The greatest asset for a successful career in politics is your professional network. The political arena is a true meritocracy: who your parents are, where you’re from and what schools you went too don’t matter. Sure, they can help get your foot in the door, but only through hard work, loyalty, and lots of luck can you make your way to the top.
But it’s also true that who you know is more important than what you know in this business and your professional network is central to a successful career in politics. Here are some strategies to build yours:
LinkedIn is an important tool for professional networking, but it’s especially critical in politics because of the amount of movement from one organization to another throughout an individual’s career. I recommend connecting only with people you’ve actually worked with an would be comfortable asking for assistance in a future job search. Use transitions like the end of an internship, a coworker moving on, or the end of a campaign as occasions to connect.
Participate in Professional Groups or Meetups
There are a number professional groups on Capitol Hill and around the city like the New Media Exchange or DC Tech Meetup that are great places to grow your professional network. Sign up at MeetUp.com to find events that may interest your professional interests beyond politics.
Sign Up for Email Lists
There are a couple of great email resources like the aforementioned New Media Exchange (email me at [email protected] to get an invite) and my own LTO Links newsletter (sign up here) that can keep you up to date on professional news and trends. Make sure you’re signed up for the professional group’s email list above.
Be a Regular
Whether it’s going to a bar for trivia night, signing up for a kickball league, or joining a church group, it’s important to have a regularly scheduled activity outside of work where you can meet new people. You never know when someone can help you with an introduction, a project, or a recommendation. Plus it’s just good for your mental health to have a network of friendships outside of politics.
Be a Connector
One of the best ways to build your network is by connecting other people. This follows the important networking principle of creating more value than you capture. Become a connector by providing meaningful introductions to others within your network or get a group of colleagues together for dinner and encourage them to bring a friend.
Informational interviews are a great way to get insight and career advice from people outside of your network. Ask those within your network for an introduction for an informational interview. Be prepared with a resume and questions about how and when they hire, what they look for in a candidate, and how they got to where they are.
Reach Outside Your Network
Don’t be afraid to reach outside of your network for career advice, but be strategic about it. Always make it easy for someone to say yes to your request. Follow this formula: “Hi X, I work a Y and understand you also started your career there. I’m interested in learning how you made the transition into Z. Would you be available for a brief 20 minute chat? I’m happy to meet you where it’s most convenient.”
Keep in Touch
A network is like a garden, you’ve got to take care of it to keep it flourishing. If you view your network as an ATM and only attend to it when you need to make a transaction, you’ll soon find your balance at zero. Remember: create more value than you capture.
If this is something you struggle with, keep a list of the last time you’ve spoken with someone and make sure it never gets older than 90 days to six months. Set a calendar reminder if you need to.