As an intern in DC, it is hard to overstate just how important it is to build a network of professional contacts. Among many other things, contacts can give you practical advice about how to navigate the city; they can tell you about jobs that may not be published online; they can get an application flagged for you at a place you want to work; and, they can introduce you to other contacts that you can use to further expand your network.
When I first came to DC, I did not really understand this. I was uncomfortable with the idea of networking. Reaching out to people that I didn’t know or had a random connection to did not sound appealing at all. To me, it all seemed like shameless self-promotion, something I had always found distasteful.
However, as I continued to make my way through Washington, I realized just how valuable making the effort was. Consider this: In the current economic climate, the average job post in DC receives hundreds of applications. Usually this meant that when I applied for a job, my resume was fed through a computer algorithm that looked for the right number of pre-selected words. Generally, human eyes never read my application.
I soon realized that by having a contact inside an organization meant that my chances of getting an interview increased dramatically. By far, the vast majority of interviews I was offered resulted from getting a recommendation or referral from someone at the organization.
Networking is much easier than I thought it would be. It is as simple as sending out an email to the friend of a friend and grabbing a cup of coffee. I go prepared to the informal meetings with genuine questions and learn from the stories of others what I should be thinking about in decisions about my professional life.
One of the many things that I found beneficial about my AFW fellowship is that it has given me a very valuable network of young professionals in the DC area. Through my fellowship, I have an affiliation that allows me to reach out to people. Other fellows can put me in touch with someone at an organization where I would like to work.
In addition to this, AFW provides me with networking events that give me an opportunity to expand my network outside of just the fellows. At these events, I can talk with people that can provide me with information about opportunities. I also get a chance to practice mingling, a very important skill in this town.
When I first came to DC, I would have thought that this wasn’t such a big deal, but now I know that a contact I make through AFW could land me a job.