The Importance of Showing Up and Engaging When You RSVP for an Event
By Sherri Bridgeforth
Law Career Development
Throughout your law school advancement, you will receive invitations to attend various formal and informal luncheons, meetings, panels, events, and receptions both on and off-campus. According to Above the Law, these events are “professional adult events – not drop in parties . . . . If you are invited, respond. If you say yes, show up. This is not an Evite situation where you say ‘yes’ and decide last minute not to come.” You are constantly under observation and scrutiny so your attendance and behavior at these events can impact the opportunities you receive. Events should be approached with the same level of professionalism as an interview.
Professional Event Etiquette
Harvard Business School Professor Laura Morgan Roberts defines professional image as “the set of qualities and characteristics that represent perceptions of your competence and character as judged by your key constituents (i.e., clients, superiors, and colleagues).” Showing up, being punctual, maintaining a professional appearance, and engaging at events contributes positively to your desired professional image. The alternative is an undesired professional image which is hard to restore.
The legal profession is traditionally conservative in its principles of civility and decorum. As for the practice of law there are explicit expectations that attorneys exhibit truthfulness and decorum. The legal profession holds honesty in high regard and has established consequences for violations thereof. Civility and decorum are trademarks of the legal profession that the public rely on.
As a law student you are building your professional brand in the legal community. Additionally, you are competing with other candidates for the same opportunities. This is where personal branding can distinguish you from the crowd.
Why Is It Important for Our Clients, Colleagues, and Peers to Trust Us?
Your word is your social capital, your social capital is your integrity, and your integrity is how you earn the trust and respect of your peers, colleagues, and clients in the legal profession and abroad.
Your professional reputation depends on your integrity. Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said “integrity includes but goes beyond honesty. Honesty is telling the truth – in other words, conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words . . . . keeping promises and fulfilling expectations.” When expectations are unmet the consequences can impact our obligations to clients and professional opportunities.
When you RSVP for an event you are letting the host know you are committed to attending and he or she can depend on you. As a result, the host makes accommodations for you to attend be it food preparation or a guaranteed seat at an event with limited enrollment. When you RSVP “yes” for an event and you do not show or cancel last minute you develop a negative reputation that you are not dependable and you lack respect for the host. Furthermore, your absence potentially took an opportunity away from a well-deserving student who could have benefited from the opportunity you usurped.
Also, it is unlikely that you would extend an offer for an internship or employment to an individual with a reputation of being a no-show or canceling at the last minute. Why is that? It is likely because as an employer you are tasked with upholding the business or firm’s positive reputation in the community and inherent in having a positive reputation is being dependable and trustworthy. Generally speaking, a positive reputation in the community means the business has earned the trust and respect of its clients, colleagues, and peers and that level of integrity typically generate more business.
Engagement: Developing Opportunities through Relationship Building
While you continue to build your brand you should continue to expand your network. Tom Farley, President of the NYSE, attributes every job he ever had to networking and defined networking as “collecting relationships with interesting or influential people irrespective of the immediate benefit of these relationships.”
Growing your network requires active relationship building. You increase your network exposure by attending and participating in various academic and social events as well as engaging with the participants and speakers.
What does that mean? Engagement comes in many forms, including asking questions about one’s interests and career path, setting up informational interviews, and asking for advice. In addition to active relationship building, you benefit from increased brand recognition and learning opportunities that may develop into career advancements.
In sum, it is important for your own professional development and reputation that you honor your commitments and build relationships. There are no do-overs with first impressions.
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