In today’s job market, having a well-established network of contacts is crucial to getting a job in the industry or career you want. In fact, a study from Harvard Business School found individuals who engage in professional networking are far more likely to succeed in their careers than individuals who do not.

While professional networking can be as straightforward as taking the initiative to introduce yourself to someone, it can also be complicated or uncomfortable. Because networking can have a significant impact on your career, it’s important to know how to overcome the pressure and successfully network. Here are 3 tips to take the pressure out of networking:

Set Small Goals for Big Success

Maybe you work in an office you hate. Or, you’re currently unemployed and the prospect of changing careers or beginning a new gig seems incredibly daunting. It doesn’t have to be. Set small weekly or monthly goals for networking success. Over time, the little victories will add up and soon enough, you will have a large web of contacts.

For example, set aside 30-60 minutes each week (or perhaps every day) to research new career contacts. This could include searching for people with your desired job on LinkedIn or Google, writing emails to set up informational interviews with people in your chosen field or even researching professional organizations’ happy hours to attend. Your networking goals could also include simply talking to two or three new people at your office every week.

Putting yourself out there can be difficult, but if you set small goals for yourself and make the task of networking more manageable, you will soon see that you have established an entire network of career contacts for yourself. Don’t get down on yourself because you don’t know the talented stars that your co-workers may know. Dedication and consistency will get you farther than any one amazing career contact ever could.

Go for the Informational Interview

Informational interviewing is the practice of meeting with people who work in your desired field or career and interviewing them about their job. Even if you are already employed, you can use informational interviewing to your advantage within your organization to move up the career ladder.

If you don’t know anyone to reach out to for an informational interview, you should consider cold-calling contacts. The practice of cold-calling (or, these days, cold-emailing) refers to contacting someone out of the blue rather than being introduced to them by someone else.

Contacting people out of the blue to set up an informational interview can seem terrifying, but the fact that you took the initiative to reach out can by itself be very impressive to future employers. Who doesn’t enjoy meeting up for a cup of coffee and chitchatting about what they love (and hate) about their career?

Network While Doing What You Love

It’s easier to be yourself and attract the right contacts when you’re already doing what you love. You can meet some awesome people who share interests through your many local professional organizations. If you’re a career-minded woman looking to connect with other like-minded professionals, check out Lean In DC. If you’re a woman seeking to build your Capitol Hill career, check out the Women’s Congressional Staff Association.

Your home state may have an active State Society in DC chapter, where you can meet people from all types of careers. If you’re from a different country, your country’s embassy likely has many interesting cultural events. You can even join one of DC’s many running and workout clubs.

If you have a hobby like playing board games or hiking, you may want to check out for groups of people who share your interests. Also, consider volunteering to meet people who are passionate about the same causes as you.

As you can see, there are not a lack of networking and socializing opportunities in DC and beyond. There is, however, a lack of enough time to take advantage of it all. Make the most of your DC experience by doing your research and making time for the activities that matter to you and are aligned with your personal and career interests.

Photography by Alina Kovalchuk