It seems that every time I ask for career advice, someone always says, with the look on their face that they are about to impart the wisest wisdom any wise man has ever whispered, “You know son, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
The giver of advice looks at you and nods his head. “It’s true, don’t forget it.” Then he leaves and tells you nothing more.
Well, thank you very much great provider of professional platitudes, but now what?
James, the great New Testament writer who has sparked many a debate in Sunday School classrooms around the world, wrote that faith without works is dead. I contend that clichés without a follow-up are equally void of life.
So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to pick up where the self-righteous advice-giver left off. I will tell you how to find that certain “Who,” how to get to know this person, and what to do when you meet “Who” face to face.
But first, some background: I was in your shoes two
years ago as a WJC student. I have spent the past month or so in
Washington DC looking for a job. I graduated in 2007, spent a year on
freelance writing projects around the world and have recently landed
work in the District.
I began my DC search by sending out résumés to employers who had posted jobs on busy Web sites like journalismjobs.com and mediabistro.com. These are fantastic places to find work, but remember, you’re not the only kid on the block frequenting these sites. An employer told me that the day he posts a job on one of these sites, he is flooded with literally hundreds of résumés. This is especially true for jobs in a large city like DC.
Wait, did you say hundreds? When I heard that, I about threw up my hands and gave up. How am I, a graduate from a small school hardly anyone has heard of, with limited journalism experience, ever going to beat out the Columbia School of Journalism applicant, the Harvard graduate, or the reporter with eight years at a major daily under his belt? I don’t stand a chance!
And it’s true; I didn’t stand a chance.
So, I started going to parties.
Washington has a system of gatherings where groups of like-minded people host what are called “happy hours” where everyone meets in a bar or restaurant at a certain time and mingles. To find out about these, I met as many people as I could, literally on the streets of DC, told them my story, handed them a card with my name and information and tried to make some new friends.
Slowly but surely, my network of new amigos grew in the District. With each new contact, both casual and professional, I was invited to more and more parties to meet and greet with editors, writers, lobbyists, attorneys, producers, Hill staffers and activists. Each one of them knew someone else, increasing my web of friends and acquaintances in the city.
It eventually got me a job.
So how do you meet people? Here’s my Top Ten list of ways to meet “Who.”
1. Always be prepared: Never let someone catch you
without a business card, even if it’s just your name, email address and
phone number. This is a city where you should feel naked without one.
Before coming to Washington, have 1000 cards made at your local print
shop—And give them to people!
2. Stop dressing like a college student: For the next semester, you should look sharp every time you step out of your room. T-shirts should only be worn when moving furniture. Lose the flip-flops and don’t you dare be caught in public chewing gum. You never know who you might run into.
3. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers. Everyone in this city knows somebody (who may know somebody) who can help you.
4. Use discretion when applying rule number 3 to your life.
5. You have four months in this city, so use it. Go to every happy hour and every event at the National Press Club. I recommend the Friday night taco dinner at the NPC. Everyone goes to meet other people, so you aren’t alone in this. Plus, it’s free. This is your chance to make the contacts that you will need when you return after graduation. Exposure creates opportunity.
6. Don’t be afraid of bars. The CCCU has rules against drinking, and you should respect them. But this is a drinking town, where lots of business goes down while sitting on bar stools. Grab a Coke and make some new friends.
7. Buy Thank-You notes. These are your most precious commodities. Before you arrive, stock up on high quality thank you notes and write, write, write. No gift or event is too small to hand-write a quick note to your host. This will get you far in DC, (and life, for that matter.) You will be remembered for writing a thank you note. You will also be remembered for not writing one.
8. Be pro-active. Invite people out for dinner or a drink. You set the date, and the onus will be on them to either accept or decline. When you go home, write them a thank-you note.
9. Guys: Always have a suite jacket or blazer with you. Keep a tie in your pocket. You never know when you will be invited to a dinner on the spot, and you need to look the part.
10. Keep in touch. In this city, everyone is intertwined and connected one way or another. It has been said that DC is either the largest small town or the smallest big city in the country, and I contend it is the former. Keep everyone in touch with you, even if it’s a quick note a few months after your internship. It will be useful down the road.
Washington DC is a place built on personal relationships. Take advantage of the fact (while we still can!) that institutions are not run by robots without feelings. Although we may forget it, our country is in fact run by human beings.
And, of course, work hard. Meeting people will get you in the door, but you must prove yourself once you get there.
But sometimes, just getting through that threshold can be the toughest part.
-Chris Moody, '06