It’s a small world out there, and everyone knows someone. They all have wisdom and experiences that they can pass on to others, and it’s important to draw on as big a circle of contacts as possible. My personal story is a testament of the power of networking.
My dad always told me that relationships create opportunities, and he is absolutely correct. Think about the time you wanted to go on holiday somewhere and thought, “I should go visit my old friend in Australia or Thailand or England.” Boom! All of a sudden, by virtue of your friendship, you have an incredible holiday opportunity.
As an international student from Zimbabwe, now pursuing a legal career in the UK, I knew competition was tough to get a training contract, and I haven’t yet achieved that, but I’m getting closer.
My strategy involved spending hours searching for individuals with inspiring career paths, researching their work, reading their articles and taking my chances to connect with them via LinkedIn. It was no surprise that only half replied to me, but those that did all offered words of wisdom or encouragement of sorts. I took their advice and kept connecting and having discussions online, some of which led to in person meetings.
One of the people I met was a lovely man in Manchester who worked for the Department of International Trade Africa. He connected me with a friend of his in Scotland who ran a non-profit organisation that conducted trade missions and facilitated trade and investment to Africa. This was perfect – a dream come true! I met up with Frazer Lang, CEO of the Scottish Africa Business Association (SABA) to discuss my interests, his organisation and how we could help one another.
Frazer and I had a similar vision and goals, and I volunteered my time during and after my degree to promote and boost SABA through content marketing. As a result I was able to attend trade missions with high commissioners and government officials. I was networking with the best of the best! Through volunteering for SABA I grew my trade and legal network almost three-fold in six months.
I loved and respected the opportunities I accessed via SABA, but I was also working a minimum wage job at the time to keep the lights on. SABA was a passion of mine that I hoped to turn into a career, but the timing just wasn’t right.
Around that time Scott Cowan, CEO of Africa Legal and my current employer, reached out to me on LinkedIn, curious about what SABA does and our offerings. I met with him over zoom, then I introduced Scott to Frazer and they are now the best of friends.
I didn’t leave our relationship there, though, I subsequently contacted Scott asking for advice on how to kick start my career. I explained that I was volunteering with SABA and working part-time elsewhere, and I shared my CV with him. I received some incredible advice and we kept in touch. Two months later, Scott reached out to me offering me a part-time position at Africa Legal! Long-story short, I took the job, became full-time and have since dedicated my heart and soul to Africa Legal.
Obviously not everyone you connect with will be helpful, they won’t be; but a handful will, and that makes all the difference. You miss 100% of the shots you do not take, so take that shot, try to connect, send that message, ask for help and be kind. Networks make the world go round.
This article is part of the Africa Legal Graduate Development Series. The series aims to equip students, graduates and junior members of our community with the skills and knowledge to succeed in today’s legal market. To further prepare you for your future in law, take a look at our free online courses on Preparing for your first legal interview and How to draft your legal CV.
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