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The Dos and Don’ts of August Networking

It’s officially August recess. That means networking, and lots of it. For those of us who hate networking, this can be challenging, but having a smart plan of attack can be the difference between making your recess count or completely wasting four weeks of your life. So here are some dos and don’ts from someone who has made every mistake in the book and lived to pass along the knowledge to you.

DO: Keep a record of your meetings 

Thanks to some great advice I received at a recent FamousDC Food for Thought event, I started keeping a detailed spreadsheet of my networking meetings. It includes names, dates, subjects discussed, and follow-up actions. This has helped me write thank-you cards, maintain relationships with new professional contacts, and stay organized.

DON’T: Ghost your meeting

Last week, I had a meeting scheduled with someone I had never met before. I sent a reminder email prior that included my personal cell phone number in case there were any last-minute problems. I showed up 10 minutes early and waiting for 45 minutes. My meeting never showed. He didn’t send a text or email letting me know he’d be late or needed to reschedule. I’ll never meet with him again and I’ll never go out of my way to help him professionally. Ghosting is probably the worst thing you can do to a networking meeting… so don’t do it. Ever.

DO: Prepare

Knowing at least the basics about someone before you meet with them will be a lifesaver at a networking meeting. It will help you craft intelligent questions and understand how you can help them or they can help you, not to mention keep the conversation from stalling into awkward silent lulls.

DON’T: Leave the meeting without a clear next step

Too often, we walk away from networking meetings without a clear next step. Believe me, I used to be the worst offender. But whether it’s to exchange resumes, schedule a follow-up phone call, or whatever it is, it’s important to establish what the next actions will be in order to ensure the relationship moves forward.

DO: Have a specific purpose or ask

Another thing I used to be guilty of when it came to networking was going into a meeting without a specific ask. This would leave the conversation without a lack of direction and often led to an awkward end to meetings. If you go into it knowing what you want – specific career advice, help honing your resume, assistance in making connections around town – then you can build your questions and topic of conversation around that. Having a purpose also keeps the conversation focused and efficient. 

DON’T: Overwhelm people offering to help you

Something I’ve learned over the years is that people are almost always willing to give you 30 minutes if you ask. Nobody gets anywhere without help, and there is an entire network of established professionals – particularly here in DC – that want to pay it forward. But it’s important not to exploit their kindness. Once you connect, be mindful of how often you ask for help. Otherwise, you may exhaust their enthusiasm to help and unwittingly burn a professional bridge.

DO: Expand your networking beyond your party/ the Hill

It’s easy to hide in our own professional bubbles, especially on Capitol Hill. We don’t often venture past other Hill staffers or lobbyists we regularly work with. But if you want a well-rounded professional network, you need to meet people with different skill sets in different industries. It’s also critical you meet people outside your own political party. You’d be amazed what you can learn and what doors can open when you venture outside of your comfort zone and experience something new.  

DON’T: Over-extend yourself

Last week, I had 8 networking meetings. It was ambitious and completely exhausting. I had so many planned that I made a scheduling mistake and ended up having to reschedule one, which I hate to do. It’s easy to get wrapped up in scheduling more meetings once you have a few good ones, but it’s important to know your limits and to not over-extend yourself. Keep your schedule manageable. Make sure you have enough time to thoroughly research, craft smart questions, and prepare. If you don’t, you may not get as much out of your meetings as you otherwise would.

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