On the heels of last week’s post “How I Got 60 Interviews in 3 Months,” I thought I should lay out the rules of networking in DC. Much of networking here is done “behind the scenes” from friend to friend, and is based highly on mutual connection. While it may feel more informal, there is a strict code by which you must abide. And if you don’t, people will remember.
- If a friend asks you to go out to coffee with someone, you do it.
- Friends get you jobs. Friends also help you keep your job. There is a mutual respect between you and your friend, and you want them to take your protégé out to coffee when you ask.
- Know when to stop referring people.
- Asking friends to get coffee with “someone they have to meet” is encouraged, but doing it too much will make your friends annoyed. Not good.
- “Pay it forward.”
- To the best of your ability, take every informational interview you can. Odds are, if you’re working in DC, lots of people helped you. Now, you help others.
- Know how to correctly refuse an informational interview.
- All you have to say is “My schedule is currently swamped, but I’d love to meet in X amount of time. Touch base with me then.” Either they won’t touch base, or they’ll get you at a better time. You don’t want to get red-listed. I’ve red-listed several people because they just flat out told me they don’t have time for me. No response is better than saying that.
- If an interviewee sends a follow-up email, respond.
- Again, this doesn’t have to be anything extensive. Even just a simple “Hey, thanks for the update!” will suffice. If the interviewee values your connection enough to follow up with you, they’re someone you’ll want in your network.
The Intern Whisperer told me once that the reason he takes so many informational interviews is 1) to “pay it forward” and 2) so that when he’s an old, fat, rich lobbyist and I’m a chief of staff, I’ll sure as heck take his interview when he asks for it. If you’re not motivated by the “code” of informational interview etiquette, you should be motivated by this. Being red-listed on an intern’s network could be a very bad thing for you down the road. Just like being “green-listed” could be a very valuable thing.
The Intern Whisperer can get a meeting with me anytime he wants from now on, because he “paid it forward” to me. So before you pull the “I’m-too-high-and-mighty-to-give-this-intern-the-time-of-day” card, maybe think about where they’ll be 10 years down the road. It could be your worst nightmare, or it could be your ace in the hole.