Monday, October 26, 2009

Kerala Hise '09: Taking the DC Plunge

Here's a report from Kerala Hise on her decision to "take the plunge" and look for IPE-related work in Washington DC.
When I graduated this past spring, I had a job lined up at a summer camp that I figured would give me some extra time to figure out what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, by the time the job was over, I had nothing lined up and was preparing to go back to California to live with my parents. Before leaving Tacoma, I met with Professor Veseth to talk about my job hunt, to get some ideas and hopefully some connections to pursue. Mike's advice: move to DC, being there in person would give me a great advantage over all the other applicants. He gave me contact information for a couple of UPS graduates already there, wished me luck and sent me on my way.

Though I trust Mike, I was pretty wary about the idea. On Mike's advice, I met up with my old peer advisor who had recently returned to the Bay Area after working in DC for over two years. She said Mike had given her the same advice, and though she too had been skeptical at first, after missing out on a job because she couldn't be in DC for an interview immediately, she decided to go for it. Within a month she had found a job. She gave me information for some job listservs to subscribe to, and wished me luck. I bought a ticket and packed my bags.

I landed on a Sunday and by Monday was putting the finishing touches on my resume and sending it out. Though I wanted a paid job, I knew from talking to people that a internship was essential to getting paid position on the Hill, so I was applying to everything I thought I could get. On Tuesday I was lucky enough to find an opening for an internship in a Congressional office of a Washington state representative and the hiring staff member was a UPS graduate. Less than twenty minutes after I sent the email, I got a call from the office and we set up an appointment for the next day.

The interview went really well and I left feeling confident about getting the position. That evening, I got a call about another internship I had applied for at a small democratic fundraising firm based near the Hill and we arranged to meet on Friday. On Thursday I was offered the first position, but my Friday interview went so well that the woman proposed accepting the Congressional position part time, so that I could do both internships and thus gain that much more experience in only a few months; I called the Congressman's office back and they agreed to the arrangement.

Before I moved out here I had been applying to jobs and internships incessantly and never got so much as a call back. Now, I've only been in DC a week and already have one internship lined up and another probable one in the works. Clearly, Mike's advice was the right way to go, and I am all set up to gain some amazing experience that will help when I start looking for a paid position in a few months.

The experience I'll gain from these internships is one thing, but perhaps more importantly is the opportunity to connect with people that work all over the Capitol. Both on and off the Hill, having an existing relationship with someone in the office improves your chances of landing an interview dramatically. Just having a DC address on your resume is the first step, but being able to stand out from the other applicants because someone in the office knows who you are is a tremendous advantage.

Whether you know someone personally or were put in touch with them through a mutual acquaintance, having that connection is essential. It is nearly impossible to get a staff or legislative assistant position in a Congressional office without paying your dues as an intern first, and the exposure you gain and the related benefits more than make up for a few months of working for free.

Even if I don’t stay in DC for the long run, learning to network and cultivate those relationships is going to be helpful in any field, anywhere. So far, I feel pretty good about the path I’m on, as well as relieved that Mike’s advice worked out. Now, if only finding a cheap, conveniently located apartment was as easy…
Thanks for this Kerala. How does one make those key first connections? The ASK (Alumni Sharing Knowledge) Network is one great place. For IPE majors, joining the IPE at UPS! group on Facebook is another. Best of all is Kerala's strategy of talking with everyone and listening to their ideas.

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