Last time we talked about why it’s not just what you do but who you know that can help you land that perfect job in politics. Ok, that’s great… but how do you be that person who knows people? Here, nothing beats good, old fashioned, retail networking.
Now, you never want to be the person who is meeting people just for the sake of meeting people and how has 1,000 business cards but nobody you would actually feel comfortable giving a call.
Truth be told, there is a certain art to networking—knowing how long to wait to respond, sensing how much you can ask of someone or when to ask nothing at all, feeling out a conversation to know when you can share honest opinions and not just pleasantries.
The art can only be learned by practice. But below we have a few pointers learned from my years of experience in politics that work in all circumstances. This “science” of networking will make everything a lot easier:
- Dress appropriately. This is obvious and, unfortunately, often neglected. Men, get a feel for if you need to wear slacks, a blazer, or a tie. Women, the biggest thing is to not dress in clothing that’s too revealingly. I’ve seen it time and again that if you show too much, few people will take you seriously.
- Be on time. This should go without explanation. But also try to go the extra mile. If you get there early, send a text or an email to the person you’re meeting saying “Hey, I’m the person in the red tie in the back left corner. See you soon!”
- Tell them about yourself—but not too much. The best conversationalists talk about the other person and ask a lot of questions. Sure, you want the person you’re meeting to know a bit about you so they know what kinds of jobs you are looking for or who else you might be interested in meeting. But people love little more than to talk about themselves. That, and you might actually gain some good wisdom if you ask good questions and listen.
- Ask if there is anyone else you should meet. Time and again I have had phone calls or coffees with people looking to get into politics and they fail this simple test. I already gave you my time. I won’t open up my rolodex if you don’t have the gumption to ask.
- Give them your card and ask for theirs. Politics may be one of the last worlds where business cards are used frequently. If you don’t have a job yet, that’s fine. You just need something physical with your name, email, and phone number on it.
- Follow up immediately. The same day after your meeting, thank the person you met for their time. If they offered to introduce you to somebody, thank them for it (even if they haven’t done it yet). If you mentioned an article and they were interested in it, send them the article. This will reinforce you in their memory.
- Follow up again down the line. A month or even several months later, set a reminder to contact the person you met again. Thank them for their advice. Give them a brief update. Let them know you’re in town again. The point is it doesn’t matter how great that first meeting went, people will forget you unless you remind them that you exist.
- Send some cold emails. Saw a speaker at an event? Loved an article you read? Go ahead and email the speaker or the author and tell that person how much you loved what they discussed and that you’d enjoy meeting them. I’ve met a good number of prominent thinkers and political movers just by having the temerity to shoot them an email. Everyone loves being asked for advice and questioned about their ideas. The worst thing that can happen is they don’t respond.
- Keep a rolodex. Think you’ll remember a year and a half down the line the name of that guy from that senator’s office who you met during your fourth half hour meeting of the day in that Starbucks that looks like every other Starbucks? Hah. Good one. Take the time to keep a rolodex and add to it after ever single meeting, noting when and where you met the person. Buy card scanning software. Put it all in a spreadsheet. Heck, even buy an old-fashioned physical rolodex file folder to keep business cards. Down the line you’ll find people in there you didn’t even know you forgot—and they might be exactly the people you need to reach.
All in all, networking doesn’t need immediate results. It just needs to happen. The biggest point is that you not only come off as likeable, competent, ambitious, and collected, but, most importantly of all, that you actually stay on people’s minds.