What they dread is going to some fund-raiser, cocktail party, or industry event where the goal is to find The One: a client who will give them a steady stream of business, and secure their place at the firm.
Business development is a chore. And trying to do so by plunging head-first into a room full of strangers is tough--almost as brutal as going to a college mixer with the goal of coming out with a steady boyfriend for the next four years. Like college mixers, the odds aren't great that you'll find true love. But it happens.
Recently, Steven Bennett, a partner in Jones Day's New York office, offered up some pointers on "working a room" in The National Law Journal. His advice is surprisingly user-friendly.
One of his first commands: Do your research. Look at the event guest list and decide who you want to hit up. The goal, he explains, "is to find a few good quality contacts, and to spend enough time with each to learn about their needs and interests, and leave a favorable impression."
Next: Case the joint.
• Crowded rooms tend to produce clumps of people, often difficult to penetrate. Look for opportunities on the fringes of the room, or in the entrance hall.
•Some locations naturally draw individuals, more available for conversation. A check-in table may be ideal, as is the bar.
And if you really know no one there, Bennett offers the following suggestions:
• Greet the host (or person who invited you). Give a "thank you," and ask to be introduced to guests who might share your interests.
• Greet the guest speaker(s), before the presentation, and ask whether one of your interests will be addressed in the talk.
• Approach other "singles" in the crowd. Be candid: "I really don't know anyone here. Do you?"
That last tip is especially clever--kind of like saying, "I hate mixers too--don't you?"
Obviously, Bennett doesn't offer any analogies to mixers or singles events, but the parallels seem obvious. His strategy for moving on to the next person brings speed dating to mind: "Good-quality conversations usually take 15-20 minutes," he says. "After that time, both you and your conversation-mate may begin to feel some pressure to disengage." (A history note: Speed dating was created by a Los Angeles rabbi in the 1990s to encourage marriage between Jewish singles. In actual speed dating, both sides check each other out for four to ten minutes, then move on to the next candidate.)
To "disengage," Bennett suggests closing the conversation by asking for a business card. But if you sense potential for something a bit more lasting, he says, consider a bolder move, like saying, "I'll give a call next week."
Finally, he offers this advice: "Have fun. Enjoy the adventure. Surprise yourself."
If only I knew these techniques in college.
If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.