Good Networking Goes Beyond the Business Card

Good Networking Goes Beyond the Business Card

If you spend more than five seconds in DC, someone has likely raved to you about how great the networking scene is here, and how you should definitely be taking advantage of it. Both of those things are true, but networking is often easier said than done.

 

People will talk about it often as a nebulous, crucial skill without actually getting into the nitty-gritty of how it’s done. With that in mind, these tips have helped me clarify the mysterious and intimidating world of networking.

 

Business card

 

1. Don’t write off young professionals

When you’re in the world of networking, a lot of people’s first instinct is to automatically try and connect with the person who has the most impressive title or the most accolades. However, as an intern, it can be difficult to find common ground with such people sometimes. The time in your career where you possess the necessary skills to work with them might still be in the future, and this can sometimes make for awkward conversation.

 

By all means, feel free to approach people further along in their careers for networking, but be aware of how you do so. On the other hand, young professionals still remember what it’s like to need a hand. Since they may have just recently graduated law or graduate school in many cases, they will remember tips and useful advice more immediately than those who have been in the field longer.

 

2. Know what you’re asking for

If you’re an intern at your first job, you shouldn’t walk up to the head of your dream company expecting him or her to hand you a job there. At this point, you want to make an introduction, express interest about the company, and make a good impression on that person. On the other hand, if you’re speaking to a recruiter, then you may well be giving an elevator pitch that you wish to be hired or recruited based on.

 

A lot of people go into networking conversations with the vague idea that they should be talking to someone, but don’t know what they want to talk about, or even why they’re talking to that person. Remember - for someone to give you something whether it’s advice or a position, they have to know that you want it, and they can’t know that unless you tell them. Every conversation should have a realistic, informed goal.

 

3. Recognize what type of event you’re attending

Not every event facilitates networking in the same way. For example, at a fundraiser, networking will be easier if the event organizers have the idea that you are preparing to donate money. At a law or graduate school fair, talking about your passion for the subject and especially for that school will get you far. Each event has a purpose, and it’s up to you to determine that purpose.

 

Ask yourself before you attend why the other attendees are likely to be there, and what common interests you likely share. This will also help prevent you from spending time at events where you are unlikely to make relevant connections. While you never want to rule out anyone as a potential connection, it makes less sense for me as a pre-law student to attend a physics convention than a conference on criminal justice reform.

 

4. Don’t cling to your friends

I know from personal experience that it can be tempting to stick with your friends while at a networking event, because it provides a comfortable experience and helps eliminate the nerves that come with approaching new people. However, the goal of networking is to meet new people, not to connect with the people you already know.

 

If you go to an event and spend the entire time talking to friends, then you haven’t made the best use of your time. In addition, everyone is trying to put their best foot forward at a networking event. This can mean that if you follow your friends from conversation to conversation, they may dominate the flow of the conversation, and you may not get the chance to make your own impression on the person you want to connect with. There’s nothing wrong with taking people with you to networking events, or conversing with them if you want a second to relax. Just make sure that it’s a complement to your experience rather than a focus.

 

5. Focus on environments where you thrive

To me, this is the most important key to networking. Everyone has their own networking style, and the best way to succeed is to focus on that style. There are also different styles of events that may be more or less compatible with your own. Large, loosely structured networking events like happy hours, dinners, and other social events often require someone more assertive and comfortable with approaching others. Attending means being able to integrate with other small groups, and being able to introduce yourself and start a conversation without much prompting.

 

On the other hand, events like academic conferences or panels provide a common topic to discuss after the main event is over, and people often feel more comfortable with this. There are also individual networking events such as informational interviews which may provide more comfort for people who prefer more in-depth, one-on-one conversations.

 

I hope this helped de-mystify the world of networking, or at the very least, provided you with a place to start. I’m certainly still learning the ropes when it comes to networking myself, but I’ve learned a great deal in the last few months, and I plan to keep learning in the best way possible: practice.

 

Read Colleen's previous blog posts

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