April 19, 2019

Career Advice

Building Connections in a New City

By: Robert Ordway

In my last article, How to Break into Your New Career, I wrote about my approach to job prospecting and the effort it will take to secure a position. While I noted that informational interviews are the most effective way to network and get your name placed in the jobs hats, I did not describe how you would find these people.

Luckily for the millennial and Gen Z folks, we have the power of the internet and social media. Imagine living in your home state in the 1980s and trying to connect with the Leadership Institute or Heritage Foundation to seek out your first internship. A phone number to the front desk would be the extent of your ability to connect with folks on the inside. Today, just about everyone is online and searchable in some way, shape or form.

As you seek to connect with folks and discover your passion here in the policy world, here are a few starting points for finding people to help you get to where you want to go.

Revisit Old Tribes
Whether you landed in DC just after college or relocated here through a career transition, think of organizations you were involved with back at home. It’s always easier to start a conversation with a stranger when you have a common experience from the past.

If you’re a member of a specific denomination, you may receive church recommendations from back home, especially if you went to a faith-based college. While some say one should never mix politics and religion, with the right tact and good intentions, there are lifelong relationships and professional opportunities to be found. When we think about community over the past few hundred years, this is one’s “first tribe” and a place you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.

College Alumni
Some colleges are bigger and stronger than others, but in the sea of DC’s diversity, this is one of the first groups you should reconnect with. Colleges like Hillsdale and Grove City have done a great job of nesting within the liberty movement and serve as a model for young people looking to move into public policy or politics. Some colleges may have a chapter of their alumni network in your city, and most at the very least have a preferred bar. Whether formally organized or not, those events are great camaraderie building exercises but also provide an environment to network.

Join New Groups
State societies are the best place to start. In 2010, I became a member of the Indiana Society of Chicago, a 100+ year old club of power-brokers that meets once a year in December. In attendance is nearly every elected official from the state, along with leaders from business and the nonprofit sector. Once I moved, I immediately joined their DC chapter. The group was friendly and willing to help as I searched for a position. Regardless of your political persuasion, the folks in this group are usually seasoned veterans and willing to help newcomers in town.

That First Internship
This is the way most people will enter DC, often during undergrad. Time flies here on the East Coast, so while you have fun at those free drink happy hours, don’t forget to make a lasting impression on the bosses. When you come back after graduation, they could be your best sources for letters of recommendation or referrals. During my time at Heritage in the Spring of 2017, I made a strong effort to try and grab coffee with as many of the staff as possible. Given the size of the organization, I really wanted to understand its inner workings and see if there was a place I might fit somewhere in the future.

Various Events
America’s Future Foundation has done an excellent job of pulling together other organizations in the liberty movement to plug young people into career opportunities. From professional development to social happy hours, you’ve come to the right place. As a graduate of the AF Writing Fellowship in Fall 2017, I highly recommend this program. Not only do you get to hone in on some writing skills but also network with some of the best communications professionals from around DC. (Editor’s note: applications for the Summer 2019 term of the program are open now until April 26)

Heritage, CATO, AEI and the like all put on events in varying degrees. At minimum, you’ll get a free drink and maybe even dinner out of the deal. While these events are less personalized than meeting folks one-on-one, you’ll be at places where your interests lie and will be able to connect with people that can really help you find opportunities you are interested in.

Other Non-profits
For many of us in the liberty movement, we see the nonprofit sector as the way for people with passion, energy and drive to empower others and help solve society’s ills. Whether it’s feeding the homeless or doing a clothing drive, you’ll meet leaders from all walks of life who are looking to make a difference. Getting engaged in this space is evidence that you’re not just here for your career.

Social Media
After doing your research about the above groups, you’ll want to meet Jane at your favorite think tank or John who works on the The Hill for your hometown member. I believe the most professional way to go about this is by subscribing to the job function within LinkedIn. The site is career focused, so when you reach out to people, there is a perceived notion as to what the request would be. Over time, Twitter also tends to be a professional tool, but remember, most of your communication there will be public record. Other channels like Facebook, Instagram and the like may also be used, but acknowledge many people use these exclusively for family or hobbies and prefer not to mix them with business. Always make the request with humility and keep the focus on them. People in the DMV are busy, but you’ll be surprised by how many people will be willing to meet with you. Respect their time and be well prepared with your goals and agenda beforehand.

You have to put yourself out there. As someone who graduated at the start of the Great Recession in December 2007, I spent 40+ hours a week writing cover letters and submitting resumes into an abyss known as a job portal. There are many more effective ways to spend your time in the quest for that full-time gig. Seeking out informational interviews and events of interest is how you’re going to find people.