Posted by: capitalgirl | October 8, 2009

Meeting People in DC

I’ve got a few minutes before I need to head off to work, so I’ll try to crank out a blog post.

One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed about DC since being here is how absolutely critical it is to have a network in order to get anything done. The fact is, no organization is an island, and without knowing people, it’s hard to get a project off the ground. More than that, though, I’ve noticed how amazingly useful having an extensive network can be for small organizations. If your organization is small, your network can honestly be the thing that makes or breaks you: either you have people who can help you get a project off the ground, or you don’t. There is no way that a really small organization is going to be able to plan, fund, and implement a project in the developing world without outside contacts.

This has been my first real experience with networking on a sustained basis, and I’ve basically been thrown in head-first. So far, I’ve learned three major lessons:

  • HAVE BUSINESS CARDS. For reals, a business card is the absolute minimum tool you need to have for networking. You cannot be writing out your contact information on the back of a napkin to hand a CEO. Moreover, use other people’s business cards. The secret reason so many of them are blank on the back is so you can write down that Jane Smith was the woman with the excellent glasses in the purple suit who you met at event X.
  • SAY HI. As it happens, most people at business events (receptions, panel discussions, etc.) are there to meet people even more than they are there to enjoy the food. Take advantage! Say hello. As long as you are not a creeper (and hey, maybe even if you are), you will get a nice reception, a handshake, likely a business card, and hopefully a contact. But if you sit in the corner eating hors d’oeuvres, you will not. So feel free to eat hors d’oeuvres, because if you are like me then you are a poor intern with no money to buy delicious food, but make sure they’re not going to glue your mouth shut or leave funny things in your teeth that will make it difficult for you to have a grown-up conversation with that dude over there in the snappy suit.
  • FOLLOW-UP. This was the hardest thing for me to start doing, because I had honestly not really reached this point with that many people before. Plus, believe it or not, when it comes to meeting business type people I am shy as all hell. But unless you want a Rolo-dex full of people that you have never actually talked to outside that one time they gave you their business card, YOU NEED TO FOLLOW UP. There are loads of resources online that have better advice on following up than I have, so I will not mention anything here. But seriously, send emails. Otherwise you are a useless business card collector and your network will not be useful! (This is what is called tough love. So go make a useful network).

Welp, now it is time for me to head off to work. So I will do that. But if anyone has actually bothered to read this lovely spiel despite my aggressive lack of experience, I hope you will find it useful. Hooray!

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