Thursday, September 10, 2015

Plugging In: Networking as a D.C. Transplant

Washington, D.C. is a city which works in networks. Events, fellowships, jobs, and opportunities are circulated in networks through newsletters, email lists, agency announcements, contacts forwarding opportunities to other contacts, employee resources groups publicizing opportunities to their members, etc. As I realized, the more people who knew my interests and passions, the more opportunities I would learn of. Fortunately, I had colleagues at USAID who helped me to plug into D.C.'s best newsletters and networking habits. Here are some strategies which I found to be effective in meeting great people, retaining their contact information, and following up after our initial meeting.
  • I subscribed to a dozen newsletters. Newsletters of organizations, think tanks, and embassies were an excellent way for me to learn about things to do after work. These venues often had free food and drinks, intellectually engaging programs, and interesting attendees. On specific newsletters, LinkTank was an excellent comprehensive list of lectures, conferences, and networking events in D.C. BrightestYoungThings was a wonderful source of guidance to D.C.'s best coffee houses, brunch spots, and outdoor movies. The Center for Global Development, a D.C. think tank, often held movie screenings related to international development. I learned of many francophile events through the newsletter of the French Embassy. I also joined the Babson College Washington, D.C. Alumni Facebook Group which enabled me to connect with young local alumni and a Babson Professor, Stephen Dietz.
  • I gave others my business card. At first, I thought business cards would only come in use when someone asked for my contact information. As an intern at the bottom of the D.C. food-chain, I did not see this happening very often. However, I found that if I provided other people with my business card I could get their contact information without the awkwardly explicit question, "Can I have your contact information?" I felt especially intimidated asking for the contact information from high ranking professionals, so here is what I did. If I met someone interesting at an event, I would circle back as I was leaving and say, "I enjoyed meeting you. I would love to stay in touch." Extending my business card, I was amazed to see the other person reach into their pocket and provide me with their card. It worked just like magic!
  • I joined employee resource groups. I participated in the Young Professionals @USAID group and GLIFAA. These two groups led me to amazing opportunities meeting other young people in international affairs organizations. In the month of June, GLIFAA connected me to a wide range of Pride events at the State Department, the Foreign Service Institute, and the Millenium Challenge Corporation. I always looked forward to GLIFAA events as there were always a large number of foreign service officers in attendance. I dreamed of being a diplomat in high school.
  • I asked others to meet for coffee. As the USAID internship was my first in an office environment, the concept of asking someone to meet for coffee was foreign to me. However, the first mentor I found in D.C. recommended this as the single most effective way to network in Washington. I found that meeting for coffee was the best way for me to follow up on a connection I made at work or at a networking event. Meeting for coffee also allowed me to share a conversation with more senior managers at USAID. During these meetings, I was able to spend 30-40 minutes learning about another's careers, how long he or she waited between their bachelors and masters, and anything he or she would do differently in his or her career. 'Meeting for coffee' was actually institutionalized by USAID's Global Development Lab. In the Lab, I was able to sign up for a randomized coffee program that matched me with a different USAID Lab employee every week.

Upper Left: Deputy Secretary Higginbottom introduces a panel of foreign LGBT activists at the Department of State Pride Celebration. Mid-Left: A panel discussion on the Transatlantic Trade Partnership hosted by the McCain Institute. Lower-Left: Members of the USAID young professionals group and I at a free Friday jazz concert at the National Sculpture Garden. Upper-Right: A film screening about one body removal team in Liberia at the Center for Global Development. Lower Right: A panel of senior Foreign Service Officers of the State Department and USAID talking about the progress for LGBT officers over the years. In years past, FSOs which were suspected of non-heterosexuality could loose their security clearance and subsequently their jobs.

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