“…Every day is a new adventure. No matter my plan for the day, there is a never-ending stream of new challenges and changing priorities.”
What are your typical day-to-day activities in your career?
Day-to-day? Every day is a new adventure. No matter my plan for the day, there is a never-ending stream of new challenges and changing priorities. At the most basic level, I am a program manager for an organization that hosts international affairs events. From all-day conferences on global health and multi-ambassador panels to book signings/discussions, every day is different. Consistently, I help conceptualize discussions/topics, vet venues (free lunch!), negotiate contracts, design marketing material, fundraise, do public/organizational outreach, brief speakers and VIP guests, make travel arrangements, coordinate volunteers/interns, coordinate research, troubleshoot A/V, fix computer issues, and whatever else come up. The worst thing for me is boredom and I am lucky that my position is anything but boring. I would say my job (and career choice) is about being adaptable, engaged and curious.
What process did you go through to enter (or rise) to your position?Which skills and experiences distinguished you from other candidates?
Wow, those are deceptively simple questions to answer. As a non-traditional student, I did not go to college right out of high school. After spending 8+ years living all over the U.S. and traveling, I knew I had to focus and orient everything towards my field(s) of interest once I decided to go to college. My current position grew out of an internship I successfully applied for during my senior year, where I worked as a research assistant with some duties in programmatic support. I took on every project, asked questions, and tried to go a step further and anticipate the next step. After two semesters, I helped create the foundation for internships in both the research group and programs/organizational support groups. As the organization grew, I grew with it and was offered a staff position upon graduation. What might have distinguished me from other candidates? I never wasted time over technical problems, instead I found workarounds. Can’t figure out how to do something in 5 minutes? Googled it. Didn’t know current thought on a topic? Googled it. Didn’t know what the pros and cons were for different data sets? Googled it. Didn’t know how to navigate the university system? I made friends in other departments. I made myself indispensable by constantly learning new skills/tools/tricks and who I needed to call and when. From my point of view, everyone has something to teach me and it is my job to learn.
“When I was a student, I wish I had known….”
I got lucky. I found the right internship, at the right time, with the right skills, and was able convert that into a paying job (and career) right out of the gate. Regardless, here are some of the things I wish I had known: 1) Focusing on graduation is important, but I should have also attended non-degree related courses of interest and more campus events; 2) I should have taken the time to develop more relationships with professors and other students; and 3) Though I worked up to my senior year, I should have found a way to do more volunteer work and/or internships. Opportunities come from unexpected places, get engaged and volunteer with causes/organizations and go to events that speak to your interests. I have more job offers and notifications crossing my desk through my network from volunteering than anything else. Here are things I found out well before college and can be quite shocking to new graduates: 1) Education is a foundation, it is never seen as work experience; 2) I know nothing – or more importantly – I am constantly finding out how little I know; 3) Be realistic. Menial tasks are a part of life. Do them quickly and WELL, so that you can get to the interesting/fun things; 4) Career building starts well before graduation. It can become difficult to build a resume that shows applicable experience. Otherwise, your career path will be dictated by what job you can get (even just momentarily) when your student loans go into repayment; and 5) This one seems self-evident, but sometimes isn’t in practice: treat everyone equally and respectfully and expect to have to earn respect.