How to Make it in DC

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How to Make it in DC

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CAPITOL STANDARD columnist Michael Hardaway breaks it down.

My name is Michael Hardaway. I’ve worked for high-ranking political officials ranging from Barack Obama to Bill Nelson. I’ve advised professional athletes and foreign ambassadors. I’ve been in the New York Times and I’m on a first-name basis with your favorite politicians.

I’m telling you all this because when I tell you DC (or NYC, LA, and all the other places we flock to build our careers) is a beast– a fierce yet easily tamed beast– I want you to trust me. There are hard and fast rules to this place. If you abide by them you will pierce through the proverbial bubble, and on to an entirely new level.

These are my rules:

Remember, the stakes are high

Your interactions with constituents, supporters, and the media reflect directly on your boss. You don’t want to be the reason s/he doesn’t get re-elected. Execute your office duties precisely. There’s no room for ineptitude. Play to win or don’t show up.

Keep your mouth shut

Don’t share office secrets with your roommate. Don’t tell your girlfriend about your Senator’s interoffice tirade. Never gossip. Be smart about how you share information and with whom you share it. Your career depends on it.

Don’t network. Build relationships

Networking is superficial. It feels forced. Focus on building real relationships with people. Get to know the person. Understand who they are and what they do for living, then find a way to add value for them.

Diversify

Remy Danton once said, “Power is better than money for as long as it lasts, but it never lasts.” Power vacillates in this town. People change jobs. Parties play musical chairs at each end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The only way to survive and thrive is to create an expansive web of relationships that encompasses both parties and an array of industries.

Social media is lethal

Happy hour ends careers. Don’t take drunken pictures at receptions. Avoid Twitter after you’ve had a few shots.

Pull yourself together

Find a barber. Find a tailor. Find a gym. Patronize them regularly. A stressful job is no excuse for being a slob.

Don’t put it in writing

Resist the temptation to put important information in texts and emails. You never know what a situation can devolve into and you don’t want your words printed on the front page of the New York Times. Go with a face-to-face meeting instead. If that isn’t feasible, jump on the phone.

Find your scene

Working in politics affords you priceless opportunities to attend important events. Use beltway outlets such as Capital Standard and Cloture Club to identify those opportunities. Get to know outreach staffers at each embassy and similar organizations around the city. Aim to meet at least one new person at each event — and make sure you follow up with them within 24 hours.

You were the smartest kid in school. So were we. No one cares

And while you’re at it, burn that sweatshirt from your Alma mater. You’ve graduated.

Abandon your scorched-earth policy

That co-worker you loathe will be your boss on a campaign 4 years from now. That guy hogging your treadmill in the Senate gym will run a lobbying firm 7 years from now. Recalibrate your perspective on relationships.

Looking to network with globally-minded, successful young professionals? Start here

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Michael Hardaway chats with billionaire financier David Rubenstein.

about the author

Michael Hardaway
Michael Hardaway
Michael Hardaway advises high-profile individuals on matters surrounding crisis communications, political affairs and brand development. He is a board member of UNICEF's Next Generation and RFK Young Leaders.