The “six degrees of separation” is a well-known idea that the human web is so interconnected that people are at most six steps away from every other person on earth. After living in Washington D.C. for over a month, I am beginning to realize that there are far fewer degrees of separation in this city. It appears that everyone knows someone who knows someone. I have been living in Washington for over a month, and it did not take me long to realize that the extreme interconnectedness in D.C. is due to an enormous amount of networking that occurs here.
I have had the pleasure of meeting several successful people in Washington D.C. over the last month including lobbyists, Chiefs of Staff, and magazine editors. It seems that everyone I have met gives the same important piece of advice: networking and making connections are the keys to success in this city. I have learned that it is particularly important to be proactive in making connections with anyone I feel a connection to. Whether it is someone that is an alumnus from my university, has similar political affiliations, or just has great taste in music, I try to take the time to follow up with our initial meeting by writing an email or note.
I have been pleasantly surprised with how willing many people are to sit down and get coffee or lunch and talk with me. Some of the people I have met with are extremely accomplished, yet they still find time to pencil me into their hectic schedules. Although I do not expect all of the contacts that I have made to become a huge advocate for me to everyone they meet, everyone so far does seem genuinely willing to offer advice and share their stories about their career paths. Some contacts have even offered to forward job openings to me and to show me around D.C.
I have learned that D.C. is essentially a city full of transplants in that very few people are originally from here, and I believe that one reason people here are so enthusiastic about offering advice is that everyone wants more people from their school, hometown, state, or even region to join them in Washington. I have met several alumni of my university, and they all say that they would love to see more students from our school doing internships and eventually building careers in D.C.
Similarly, through Running Start I have had the pleasure of meeting several highly successful young women who live and work in Washington. It seems that all of these professional women share a desire for more females to join the ranks of successful politicos and D.C. leaders. We have seminars where we hear from very impressive women, and it shocks me that not only do they take time out of their busy schedules to meet with us for an hour, they also extend an invitation to go to coffee or lunch with us at a later time.
Coming to Washington as an intern, I completely expected to be treated like a second-class citizen in my office. However, that has definitely not been the case, as I feel completely welcomed and appreciated. While I do perform several typical administrative intern duties, such as opening and sorting mail and answering phone calls, my office allows me to attend hearings and other events if there is something I find particularly interesting. One day, I attended a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and since it covered a particularly controversial topic, I had to arrive an hour early to get a seat. I began chatting with the woman that I was sitting next to, and she was incredibly interesting and we talked for the entire hour before the hearing began. To make a long story short, at the end of our conversation she gave me her business card and informed me that I could call or email her with any questions at all, ranging from needing directions around the Capitol buildings to questions about job openings. It was then that I realized that networking really can happen anywhere and everywhere in D.C., and those who maximize their networking opportunities are the most successful in this city.
-Jillian T., Star Fellow Spring 2010