You have to decide what your goals are in networking, which may depend on where you are in life. Of course you will have multiple goals, the importance of which may vary with the event, from finding a job to finding a partner. Here are some possible goals. What are your primary goals today?
1) Get a job. You may be on the job search or thinking about it. You may be graduating from undergraduate or graduate school, in an internship, or looking to move to another work challenge. Studies show that over half of jobs are found though personal connections, and that figure is probably higher for the policy world.
2) Improve your ideas and work. We should always want to improve our understanding of the world and seek to be challenged so we can work out the very best of ideas. We are all wrong about something, but we do not know what it is until we have clearly articulated our ideas and then faced criticisms.
3) Promote your ideas. If you believe that your ideas of limited government are better than the prevailing wisdom, you should seek to find appropriate locations to express those ideas. If you do not always convince others, you do open them up to alternative views. Initially, people are resistant to new ideas (as they should be), but later they may repeat your arguments to others after reflecting on them. Do not expect instant converts.
4) Establish a good reputation. Be someone that others want to associate with. Don’t be a “lunch tax,” the person that people want to avoid because you only talk about yourself, or are always miserable. Gossip can be unhealthy if not based on knowledge and information. But talking about others is inevitable as humans are always interested in their fellow human beings. You want the gossip about you to be positive, that she works hard, that she is creative, that he is reliable.
5) Receive invitations to write and speak. In public policy you want to spread your ideas to others. The predominant way to do that is by writing and speaking. So you should be looking out for opportunities to express your ideas in written or verbal form. Conversations at events can lead to invitations to write something or speak.
6) Get published. How do you get published? You can send in articles blind, and they may be accepted, but publications usually receive many more submissions than they can accept. They are more likely to give attention to submissions from people they have met, or are recommended by people they know. A friend once said that he wanted no unpublished thought. I corrected him that he should want no “good” unpublished thought, so do think carefully before submitting anything.
7) Obtain letters of recommendation. You need people to provide you with letters of reference. While people who know you well are necessary, it can also help to have a letter of recommendation from someone who may not know you that well, but is well-known to the person to whom you are applying. In any job or internship, you should be thinking who would be a good reference.
8) Understand the culture. Being a student and working in public policy are very different worlds. Flip-flops and t-shirts will not be the dress code. One policy institution may be very different from another. For example, some are very deferential to the management, while in others, the relationship is more flat. In one, the dress code is very important and strict and is more relaxed in another. You need to know what is appropriate for whatever scene you are in.
9) Obtain intellectual stimulation. One of the reasons you have chosen the path of the policy world is that you have a strong interest in ideas and their consequences. If not, why are you considering this as a career? Networking is the place to come across new ideas that will stimulate your brain cells more than any illegal drug.
10) Create your community. Some of the people with whom you network will become your friends, your community, your “family,” but you do not know who they will be until you meet them.
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