Building Your Network

Whom DO You Know?

Unless you have resided in a fallout shelter since the 1950s, you likely know a great many more people than you think you do. It is virtually impossible for you to have successfully negotiated your way to adulthood without meeting–and leaving an impression upon–a considerable number of people along the way, including:
Friends of friends
Friends of relatives
Friends of neighbors
Fellow academic alumni/ae
College and law school professors
Current classmates (if in school)
Colleagues at work
Workplace alumni/ae
Other professional colleagues
Job interviewers (yes, even they can become part of your network)
Former employers
Members of your current and former clubs and organizations (such as bar associations, community and cultural groups, churches/synagogues, PTAs, athletic teams, and volunteer groups)
Political contacts

Step One: Make a Big List

Bill Clinton may be the best networker in history. As a teenager, he began keeping file cards on people he met, addresses, phone numbers, the circumstances of their meetings, their families, etc. He had accumulated 17,000 by the time he ran for president.

I am not suggesting that you emulate him to quite this “OCD” extent. However, if you think about the different phases of your life, you are bound to come up with a great many names. Your initial “pass” should list their names and their relationship to you.

Step Two: Fine-Tune the List

This is where you cull out the best potential contacts and indicate why they fall into that category. Also, list how each of these individuals might be able to help you. A relative, for example, may be a member of an interesting organization, and could serve to introduce you to other members of the organization.

For example, one of my former company’s career counseling candidates came up with the following “Step Two” list of potential contacts:

His daughter’s English teacher was the wife of a former member of Congress who was now working as a presidential appointee in the federal government.
A neighbor ran an export-import company that had very strong contacts across the high-technology community as well as in the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The parent of his son’s baseball teammate was a lobbyist for one of the largest publishing companies in the U.S.
A member of his parish church was a consultant in a Big Four CPA firm who numbered among his clients a variety of law firms and in-house counsel shops.

Don’t limit your list only to those people who might help you directly. Speculate also on how these individuals might be able to help you indirectly. For example, one of our counseling candidates included on her list a law professor who had published articles on the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement. We recommended that she contact the professor and probe not only how he could advise and assist her directly, but also whether he might be able to introduce her to officials in the U.S. Government who were working in the field of U.S.-Canada trade (and other) relations. The professor was able to arrange an informational interview between our candidate and a senior Commerce Department official who had served with the professor on an advisory panel. This contact, in turn, led her to another government official in another Federal agency dealing with international trade and investment matters, a contact that resulted in an interview.

Whom SHOULD You Know?

The easy answer to this question is: as many people as you possibly can cram into your circle.  A successful “rainmaker” attorney in Denver does not go anywhere–church, PTA meetings, soccer games, swim meets, etc., without a stack of business cards which he distributes to everyone he meets. In his early career, he even joined more than one church in order to maximize his contacts. True, this was a bit extreme, but it worked.

Have a goal to meet at least two new people a week. If you can achieve that, you will build up a potential network of vast proportions.