When Jennifer B. Litchman reflects on what helped her get to a high level in her career, she wishes she could use a word other than networking so people don’t cringe when they hear it.
“It’s all about your relationships and it’s about making sure that you maintain relationships,” she said.
Litchman, who is now senior vice president of external relations at the University of Maryland Baltimore, recalls that one of her most important professional connections was someone she kept in touch with even though she had no idea if he would ever return to Maryland.
She had worked closely with Dr. Jay Perman at the University of Maryland Baltimore’s School of Medicine, but he left to take a post at the University of Kentucky. She sought him out every year at the Association of American Medical College’s annual meeting, simply because she thought of him as a great guy.
When Perman returned as president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore in 2011, he asked her to be his special assistant, where she was the principal executive on the president’s initiatives and advised him on reputation enhancement, outreach, and communications strategies. Later that year, she was named chief communications officer and VP. Perman is now chancellor of the university system.
“You never know who’s going to come back into your future from your past,” said Litchman.
She advises women to show up in person, send notes, and check up on contacts to keep things current. She knows a little bit about how to do it well. Her claim to fame is as a character in the New York Times best-selling nonfiction book “The Girls from Ames,” about a group of childhood friends from Ames, Iowa who share cherished, lifelong connections. But not everyone will turn out to be the right fit for a mentor or sponsor, whom she defines as someone at an organization who will help move a person’s career forward.
“If you can’t find somebody who you click with, who you can connect with, who has the same values you do, just don’t worry about it and just keep looking,” Litchman advised.
Deepening relationships is also top of the list of advice Kaitlin Corey has to offer. Corey, a partner at Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP, said that she is still climbing at age 33, but even at this stage she values mentoring and advises the students she teaches as an adjunct law professor.
Though she has three young children, Corey makes time for both working hard and networking. She is often out from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., relying on her husband to care for the children and reserving her weekends for family time.
“It goes without saying but in order to advance quickly in your career you have to work hard and be proactive,” Corey said. “So, while I do spend a good amount of time at my desk, I spend nearly an equal amount of time networking.”
Even more critical is following up with the people she meets: “It’s actually establishing those relationships to a deeper level.”
In her practice, that includes anticipating the needs of her clients, Corey also makes an effort to communicate well and be transparent, which has been key for retaining clients.
Ultimately, attaining success often means taking a leap of faith. That’s what Chelsea Crawford did when she went from a career in broadcast journalism to civil rights law.
In 2008, she decided to go to take out student loans and go to law school, even as headlines came out saying graduates weren’t landing jobs after graduation.
“You’ve got a good paying job now. Law school doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Crawford remembers people advising her.
But she had decided to pursue law because certain issues were so important to her that she didn’t want to remain neutral or objective. Instead, she thought about how to amplify and build on the skills she already had in a new career.
For her, that was how to write, how to be concise and clear, thinking creatively, and drawing on her experience pitching new stories in a room full of editors.
Crawford is now a partner at Brown, Goldstein and Levy and has done substantial work in wrongful convictions, police misconduct and disability rights cases.
As she pivoted, she made sure to maintain the network she already had, and chose a school with a strong public interest law program in Baltimore.
“I don’t have any regrets at all about changing careers, and in fact think it was one of the best decisions of my life,” Crawford said. “I’m incredibly fulfilled by what I do now as a lawyer in private practice and I think I owe a lot of success to the skills I was able to develop as a journalist.”