When I was 23, the momentum of my career came to a staggering halt. As a graduate student, I completed an internship at the United Nations in New York, then moved to Washington, DC, to pursue a congressional fellowship. Yet despite these achievements, with my degree completed and my fellowship over, I was unemployed, and six figures in debt to boot. I felt lost, and like a failure!
Now, only two years later, I am the Executive Director of the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN), the only national non-profit dedicated to preparing college women for careers in public policy. Was this luck? No way. I have my dream job because all along the way I relentlessly pursued professional development opportunities and established a strong network of colleagues.
So if you’re in a dead-end job or feeling stuck in your career, know that the power to change that is in your hands.
LOOK FOR STEPPING STONES
While I was unemployed, I found temporary and part-time work as a museum docent and a nanny, before finally being offered a fundraising job for a congressional campaign. I hated fundraising, but it was a step up from changing diapers.
From there, I was offered a job as the Development Manager at the museum. I hesitated to continue a career in fundraising, but I knew that my ultimate goal—becoming Executive Director of a non-profit—would require a strong background in development. I decided that I had to pay my dues. Looking at these jobs as stepping stones toward my goal, they were absolutely worth it.
PURSUE VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
While I was unemployed, I also pursued volunteer work that ultimately helped me land future jobs. I did volunteer grant writing for a local non-profit, a valuable skill I later discussed in interviews with the museum. I also became an active member of a local young women’s group, the Women’s Information Network (WIN). Through a contact I made there, I wrote a few chapters in a book for college women in which I profiled PLEN—the organization where I work today. Years later, pointing to that writing was a great selling point in my job interview with PLEN!
NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK
It all comes down to networking. The single best way to gain momentum in your career is to establish a strong network of colleagues. During my career plateau, I persistently pursued every opportunity I could to make connections. Rather than go home after work, I would hit the town and meet new people at happy hours, lectures, documentaries, and receptions.
I signed up on listservs of organizations I was interested in so I knew when they had events, and I attended as many as I could. Sometimes this meant spending the precious few dollars I had to attend a conference or luncheon, but the contacts I made were invaluable. For very expensive conferences, I volunteered to work so that was still able to be involved and meet people—for free!
Another way to start networking is to look for people who need help. When I was a part-time museum docent, the chair of the board needed an assistant to help her at a breakfast information session. I managed the registration, coordinated with restaurant staff to ensure the food was replenished, and did it with a smile on my face.
A few weeks after the breakfast, I asked the chair of the board to lunch to learn more about her work experience. This was the beginning of a fruitful relationship that ultimately led to her personally recommending me to the position of Development Manager.
LASTLY, STAY POSITIVE!
If you feel stuck in your career, it may be tempting to sit back and complain about your situation. But however down you might feel, it’s important to actively get out there and develop yourself. Remember, you are in control of your career destiny!
A Note From The Editor
Do you have Casual Fridays at your office? Is this day a little slower for you? A time, perhaps, when you sit back and think about what you want to get our of your career and your work? Fem2pt0 excited to bring you this post as the launch of our Professional Fridays series. Every Friday, we’ll be bringing you expert advice from experienced professional women in a variety of fields. Want to see a particular issue addressed? Have a question? Use the hashtag #Fem2JobQ any day, any time, and we’ll tackle the issues YOU care about. Thanks, as always, for your support and participation in our community.