Three Months in D.C.

November 30, 2009 | Devon, Intern, Washington Center

It’s hard to believe at this point that I’ve already spent nearly three months in Washington, D.C. This blog post was meant to go out back in September, but the three months I’ve spent here have probably been the busiest of my life, and things have only been speeding up.

My internship is with Leadership Africa USA, an NGO that does leadership training for youth in developing and post-conflict countries. One of the key ‘human resources’ often missing in developing countries is good leadership; by helping young people develop these skills early, Leadership Africa USA is hoping to build a solid foundation for future leadership.

There are a lot of great things about working at Leadership Africa USA. For today, though, in this long-delayed post, I want to talk a bit about networking.

One of the things that I quickly learned is key for a small organization operating in D.C. is personal connections. A small organization can accomplish far more than would normally be possible if the people who work there are able to link up with other people and organizations to get things done. The extremely intense networking culture in D.C. has developed out of that. The more people you know - or who know you - the easier it is to get ahead.

As part of my internship, I’ve been lucky to attend a pretty wide range of events. The cool thing about events in D.C. is that everyone expects you to say hi and pass out business cards. The same thing is simultaneously terrifying if you’re at a party and don’t know anyone. I’m hardly qualified to give networking advice, but these are some things I have found useful.

Firstly, have business cards, and carry them everywhere. It’s annoying to get caught without them, as I have learned. Secondly, don’t be afraid to say hi to strangers. They’re there to meet people too. (And, in D.C. at least, people tend to expect a certain level of aggressive networking. It’s not a bad thing.) Thirdly, always follow up. Contacts are not useful unless you actually try to build a network with them. Finally - and this may seem counter-intuitive - don’t always feel obligated to hand out your card. If you’ve been trapped in an awkward conversation at an event, it’s not necessary to make it easy for that person to get in touch with you again. If you don’t have a lot of spare time, you may not want to sit down for lunch with someone if you know it won’t be a useful meeting.

I didn’t do much formal networking before coming to D.C., so it’s been an experience. I’m just hoping I’ll be able to keep it up when I get back to Ottawa.

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