Whenever one of my nieces or nephews or young friends graduate college, I compile a book of various hints, tips, recipes and basic life lessons titled “How to Be A Grown Up.” These compilations change over time and with every iteration but one thing is always included: The two things that can make or break your career are grammar and networking. This advice has carried me through many jobs, several states and more interviews than I can count.
When I moved to Washington, DC in early 1999, I had just helped elect Governor Tom Vilsack, the first Democrat to hold that position in Iowa in 30 years and celebrated his inauguration (I know, I know…I could have stayed and worked for the first Democratic governor in 30 years).
I knew a handful of people in DC and knew that I would need to make additional connections to forge a career – or at least to get a job and pay rent. So I dug in and started making calls. The people I knew were willing to spend some time with me and introduce me to others. Most meetings ended with someone giving me contact information for at least two other people. By the time I got a job, the person who recommended me was someone I had not actually met.
Throughout my career, every single job has been the result of knowing someone (or knowing someone who knew someone). This is not a coincidence. Here are some things I have learned about networking, including those “informational interviews” that are so important.
- DO make the call, send the email. There is no reason to avoid reaching out. Yes, many of us are busy but the worst that happens is that they don’t have time. And follow up if you don’t hear back within a reasonable amount of time. Just because someone does not respond quickly does not mean that they won’t meet with you. It could be that this ended up on their so-called backburner and they need a nudge.
- DO prepare an answer for “what do you want to do?” You don’t have to have a specific job in mind – though it is okay if you do – but prepare and write down some basic thoughts about your strengths and the types of jobs (or political offices) you would like to consider. When someone wants to help you, it is so much easier to have an idea about people you should meet or job openings they should forward. It is also okay to have a higher goal or a job you don’t yet have the skills and experience to get and to ask some advice about how to get there.
- DO send a resume or other personal information in advance. If they have time prior to meeting, this will give them a sense of your skills and experience.
- DON’T expect that the person you are meeting has scrolled through your social media or read your resume. They may only have time to glance through your information a few minutes before you walk in. Be sure to have some things in mind you would like to highlight (Ex. “One thing I really liked about working on my last campaign and that I was good at was helping to plan events.”)
- DO ask for additional introductions. Throughout your discussion, they may have mentioned some people who work for an organization, campaign or political office – ask if they would consider making a connection. Follow up with each person promptly.
- DON’T forget to follow up with a written thank-you note. An email thank-you is just okay. Sending actual mail is still valued and will leave a good impression.
- DO keep in touch and let them know if and when you change positions. If someone has taken the time to meet with you and are on the lookout for opportunities, they want to know if you found what you were looking for.
- DON’T – and I mean NEVER – turn down a request to meet with someone who wants your insight and advice. Networking is a two-way street. Just as others have and will help you, pay it forward by helping someone who may need you.
So make those calls. And mind your grammar.
Holly Armstrong is a former communications director for governors and other political figures. She is currently an independent strategy and management consultant in Denver, Colorado. She is always willing to meet with those who reach out and can be contacted by email at [email protected].