The Importance of Networking

One of my biggest takeaways from the internship I did last summer, other than that I had no desire to work with health policy in the future, was that people in Washington D.C. live and die by their ability and willingness to network. I consider myself to be a fairly social and extroverted person, but I’ve always felt like engaging with people for personal advancement was uncomfortably inorganic, even if it might be mutually beneficial. This summer has succeeded in squeezing most of that trepidation out of me, thanks in part to the qualify of the people I have met and the eagerness of my coworkers to help me in that process.

Once I’d taken the first few weeks to get comfortable in my new role, I made a concerted effort to meet more potential role models and mentors than I did last summer. I’ve since gone on at least one professional “coffee date” per week, and have finally gotten over the hump of feeling like I am burdening local professionals with my questions and ideas. As we discussed at EDGE, networking doesn’t consist of pleading for gainful employment, and I’ve always gotten that part, but one thing that our Outreach associate always says has stuck with me. Whenever I have been hesitant to reach out to someone to get coffee or meet at an event, Aaron has told me never to underestimate people’s eagerness to talk about themselves and feel like someone is interested in what they do. He didn’t offer this observation cynically, and did so with good humor, but I have seen it proven true with every passing week, and it has made me a lot more comfortable reaching out to people to introduce myself and ask them about the work they’ve been doing.

Working in a social justice coalition this summer I have come to realize that environmental advocacy is one of the issue areas that gets me most excited and engaged, so I have tried to find people in our network who do the types of work I think I’d like to do longer term. With this in mind I’ve gotten coffee with lawyers and lobbyists from Earthjustice, the National Resource Defense Council, and the League of Conservation Voters, a Water and Resource Management Subcommittee staffer on the Hill, and a handful of others. I’ve also had a chance to meet with someone at Know Your IX, and we got to talk about some strategies for educating college students about sexual assault prevention and mitigation which was great as well. These people have all offered excellent advice about career paths, graduate school vs. law school, and working with nonprofits vs. the government. These meetings have provided me with a lot of information to process, but they have proved to be really helpful, and I’ve been lucky enough to really enjoy all of the people I’ve had time to meet.

Because I work on the Outreach team at Alliance for Justice, my coworkers and manager have been extremely supportive of my fellow intern and me missing an hour or two of work to do these types of meetings, and in many cases they have gone out of their way to help facilitate them for us. I think that this willingness to help their interns grow, develop, and gain experiences outside of the organization serve as hallmarks of a company culture that values its employees, and that is something I feel grateful to have been a part of. One of my fonder professional memories from this summer will be of when I tried to leave a work event around 9pm (after I’d finished the things I was supposed to be doing), and my coworker, glass of wine in hand, refused to let me leave before he had introduced me to a few people he thought I should get to know and connect with, all of whom ended up being really great people. I couldn’t believe how intent he was on helping me as an intern, and I made sure to tell him I appreciated how thoughtful a gesture it was.