by Amy Meli, Senior Director at the Public Affairs Council and PLEN Board Member
People who are just starting out in Washington, DC can find the professional networking process a little overwhelming. Being the “new kid” in any social setting is tricky. Read on for ways to make the process less daunting – and maybe even a little fun.
Tip 1: Don’t be afraid to reach out.
Have you ever been to a conference and loved one of the speakers’ presentations and wished you could have a longer conversation with them? Is there someone who has a job that sounds really interesting to you and you’d love to talk with them about how they ended up there? It’s okay to reach out! You’d be surprised at how many people working in Washington will take meetings with students and young professionals who are just starting out. Most of us who are at senior levels in our jobs received advice and guidance from our elders when we were just starting out. You’d be surprised at how many of us like to pay it forward by taking meetings with people who are beginning their careers in public policy.
So if there’s someone you’d like to talk to, reach out! Send them an email and ask for coffee. Connect with them via LinkedIn and ask if they can meet briefly via phone or over Zoom. You might not always get a response, but there’s no harm in asking. And you’d be surprised at how many people are willing to take a meeting with a young professional.
Tip 2: Be mindful of the tools of engagement.
There are a few commonly used tools that can help you be reachable and ready to network. LinkedIn is a common way for people in the public policy and political space to connect with each other, so make sure your profile is up to date and you’re regularly checking your account. If you’re attending in-person events, it’s a good idea to have business cards with your email address and phone number. If you don’t have a job yet, you can buy blank cards and have them printed with your name and contact information. Check your other social media and make sure your public profiles are business appropriate. Doing this prep work before you begin professional networking will make sure you’re reachable and are putting your best foot forward.
Tip 3: Remember that in the end, we’re all just people.
As you begin networking, you’ll meet people with fancy titles who are very confident about the work they do. But you’d be surprised at how many of them clearly remember what it’s like to start out in Washington, are generous with their time, and are all-around nice people. While it’s important to be professional and respectful, don’t let imposter syndrome take over when you’re at networking events. Everyone is new to Washington at one point or another, so when you’re networking, be yourself, be nice to everyone, and try to have fun!
As you begin to network, I hope you find these tips useful. And if anybody wants to practice on a friendly PLEN board member, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/amyvt98 or email@example.com.
Senior Director, Public Affairs Council
Amy currently serves as Senior Director of the Public Affairs Council. In that role, she oversees the Council’s benchmarking and serves as executive director of the Foundation for Public Affairs. Prior to her work at the Public Affairs Council, Amy served as vice president of grassroots consulting for Aristotle International, where she helped clients achieve their public affairs goals by building durable and effective grassroots programs.