Life in DC
CES: How did early experiences influence your career development? (part-time jobs on and off campus, internships, volunteer activities, campus clubs and involvements, etc.)
CF: My early experiences directly impacted and developed my career path. My internships and involvement with campaigns during undergrad helped me get to my current role with Congressman Smith’s office in Washington D.C.
During the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I began volunteering in the political arena with Adam Smith’s campaign. This introductory role helped me realize that I had a passion for politics and made me want to find more politically oriented opportunities. During my junior year, I had the awesome opportunity of interning for a semester in DC. It was a cool preview of what working on Capitol Hill would be like after graduation.
CES: What do you wish you had done or known during college that might have been beneficial to your career development?
CF: I wish I would have better utilized the diversity of opportunities available at Puget Sound as a liberal arts school. I figured out pretty early in my academic career what I wanted to major in and after I finished up my core requirements I ended up sticking mainly to classes in my department (because they were so interesting!). Looking back though, I wish I had used a couple of my extra credits to take some random fine arts or philosophy classes, just for fun. When else in life are you going to be able to so easily explore so many different subjects?
Also, while I had a lot of fun being involved in on-campus clubs and organizations, it would have been cool to get more involved in the local Tacoma community. There are so many awesome opportunities available at Puget Sound, it is easy to forget that there are tons of ways to get involved off-campus.
CES: Speaking of Tacoma, I can imagine living in DC is slightly different, what has been your favorite part of the change, and what do you miss the most about Tacoma?
CF: Being in DC during elections and a presidential inauguration is an experience you can’t really top (granted I’m a politics nerd, but still…). Watching it on TV is one thing, actually witnessing it is another. DC is a very young and upcoming city. Within the last few years, there has been a huge influx of young people to DC who are politically active and passionate about what they are doing. It is very easy to adjust to living here, because people are social and there is so much to get involved in.
Of course there are things that I miss about Tacoma too-- the city’s quirky personality, and the super friendly laidback people in the Pacific Northwest. Living and working in DC is exciting, but can also get exhausting. I also miss Tacoma’s proximity to nature. You don’t have to drive very far to be out of the city and up to the mountains, the coast, or Point-D. You can’t really find that diversity of natural scenery and accessibility of escapes in DC (especially if, like me, you don’t have a car).
CES: How did you make the decision to pursue your current path? Were there pivotal moments?
CF: Well I’ve always been really into The West Wing. Kidding (kind of…). But really, Politics is something that I’ve always been interested in. My parents both worked on the Hill when they were young, so politics is something my family talked about over dinner as I was growing up. There really wasn’t a defining moment for me--my career choice was sort of a natural path.
I was living in Tacoma my sophomore summer, taking classes and hanging out. I realized I had some extra time and wanted to find a way to fill it and meet new people. Walking downtown one afternoon, I saw Adam Smith’s campaign office, and walked in and asked how I could help. That started my volunteer role with his campaign. That was my start. I had no clue how much fun campaigns were until I just tried it out.
After graduation, I knew I wanted to find any way to be involved with the election. I moved out to DC, and met with a Puget Sound alum that one of my professors connected me with. She was wonderful. She offered me advice, and started making phone calls to connect me with people she knew. This landed me my first role in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. After the campaign, I ended up back in Adam Smith’s office. My internship experiences coupled with help from Puget Sound alumni were key factors in getting my current position. There have also been quite a few Loggers who have worked in his office over the years, which always helps.
CES: Do you have any tips or resources for students looking for entry-level positions in politics?
CF: If you want to get in to politics, be ready and willing to do an unpaid internship for a little while to get your foot in the door. On the Hill for instance, many people only work in their roles for a couple of years--they move up, burn out, decide to move away from DC or go back school. As a result, there is a lot of turnover and constant hiring. If you are doing a good job in an intern or volunteer role, odds are you’ll be the first name to come to mind to fill a position. In my office, almost all of the staff (including myself) interned for Adam Smith at some point before getting hired. Interning is the fastest way I know to get a job.
CES: What other suggestions do you have for how to stand out in a pool of DC job applicants?
CF: DC is so relationship-oriented, that I think the best thing to do in a job hunt is contacting everyone you know who may be even semi-tied with the field. This can range from professors and internship advisors to your dad’s college roommate who may now work on a Senate Committee or NGO. It’s important to not be intimidated, just give them a call and tell them about your interests. More often than not, they’ll be happy to help in any way possible and put you in touch with people they know who might know of job openings. It is extremely valuable to establish and maintain those personal connections. Employers need a reason to take a resume and put it on the top of the stack—and a personal recommendation is the best reason I can think of.
Speaking of resumes, in the political field I would say that GPA, test scores, etc. are far less important than showing your people skills and ability to work well under pressure. By having experience listed on your resume that showcases opportunities where you utilized or developed your people skills, it helps make you more marketable for Hill and campaign jobs.
CES: For students interested in moving to DC to begin careers after graduation, what can they expect?
CF: Be prepared for cultural and environmental differences--east coast personalities, slightly different lifestyle, and the weather. Also professional differences--sometimes very long hours, suits rather than jeans (sadly). With those caveats in mind, DC is probably one of the best places for young people to move and start a career. You can easily find housing on craigslist, often in a group house with people who are also making their start in politics or a related field. The public transportation in DC is wonderful, so don’t worry about bringing a car. While it has a higher cost of living than Tacoma, the city is not so expensive that it makes it hard to have an entry level public service job and be able to survive. The people you’ll meet are diverse and doing a lot of cool things. Overall, I’m very thankful DC is the place that I landed to start my career after graduation. I would say it’s a pretty ideal postgraduate town.
Alumni Sharing Knowledge
Cat is an ASK volunteer. Contact her through the ASK Network.