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March 10, 2009

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This article is excerpted from the Vault Guide to Capitol Hill Careers.
Read more excerpts or purchase the guide
Discuss government careers at the Government Career Message Board
Discuss non-profit careers at the Non-profit Career Message Board


Without question, networking and the ability to foster long-term relationships are at the heart of any successful career in Washington. It begins with your first position and continues throughout your time in the political community, whether it is on the Hill or in a related profession such as lobbying or public relations.

For those conducting a job search, especially first time job seekers new to the city, establishing a network can be challenging. There are several good ways to use networking in pursuit of a first job. One of the most effective is to build a list of contacts by going on a series of informational interviews:

  • Request Informational Interviews: Meet with as many people as possible who work in organizations related to what interests you. Many people are receptive to helping newcomers to Washington and providing career advice. Contact people in your home state congressional delegation and others identified through friends, family, professors, and previous experiences. Not everyone will have the time or inclination to meet with you, but there will certainly be some that will. Most people in Washington began their careers much like you are now, so they remember what it was like to find that first position and will be open to helping out.

     

  • How to Conduct an Informational Interview: Once you have scheduled some interviews, it is important to have an idea of what you want out of them. An informational interview is exactly what it sounds like -- a chance to get information about career opportunities. Although it is not an actual interview, you should follow the same rules for interviewing: dress professionally, be on time, ask good questions, and carry a copy of your resume. You should have several goals for your interviews:
    • Make a Good Impression: You want the person you met with to feel comfortable thinking that you are the type of person he or she would consider for a future opening or would pass along your resume to another organization seeking to fill a position. Therefore, don't go in unprepared. Do your research on the organization and have a clear idea in mind of the types of positions you are looking for. Don't be pushy about immediate openings with the organization, and don't expect to instantly find a job as a result of the interview.

       

    • Leave Your Resume: Bring a copy of your resume to leave with the interviewer. Again, don't present it as an application for a position with the organization, but do ask that the person keep you in mind should he or she hear of any needs that you could fill.

       

    • Get New Contacts: Informational interviews will help you expand your contacts. Be sure to get the names of additional people to contact (try to get two additional names, if possible), and make sure to get in touch with them soon. Doing so will allow you to rapidly expand your network.

     

  • Follow up, but don't be pesky: Continue to follow up with the people you have contacted, but don't become obnoxious about it. For example, after three weeks it might be worth a call to one of your contacts to remind him or her about your meeting and see if anything has come up. However, call too much and you will earn the enmity of your contact and be rewarded with silence. Also, remember to send a thank you note expressing your gratitude for the interviewers time.

     

There are many additional ways to network in Washington, many of which allow you to explore your personal interests at the same time. Additionally, networking doesn't end with your first job; in fact, it is just beginning. All of the following are good ways to either help you find a position or ensure that when you are ready to move up or consider other opportunities, you will have a system of support in place:

  • Co-workers: get to know all of your coworkers, especially those in other areas that you don't interact with on a regular basis. On the Hill you will get to know them very well because you will be housed in tight quarters. Stay in touch with them after they leave your office.

     

  • Staff Organizations: There are many staff organizations on Capitol Hill, some of which are open to non-Hill staffers. Join all of those that interest you, and get involved with the clubs when you have time. Some examples include the Congressional Legislative Staff Association, Republican Communications Association, the Lesbian and Gay Congressional Staff Association, Congressional Black Associates, and many others. A list of staff organizations and contacts can be found at the Committee on House Administration web site, www.house.gov/cha.

     

  • Get Involved: Washington offers tons of opportunities for people to get involved in things that they enjoy, which also provides for networking opportunities. For example, there are many softball leagues in and around DC, including an active league pitting Capitol Hill offices against one another. There are many charitable activities organized by Hill staff and other young Washington types. One could also become a junior member at one of the small art galleries, which host receptions and educational opportunities, such as the Corcoran Gallery of Art or the Phillips Collection.

     

  • Volunteer for Political Activities: There are always elections taking place within DC or in the metro area. Get involved with local political parties or look out for opportunities to help out the national parties on races.

This article is excerpted from the Vault Guide to Capitol Hill Careers.
Read more excerpts or purchase the guide
Discuss government careers at the Government Career Message Board
Discuss non-profit careers at the Non-profit Career Message Board

 

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