a prospect who will expand your portfolio or a sponsor who will open doors for you, as you should. 

Unfortunately, few people think about networking South. In my legal career, paralegals and assistants have taught me things associates and partners didn’t have the time to teach me. In business, I’ve seen individuals deal with the consequences of failing to network South when their subordinates later became their superiors. And, in sales, I’ve seen networking South pay significantly when salespeople care about the gatekeeper. 

While the North–South line represents hierarchical positions, the East–West line represents individuals on your level with skills and traits above and below yours. These individuals must not be ignored. When I was a bank manager interviewing teller candidates, I’d often ask the tellers to share their impression of candidates based on how the candidates interacted with them prior to the interview. If candidates wowed the manager but snubbed the tellers, they didn’t get a second shot.

In academic environments, I have seen star students show little regard for average or below-average students. As you network, remember the words of President George W. Bush during the commencement address at Southern Methodist University: “To those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards and distinctions, I say ‘well done.’ And as I like to tell C students: You too can be president.”

Make It a Circle, Not Just a Cycle

Networking should be completed and not just repeated. Many people have mastered the scene I described above, repeatedly attending mixers to acquire business. They should be commended for exemplifying the patience, practice, and poise required to excel in these environments. However, we miss the mark if we focus more on the interactions than the relationships. If networking is about relationships, we should use the initial interactions to show we care. Next, we can demonstrate our care by cultivating mutually beneficial relationships. Then, we can invite and connect individuals, who have demonstrated they care, into a group with the shared interest of turning interactions into relationships.

Journey to the Inn

My journey to becoming a member of the James S. Bowman American Inn of Court exemplifies the caring, compassing, and circling approach to networking. About a year ago, I joined the Pennsylvania Office of General Counsel Hiring Committee and met Linda Randby, a Master member of the Bowman Inn. I admired her almost instantly. She was punctual and prepared for meetings. If she felt an applicant could benefit from a résumé or interview tip, she graciously shared it. If I needed encouragement as a young lawyer or mom, she generously gave it. Linda not only cared, she magnanimously networked South with the applicants and me.

Not long after meeting Linda, I asked her about networking opportunities within the legal profession. She enthusiastically recommended the American Inns of Court and offered to sponsor me the next time her Inn was accepting new members. I had heard about the American Inns before; I even considered joining during law school. I did not because I felt joining would have been like attending my first networking mixer. But this time was different. My relationship with Linda made the idea of joining the Inn appealing in three ways.

First, I knew Linda would be participating, and I wanted an opportunity to see and learn from her in a different setting. Second, I knew my relationship with Linda would make my transition into the Inn seamless. Third, because she enjoyed participating in the Inn, I knew there would be more people like her in the Inn and I got excited about meeting them.

The bottom line is, I chose to apply and become a member of the American Inns of Court because of Linda. While cultivating a relationship with me, she has given me reasons to admire and trust her. I trust that any network of hers is a network worth joining. For my first meeting, I will walk into the Bowman Inn with the confidence of a relationship—not a tense smile, sweaty palms, and shaky legs. Why? Because I have experienced a networking strategy that cares, compasses, and circles.

Samantha D. Jallah, Esquire, is Assistant Counsel with the Office of General Counsel, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. She is a member of the James S. Bowman AIC.

A similar version of this article was previously published in At Issue, a publication of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Young Lawyers Division. The article is posted here with permission.