How to Accelerate Your Career Through Networking in Washington DC and Avoid Common Mistakes Along the Way
December 12, 2021
Washington, DC is an exciting city in which to build a career. From Capitol Hill to K Street, and everything in between, the city offers plenty of opportunities for smart, driven people. But that also means there is plenty of competition for jobs. So how do set yourself apart and land the job you want?
Whether you are just starting your career or looking to make a mid-career change, there are several ways you can make your job search in DC go a bit smoother and land you the position you want.
1. Yes, Networking is THAT important
It might sound cliche to say that networking is key to landing a job in DC, but it is the truth. In DC, it really does matter who you know, not just what you know. Your network will be key in both alerting you to job opportunities and speaking up on your behalf to land you an interview, and, hopefully, a job.
People in DC are busy. If they have the option to hire someone based on a few recommendations from friends or colleagues rather than sifting through 500 resumes received through postings onTomManatosJobs.comand other sites, they are going to opt for the more efficient route. To get your name and resume in front of chiefs of staff and hiring managers, you need to leverage your network to its maximum potential.
2. Use Your Unique Experience To Your Advantage
To take full advantage of networking opportunities, think beyond the job you are looking for, and think about your full breadth of experience as a way to connect with people.
Attend events for the state society from your home state, or for alumni of your college. Attend lectures centered on your preferred issue area, and attend events with people with similar hobbies, ethnicity or religion. Once you’re in a situation where you share similar experiences or interests, it’s easier to start a conversation and develop a relationship that could lead to a job connection.
3. Build Your Network
Use networking opportunities to further build your network. If you keep your conversations at events to the people you already know, or don’t ask connections about other people they know, you are not taking full advantage of networking in DC.
When you have an informational coffee with someone, always politely ask if they know anyone else that might be good for you to talk to. Chances are they will, and you’ll have widened your network.
4. Don’t Be Shy
Everyone in DC from the Chief of Staff at the White House to an intern on Capitol Hill is there because someone they know helped them in some way.
Try to keep in mind that everyone in DC was at some point in your shoes. DC is built on relationships, and people are willing to pay it forward and help others in town succeed.
Once you’ve established a connection with someone at a networking event, it is not out of the ordinary to say “Would you be interested in grabbing a coffee sometime? It’d be great to learn more about your experience in DC.” This is how DC works.
5. Stay Organized
As you build your network you need to create a system for keeping track of the contacts you’ve made and pertinent information. The easiest way to do this is with a spreadsheet that lists contact information and other key facts such as their job, their issues areas, home state, etc.
Google Sheets work well and can be accessed via your smartphone. Contacts apps on with phone can work, but also cause distractions when all contacts are mixed together. You need to focus on the key contacts for landing that job.
The more people you meet and the larger your network grows, the harder it can be to remember little things--especially if you’re only meeting them for coffee every few months. Never mind how important it is to have a phone number and email at your fingertips when you need a recommendation!
6. Be Persistent - Not Annoying
So you had an informational coffee that you think went great. They said they’d love to do it again and even gave you the name of another person to get in touch with. How long do you wait before you reach out again?
There really isn’t a hard and fast rule, so you need to use your judgment and ask other people you trust for advice about how to handle the timing of outreach to newly-made connections.
You can also use email to gauge interest and availability for meeting again. If you send an email and your contact writes back immediately - it’s safe to say you are not annoying them. On the flip side, if they DO NOT respond, don’t follow up with three more emails asking if they got your last email.
7. Use Your Network At All Stages Of Your Job Search
Your network should be used to help you learn about job openings, get your name in front of the people who matter, get you an interview, and get you a job.
When you learn about a job from a contact, make sure you let the connection know when you’ve applied. This will often be the cue for them to touch base with the person they know in the hiring office to let them know about the great person who has just submitted a resume.
8. Send Thank You Notes
Want to stand out and impress people who are doing informational coffees with you or interviewing you for a job? Write a thank you note.
Land an interview? Land a job? Writing a thank you note is a MUST.
If you land the job, it is doubly important that you send the person who helped you get that job a thank you note.
In DC, new hires are often prominently published. It is irritating to read in Politico about someone being hired for a job you helped them get before you hear it from the person themselves.
It’s perfectly fine to say thank you via email, but to really stand out, send a handwritten note via mail or drop it off at the front desk.
9. Never Stop Networking
So you have a job, you’re happy in it, and you’re making good money. Great! If you’re not keeping up with your networking, however, you don’t know what opportunities you might be missing.
You don’t have to be actively sending out resumes and scouring job boards. Just having conversations with your contacts and keeping those contacts fresh is key.
Never stop building your network. Ask people to informational coffees and ask people for career advice even if you are happy in your current job. You never know what job might open up, and when someone might think of you.
10. Use Social Media Appropriately
No, this tip isn’t another lecture about not posting photos from college parties on Facebook. Instead, I’m talking about which platforms to use for networking, and how. There are so many ways to connect with people online that it can be hard to know where the boundaries are.
Sites like LinkedIn are great for connecting with professional acquaintances, but only after you’ve made a connection with them elsewhere, or if you have an actual reason to get in touch with them.
Do not friend someone on Facebook immediately after an informational coffee. Facebook is for social connections; Taskforce and LinkedIn are for professional connections. Be as aware of your interactions with people on the web as you are in the real world.
11. Remember That DC Is A Small Town
Whenever you are networking--no matter what job you have--never forget that everyone in DC seems to know everyone. No matter how important you think you are, be nice to everyone and especially be nice to the interns; you never know who will end up where and in what job.
There's a former chief of staff on K Street whose old intern is now a Member of Congress... people in DC remember, and they talk.
Use DC’s small-town feel to your advantage by being professional, polite, and helpful. It will pay off as you see your network grow, and your job opportunities increase.
Always PAY IT FORWARD by taking informational coffees with job seekers and offering to help others because karma can go a long way in this town.
Tom Manatos is the Founder of TomManatosJobs.com and the Head of Federal Affairs at Block (formerly known as Square). Tom has over a decade of experience as a senior staffer to prominent lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including the Speaker of the House. Working in a number of high-level positions throughout his career, Manatos has developed an extensive network in DC as well as impressive policy and procedural knowledge. He is now able to put that to use for his advocacy and strategy work on behalf of one of the leading fintech companies in the world.