Name One Thing with Mr. John McHugh | Networking Tips for Introverts

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Name One Thing | This month’s exclusive interview is with Mr. John McHugh sharing advice for preparing for an advanced degree, networking tips for introverts, and his personal experience as a policy consultant.

Welcome to Name One Thing the interview series where I ask academics, researchers, postdocs, and other professionals what they wished they’d known in grad. school. Today’s guest is Mr. John McHugh, policy advocate and lobbyist, here to talk about what he wished that he had known when preparing to earn an advanced degree, his expert networking tips for introverts, and the things he’s learned working as a consultant in the realm of government policymaking.


Name: John McHugh
Degree: Juris Doctor (UNC Law)
Current role: ASPCA Director of State Legislation, South Atlantic Region
Find them on:
LinkedIn: /john-mchugh-jd-2856372

1) Name one thing you wish someone had told you when you were in law school.

The primary thing I wish someone had told me before law school is that it’s much better to come into law school with some actual experience to help digest some of the concepts. Law School (and I expect most professional/grad programs) is quite a different beast from undergrad and requires a different approach, which I did not appreciate at the time. As someone who went directly from high school to undergrad to law school, I liked any concrete life experience that would help me ground the concepts involved in a way that would facilitate my understanding of the material. Sure, I had worked a retail job and I had signed a lease, but I had no real appreciation for contracts or torts or civil procedure. The classes I enjoyed the most and the ones I did the best in were the classes that were based primarily on policy (such as tax policy, international law, and trusts and estates) that I had a much better intuitive handle on conceptually.

2) As a policy consultant and lobbyist, you have to do a lot of what many graduate students shy away from – networking. Name one thing that students should do to network better.

This is a difficult one because I’m an introvert and a nerd like a lot of grad students.  It takes real effort for me to network and ‘schmooze’ in that way.  People can get conditioned through media to think of conversational skill or charisma as effortless or natural when (like everything else) it’s a hard-won earned skill. One of my favorite anecdotes is that when Sean Connery was first cast as James Bond the first thing the director did was take him to his tailor on Savile Row and have a custom suit made.  Then he told Connery to sleep in it because wearing a suit is a skill that you have to learn. Networking is just another thing you have to study to be good at.

I think the best way to approach this is twofold. Don’t be afraid to ask for information and to ask for help in social situations. I think people would be surprised to find out how readily people will respond to requests and asks, particularly an ask for support.  It does take skill to develop this muscle and it’s easy to fall into the pattern of not asking for help. It’s a little akin to the adage of ‘to get respect you have to give respect.’ Asking someone about themselves or for help shows interest in them that will make you interesting in return.

The second thing is to find common ground. My work frequently brings me into contact with legislators or other policymakers that have very different beliefs and understanding of how the world should work. Or they have a vested interest in something I’m interested in changing. But humans want to help each other. And you can always find common ground that you and another person have in common. Since I’m an animal welfare lobbyist I focus on dogs and cats. Everyone has had a pet they love, an animal that has had a profound impact on their lives or the lives of a loved one. Mutual understanding is the first step in creating a relationship, and networking is all about relationships.

3) Many graduate students consider becoming policymakers or advisors to policymakers. Name one thing that you didn’t consider, but should have, when you decided to work as a legislative consultant and lobbyist.

Being a policy maker, particularly one that’s an elected official, is an act of service. I’ve worked as both staff to policymakers and as someone trying to influence policy makers and it’s a lot of work and a lot of stress. Policymaking, by and large, is designed around being an open process rather than an efficient process. So even relatively small decisions have a lot of input and a lot of decision points that get spread across a long timeline. It’s not for the easily frustrated or impatient. The system is working during a three-hour meeting with a lot of parliamentary infighting. It’s a fight by inches all the time. The best advice I can give you is to be a happy warrior. And wake up every day to see the process play out in the slow, sometimes ugly way it has to in our system. Because the alternative is to just embrace the fighting and I’ve never seen anyone do that and not become a burnout or a cynic.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, John! Your networking tips for introverts particularly resonated and will help a great many graduate students. Your advice for things to considerations when going into policymaking and advocacy is also invaluable as many faculty members and advisors do not have the experience to guide graduate students considering work in this field.

Wishing You All the Best in Your Academic Success.
Dr. Cristie Glasheen, Your Graduate Student Success Coach.

Interview Disclaimer

We aim to share diverse perspectives and experiences. The views, opinions, and experiences shared by our guests in this interview series are solely their own. Their participation is not an endorsement of our services, products, or views, nor does it imply an endorsement of their services, products, or views by us.