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3 Networking Tips I Should Have Used During My U.S. Senate Internship

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Obama with Interns

Summer is just getting started. For many college students, that means a summer internship. Many students scratch their heads about one aspect of their internship: networking. Others (like me!) don't just scratch their heads; they panic. As a recent college graduate, I understand that the fear of networking can come from simply not knowing where to start. Looking back, I see where I could have overcome those fears and made connections to help me in my job search later.

I particularly remember an internship in a U.S. Senate office. I came away from the experience with few connections, despite being surrounded by some of the most powerful people in the world. Here are a few specific networking tips that I learned only in hindsight:

1. Network with fellow interns.

When I interned in a U.S. Senate Office, I was surrounded by dozens (maybe even hundreds) of interns. It might be surprising to know that fellow interns can actually be helpful to you in networking. Jobs on Capitol Hill, for example, are often secured through networks of former interns. Many Senate offices are staffed by former interns who have all been friends since their intern days.

The offices operate like hierarchies, with interns rising up to staff assistants, then legislative correspondents (LC's) and then legislative assistants (LA's) - and so forth. Many other types of offices work like this, where the intern operates as an entry-level "test" for possible promotion. Moral of the story: Network with your intern friends!

2. Be a go-getter at networking events.

I remember my terror at the thought of networking events: What am I supposed to say? Here's a critical networking tip: have an "elevator speech." In about 30 seconds, be able to articulate who you are and what career you're looking for. In my case, I could have said "My name is John Doe and I'm interning in the Office of U.S. Senator Smith. I'm a sophomore at Big State University and hope to work in health policy research after graduation."

Voila! It's really that simple.

From there, you'll strike up great conversation and get employers excited about your future (including post-graduation jobs). A summer internship is a great time to seek out these opportunities and perfect your skills. I didn't, and regret it. I had so much free time, and I spent it pacing up and down the National Mall, instead of networking on Capitol Hill. Get off the Mall and onto the Hill!

3. Stay in touch!

Here's a networking tip that might seem obvious, but is surprisingly easy to overlook. In the Senate, I met tons of people from all over D.C. - on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. I even made some summer friends, and we enjoyed a lot of good times together.

Unfortunately, just three years later, I don't keep in regular touch with any of them. Sure, I see their Facebook pages, and maybe even their LinkedIn accounts, but I don't have regular conversations with them. Many of these friends are working in D.C. and would be great for networking and professional advice, but that's now inaccessible to me because I failed to maintain ties.

So, keep in touch! It's really not that hard to send a short message every so often, and meet up for coffee when you can.

The word networking might intimidate college students. With these simple networking tips, though, making contacts can be easy and fun! Looking back, these tips would have made my post-college job search much easier. So, learn from me and use these tips!

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