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Meet for a Drink? Networking With or Without Alcohol

I recently wrote a story for Roll Call titled, “How to Get Hired on Capitol Hill.

I interviewed over a dozen hiring managers about how their hiring processes worked, how they advertised jobs, who got interviews and ultimately, who got hired.

The answers were surprisingly consistent: managers want to hire people they knew, or people recommended to them — especially when the recommendation came from someone they knew well. Networking, it seems, is one of the best things someone can do to land a job on Capitol Hill.

In my columns, I write often about the importance of “going for coffee.” It’s not a literal interpretation -- “coffee” means setting aside time to take a few minutes to catch up with old contacts and make new ones.  Whether it’s over a cappucino, a cup of tea, or coconut water is beside the point. Since word of mouth recommendations are incredibly powerful, the one-on-one, individual relationships are at a high premium.

But why “coffee?” Why couldn’t it be drinks?

It could be. In general, coffee dates are easy: you can meet in an office, or down the street. It can be casual while still keeping formalities. The coffee can be kept to 20 minutes or go a few hours. And — grande pumpkin spice lattes aside — it’s usually a bargain.

Drinks aren’t as easy. For one, it’s typically outside the office environment (There might be some exceptions since certain offices have wine cellars and craft beers on tap, but the typical office is more likely to have a Keurig than a kegerator). Drinks can be harder to control: too much caffeine might make you jittery, but too much alcohol might undermine your credibility.

Second, drinks imply a friendliness that doesn’t necessarily exist in informational interviews. Sure, you can meet some wonderful people — potential friends, softball teammates, future spouses or book club members — but the initial context of the conversation is work. Hence, starting closer to the workplace is better.

Finally, drinks usually take place after work hours. Many people take informational interviews during the day; it’s considered part of their job, not an extracurricular. Midday coffee breaks are common. Midday happy hour? Not as much.

But for those that prefer barstools to armchairs for networking, take heart. Some of the best, longest-lasting workplace connections are made outside of the office.  A happy hour with work friends — be it the office softball team or a coworker’s goodbye party — can build goodwill and keep networks strong. Just be sure to come up with a plan on how you’ll get home if driving is involved. Networking carpool, perhaps?

Rebecca Gale is the author of the Hill Navigator, a workplace advice column in Roll Call. She has also worked as a press secretary and communications director for senators and members of Congress on Capitol Hill. She graduated with honors from Miami University in Ohio and has a master's degree in political communication from the Johns Hopkins University. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published by Boxfire Press, and her debut novel, "Trying," was published by Boxfire Press in December 2012.

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility or any Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility member.*

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