How to Network: The Key to Professional Success

How to Network as an Intern

As a political science major, there’s no better place to be than D.C. But with so many professionals in my fields of interest, it’s integral that I take the steps necessary to promote my personal brand and create meaningful connections around the city.

Networking is a skill that some people naturally possess. For others like myself, it can be incredibly difficult to communicate one’s strengths and interests to new people. Although I’m confident in my conversational abilities, I struggle to dictate conversation and take the first step, especially in networking events that feel like forced social interaction.

Knowing this about myself, I tend to look for connections through more personalized means. I seek out individuals who I have mutual connections with—coworkers, family friends, alumni—and cater the conversation to their interests or abilities, picking their brains for bits of information that appear relevant to my personal growth, regardless of their field.

I think it’s incredibly important to know yourself before you attempt to network. Although it’s always good to be pushed outside of your comfort zones, you should never set yourself up for failure.

I recently conducted  “Informational Interviews” as part of an assignment for TWC. In the assignment, I  was asked to interview several professionals in my fields of interest, preferably outside of my place of work. Because every person has a different path to success (especially in political science), I felt it was important to interview people I knew had come from similar backgrounds. In my case, I targeted entry level professionals who were alumni of my home university. Lucky for me, two individuals who I played frisbee with at school last year now work in D.C., and I reached out to them to conduct the interviews.

Having known them previously, they both agreed to meet with me without hesitation. Although their jobs are more financial and tech oriented in nature, I found it incredibly valuable to speak with them about their transitions to the professional world from Dickinson, understand how they secured their first jobs and have them reflect upon their future goals. Knowing I’ll be in their shoes in a little over a year, I found the experience incredibly eye-opening and it will certainly help me in the job search process.

More generally, I think it’s incredibly important to know yourself before you attempt to network. Although it’s always good to be pushed outside of your comfort zones, you should never set yourself up for failure. For me, that means looking to network through mutual connections rather than attending events with new people. As a prospective graduate, I need to set myself apart from the competition. Although I remain open to learning new things, it’s integral that I stress my known strengths to achieve my professional goals, then I can look to expand my networking abilities into new realms.

Matthew Lawson headshot

Matthew Lawson is a political science major at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. He was a TWC Spring 2018 Intern at the Near East South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies, a Department of Defense regional center geared toward promoting international security cooperation through facilitated dialogue and academic expertise.

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