Professional Networking 101 | The Washington Center

Professional Networking 101

The difference between the first week in school and the first week at work is that at work, you don't have to introduce yourself repeatedly.

 

"Hi, everyone. My name is Jenny, and I am a rising senior studying economics at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. I am originally from Korea, but grew up in Indonesia. Pleasure meeting you."

 

One introduction to all the office members and that's it. Then you get to business.

 

The first week is always a bit messy. You're trying to gauge the office environment, observe the hierarchy and relationships and determine the roles of every office member, all while trying to impress your supervisor with the first project you were assigned. You don't even know where to eat lunch and still don't know the quickest way to the bathroom. For the internship veteran, it may not be nerve-racking, but it certainly is exhausting to constantly be on alert and micro-analyze the atmosphere to find your place within the office.

 

Naturally, in the midst of all the observing and analyzing, you will be quiet so as to ease into your place. You don't want to make a brazen entrance into the organization, socially clonking and clanking your way to reclusion. So, you quietly observe from the comfort of your desk. Ah, she's the one actually making all the decisions. He's the one that all the important projects go to. She's not in the good graces of the supervisor because of xyz reasons. All he's doing is getting coffee and sharpening pencils. Peering from behind your computer monitor, you watch and you learn.

 

But really, that's the easy part. The difficult part is to break out of that silent observation shell, strike up conversations with people, take initiative and network.

 

I’ve quickly recognized that the sheer amount of knowledge and expertise that the employees of my organization have is well worth tapping into. They have seen years and years’ worth of interns flowing through the office and are able to provide a detailed analysis of what constitutes a good, effective and appreciated intern.

 

My fellow interns have also contributed to a part of my larger D.C. experience thus far. They are motivated students who have such different backgrounds and different stories to tell—they not only offer a new perspective, but also exemplify certain characteristics that I do not yet possess. In observing how they work and interact, I’ve learned to create a framework for the type of skill set I would like to adopt by the end of my time in D.C.

 

Perhaps most importantly, I'm striving to learn the art of networking. One of the associates in my office told me the most important thing I can do as an intern in Washington D.C. is to get on the radar of important people. For this very reason, my office encourages interns to go out and attend events hosted by organizations and think tanks. While I attend some events on my company’s behalf, I occasionally attend events that are of interest to me.

 

To be honest, the first time I attempted to network, I chickened out. The speaker was a United States Trade Representative to South Korea, Japan and APEC—and while I was told to get the business card of the speaker and anyone who asked questions, I couldn’t bring myself to introduce myself or strike up a conversation with some of the attendees. I quietly slipped out and went on my way. Given the small setting, that would have been a great opportunity to introduce myself at the end, ask an intelligent question and ask for his business card for my company. I say all this to conclude that it’s not an easy task, to meet people and to network. It may come easier to some people, but it is definitely not the easiest task in the world.

 

But as they say, no pain, no gain, right? The return on this small investment of time outweighs the cost by far. If you go to events you’re interested in, you’ve got all the important people regarding your topic right there in one room. So talk. Walk up to a person who had asked a question and discuss that topic with them. You might make a fool out of yourself, but really, it’s all part of the experience.

 

Always,

 

J. Lee

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