If there is one think I have learned about building successful relationships on Capitol Hill, it is that networking is a must! On any given day, the cafeterias and common spaces are lined with interns and entry level staff members having coffee and chatting with senior staff, hoping to make a connection that could lead to their big break. Most people coming to the Hill want to make a difference and help shape the policy of the United States. To do this, one must first get their foot in the door and be hired to work directly for a member of Congress or a committee. It is a work environment where what you know is important, but who you know can certainly be key.
When I started my internship, I definitely felt the pressure to network and connect with as many people as possible. When a senior staff member would talk to my intern cohort during a brown bag lunch, it was almost like a subtle race to see who could set up a coffee meeting with that staffer first. As an incoming senior wanting to return to D.C. after graduation, I definitely recognized the importance of making as many connections as possible. However, from the start, networking felt a bit unnatural to me. I wanted to make stronger and deeper connections rather than just form a laundry list of people I could say I talked to at some point.
Thus, I approached networking in a way that was valuable to me. I have definitely had my fair share of coffee meetings and quick chats with staff members in a variety of departments. However, these meetings have provided me with much more than just small talk and business cards. I went into each networking meeting with the mindset that this was hopefully the start of a longer friendship. I really enjoyed learning more about staff members and fellow interns. Hearing about their journeys to where they are now helped me reflect on my future goals and ambitions. It was very refreshing to hear about the uncertainty that others’ faced when they started their careers. I was able to get great advice about my future choices and how to reach my own success. I was further able to learn more about what each staff member did in their job. I would often offer my help during these meetings for any projects being worked on, and I have now gotten to directly help senior staff members with a variety of issues. I have gained new information about the types of jobs on the Hill, as well as learned about titles that I did not even know existed.
While networking can be intimidating, I feel that if approached with the right mindset, it can be very valuable. Not only was I able to make connections for the future, but I also learned a lot about myself in the process and formed stronger relationships with my colleagues.