So this past year I had the privilege of studying in Washington, D.C. through a program run by my school (Miami University).  The program allowed me to immerse myself in DC culture through meetings with prominent elected officials, lobbyists, media personalities etc. I even got a chance to visit the White House and catch a glimpse of the Oval Office (and you don’t get that on the regular tour). In addition to meeting successful people in D.C., I had the chance to work at an internship on Capitol Hill. Most of my experiences in D.C. took place outside the classroom. I found that I learned the most about the governmental institutions and the political environment through discussions with people who actually worked in DC. Random conversations create acquaintances, acquaintances become contacts, and before I knew it these people became good friends. Now that I am searching for a summer internship in D.C., I can lean on those friends I have made to help me in my search. In the past 4 months I have sent dozens of emails and made phone calls to those individuals that I know in D.C. and to individuals who have been referred to me. Most of the people that I have contacted are professionals who have a genuine interest in my own background and are willing to help me land a prestigious summer internship. My search process has made me realize the power of networking.

Through networking I have been able to do three key things:

  1. 1. Learn about opportunities available to me in the field of politics/government
  2. 2. Broaden my knowledge of the field and what it takes to make it in D.C.
  3. 3. Continuously expand my number of contacts with each new person that I talk to

As college students or aspiring college students, it’s important to build professional contacts that can be leveraged in a competitive labor market. Today, about half of all college students are graduating without immediate job prospects or are filling positions that do not require college degrees. I’m not saying that those college graduates are not utilizing proper networking skills, but there is an old saying: It’s not what you know, but who you know. And who you know can be the difference between the job of your dreams and the unemployment line.

To help you make the most of your network of friends, family, and professional contacts here are some things that have helped me:

  1. 1. Identify the field or occupation that you wish to pursue. Understanding what you want is important when networking! By having some type of direction you can target individuals who can assist you. Even if you’re not an expert in the field you wish to pursue, just having curiosity is good enough reasoning to reach out to someone.
  1. 2. Once you have identified a field/occupation then identify professionals in those industries. For example, you are interested in being a doctor. Then seek out doctors and other healthcare professionals in your network. If you want to be an accountant, and then seek out accountants from various accounting firms. You may need help identifying these individuals who are willing to offer some sort of mentorship. I would advise you to ask friends, family, and even professors for assistance with finding professionals.
  1. 3. Always approach networking as a learner and not a user. The intent of networking is to build relationships, not to use someone for your own personal gain. I always approach from the angle of a curious student who is seeking to learn more about a field/profession. I always prepare thoughtful questions to ask my potential contacts when we first speak.  Two things are accomplished here: 1) You demonstrate your intellectual ability by showing that you have done your background research on them or the industry. 2) You show more of an interest in the person than your own story or goals. I think this bodes well when you finally ask for a referral or an internship after establishing a relationship.

To close, networking is an acquired skill that even I am getting used to, but it makes all the difference when it comes to having new opportunities and experiences arise. As I stated before, networking and building a strong Rolodex makes all the difference when it comes to career options down the line.