Anyone who moves to Washington, DC learns very quickly that the city survives completely on networking. For this reason, many of my clients looking to break into government jobs after college often hit a wall: they have no contacts. I get very excited when I hear this concern, because it’s an opportunity for me to unleash my favorite networking fact: you can get to anyone. That’s right. The more you build on your networking skills, the more you’ll see the fruits of this effort manifesting in your life. Here’s a few tips to get started.
1. Join events email lists. The best events to attend in DC include those at the US Institute of Peace, Brookings, Washington Network Group, Women in International Security, CATO, Women in Homeland Security… The list goes on. And while you should join all of these lists, you should especially sign up for the events list from the Heritage Foundation. The person in charge of this list is Sean Kibby (email@example.com), and he provides a comprehensive weekly list of what’s going on in the capitol.
2. Decide which events to attend. So, I’m guessing that you don’t have the time to attend every single event in the city unless you’re some real housewife of DC living a whole new level of the dream. Accordingly, you should carefully decide on what events are worth your time. I find that the list of panelists, combined with your general career interest in the topic, is the best guide to narrow it down. Also, I suggest maintaining a networking quota. In general, I advise clients to go to two events each month; this number significantly increases if they’re an active job seeker.
3. Introduce yourself to panelists. FACT: at the end of any event in DC, there’s going to be a swarm of hungry networkers headed straight to the panelists… But here’s the thing: their boldness does not necessarily mean that they are excellent networkers! This is where and when you get to stand out, and you can stand out by showing the panelist that you connected with their insights. This is why I always recommend taking a couple of notes on the panelists that interest you. Believe me, if you show the panelist that you connected with their presentation, and you introduce yourself from a genuine place, they will remember you.
4. Follow up via email. This is a crucial step. And I know what a lot of you are thinking: how do I get their email? This may seem daunting, but it’s not, because you don’t even have to ask! Obviously, asking for a card would be an easy route, but if you are afraid to do this for whatever reason, it’s okay. Most often, institutions provide a help or contact email on their website, which then exposes their email format. For example, “email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.” Now that you know the domain, you can try these few formats:
…and so on. The key is to keep trying because one WILL work.
5. Ask without asking. A lot of clients come to me with the impression that they must ask their new contacts for favors, such as “passing their resume” or “connecting them to other people.” This anxiety- ridden path is just not necessary! There are some excellent ways to alert your new contact that you’d like support from their network without cornering them to do you a favor. The most important thing you can do is make your follow up after the event an effort to connect.
Your email should include a few key bullets:
a. Reminding them you met, and that you were happy to connect.
b. Thanking them for their presentation, and letting them know you’re interested in attending others if they have some scheduled.
c. Letting them know you’d love to drop by to treat them to a cup of coffee at their convenience.
I welcome you to read my other article on networking do’s and don’ts for when you get that coffee! It’s reasonable to expect one out of four people to respond to you, so take on a mantra of high involvement and low attachment. If you stay engaged, you’ll realize that the one person who responds to you is the one that could very well change your career.