We’ve all heard it: "D.C. is built on networking!" But my first few [forced] networking events in D.C. made for painful memories.
Thrown into a room full of people I had never met, I would work up the courage to talk to one or two attendees before making a beeline for the refreshments and enjoying a few moments of refuge.
When you hear the word "networking," is this the type of experience that comes to mind?
Attending events in D.C. and meeting new people is important (and, trust me, it gets easier!), but there’s more to building a network than simply adding new people to it. Your network is already larger than you think.
I was once asked to write down the names of 100 people whom I consider to be part of my network. Daunting! But after struggling for a while, I was given categories to consider: family, friends, classmates, teachers, co-workers, teammates, Happy Hour crew … and the list went on. Thinking of 100 people was suddenly quite easy.
When looking for a job in D.C., it’s common to only think of the "big fish," the people with clout who you assume will help you get where you want to go. I meet with many jobseekers who want to work on specific Capitol Hill committees, but they aren’t sure how to get there due to their lack of Hill experience and connections. They do have valid concerns, but many of them also make the common mistake of underestimating their networks.
Think about your ideal position and work backward. To continue with the Congressional committee example, learn who serves on the committee and figure out their connections. Then follow the chain backward until you find a personal connection of your own. Approach that person about making an introduction for you to the next person up the chain.
It’s true that D.C. is built on networking, but you may already have a stronger network than you realize. Don’t let it go to waste.