Navigating Capitol Hill Coffee Culture

Posted on Tuesday, Feb 15, 2022

As soon as I got accepted into PPIP, I immediately began reaching out to people I knew in the DMV area, whether that be friends from high school, fellow Aggies, family friends, etc. I wanted to arrive in D.C. and feel less "alone." Once I began reaching out to these individuals, I quickly learned the monumental role "coffee" plays in this city. Yet, it wasn't until I began my internship that I realized my idea of what these coffees entailed wasn't quite accurate. I imagined that these coffee dates would take place on weekends or outside of work hours at coffee shops in town. However, many professionals on the Hill take advantage of the coffee shops within the Senate and House buildings, in addition to taking advantage of being in such close proximity to other individuals while at work. Thus, it is not inappropriate to schedule a coffee during the business day, at a location in or near your building. In fact, in many offices, this is actually encouraged, as networking and growing professionally are important facets of the job. Below are just a few brief tips for maximizing your opportunities to network over a cup of joe!
First, TAKE ADVANTAGE. You work in Washington, D.C., among some of the nation's brightest professionals. Many of these individuals likely have experience in fields you may be interested in or curious about. Not only that, but they've also very likely been in your shoes. I know it can be intimidating, but I promise these people are genuinely eager to help you, so take full advantage of the unique opportunity you've been presented with. 
Next, try to have at least one thing in common with the person you reach out to for coffee. This is a piece of advice my supervisor gave me very early on in my internship. I would encourage you to reach out to Hill staffers in your office and outside offices who have backgrounds or positions of interest to you, but try to make certain that you have at least one shared commonality. This will ensure there's some connection for conversation to flow from. This quality could be where you're from, where you went to school, who you've worked for, your policy interests, etc.
When it comes to communication, do so professionally and in a timely manner. Send the staffer an invite from your Senate/House email with a brief introduction and explanation of why you'd like to grab coffee. Once you've sent your initial request and receive a response, get back to them quickly to be courteous of their time as a full-time staff member. 
Once you've agreed on a date and time, present yourself well on the day of. Given that you work on the Hill, you should obviously be doing this on a daily basis; however, it is important to bear in mind that while this isn't a formal interview, it could definitely, in a sense, be an informal one. 
In the same token of professionalism, make an effort to arrive on time to your coffee, if not early. Once again, these are busy individuals who have graciously carved out a chunk of time for you, so be cognizant of that and respectful. 
Come prepared! Don't do too much background research prior to meeting this person, but do take the time to learn a little bit about them (whether that be through LinkedIn, LegiStorm, etc.) so that you're able to ask specific questions and illustrate that you did your homework. 
I encourage you to also bring a pen and paper to take notes throughout your conversation, to once again illustrate your interest and appreciation of their willingness to share their knowledge with you. 
If your meeting goes well, at the conclusion of your coffee - these should take roughly 45 minutes, and definitely not more than an hour - consider asking for the contact information of a couple of their colleagues that they think might be valuable for you to meet. This is a great way to extend your network. Also, KEEP THE BUSINESS CARDS PROVIDED BY THE PROGRAM FOR YOU ON YOUR PERSON AT ALL TIMES. You will be shocked how often those come in handy to be able to pull out of your bag, rather than awkwardly exchanging phones. 
Finally, be gracious and thank the person you get coffee with. As aforementioned, these people are very busy, so taking an hour out of their workday to connect with you is notable and worth a sincere thank you. Consider sending a thank you email after expressing your gratitude in person as well.
If you plan to utilize extensive coffees and want to stay incredibly organized, consider making a spreadsheet to account for your communications and interactions. This sheet can include staffer name, their title, the office they belong to, the date of your meeting, a check box for sending a thank you email, and so on. 
While I encourage you to keep all of these tips in mind and take these coffees seriously, at the end of the day, you also need to have fun with it. You're in an extremely unique, once-in-a-lifetime position. Take advantage, but don't forget to enjoy yourself. Good luck!

Kaylie Richardson
Office of Senator Ted Cruz
Washington, D.C. | Spring 2022