Op-Ed: How to Break into Your New Career

Originally Posted by AFF on February 12, 2019

I’ve only been in the DMV area for a little over two years (as of this writing) but am frequently asked for advice on how to secure one’s first job. While this piece is by no means a definitive guide, it includes a few shortcuts to bypass learning curves I endured along the way.

I came to DC from Indiana with nearly 10 years of political, policy, and private sector experience. After an internship, I was unemployed for two months in 2017. With the cost of living nearly 3x that of my home state, the pressure was on. Fortunately, I eventually landed a Director title and had a great work experience in my first role in the liberty movement.

Success in landing a first gig often comes down to three things: timing, timing and….timing. Each election cycle is creative destruction followed by spontaneous order, evolution at its best. Being in the right place at the right time means more than just about anything else – even more than your school name, degree type, or GPA.

Know the Direction You Want to Take
If you know this, it will streamline everything else. One challenge for young professionals is that opportunities can be so vast and wide, it’s easy to get paralyzed by near unlimited options. Whether you are a policy wonk, communications expert, fundraiser extraordinaire, or just an outright political hack, there’s an opportunity for you somewhere. The challenge is finding that needle in the haystack.

Establish a Process
I’m an operations person at heart, so streamlining procedures and processes are essential to me. Many job ecosystems, especially in major cities like DC, don’t have much of a human resources department so a bulk of positions are backfilled by word of mouth. Odds are, if a job is posted online — especially something on the Hill — it’s probably already filled. You should apply anyways. Here’s why:

There is something in mathematics called ‘The Law of Large Numbers’. In short, the more times an experiment is done, the closer one gets to the expected value. For you, this is a job! During my time in the insurance world, we used the ‘One Card System’ which is basically the science of quantifying activities to ensure success. This system was ‘proven’ through 25 years of activity tracked (by hand) by a salesperson and his staff in Chicago.

Forty calls to possible clients led to 25 answers, which led to 15 scheduled meetings, which led to 10 kept meetings (prospects). Of those, three are true prospects but only one becomes a client. They call this 10-3-1. The kicker is of that one future client, 60% take action the first year, 30% the second and 10% in the third year. As a salesperson hones their soft skills, the ratio becomes 10-6-6, meaning they are better at pre-qualifying prospects and closing them 100% of the time.

The principle applies to your job hunt as well: the more applications you send out, the more likely you are to eventually land a job.

Finding a Job is a Full-Time Job
Apply this process similarly to the job search. Make dials from 9-10am when people are at their desk but haven’t been bogged down by emails, coworkers, and other tasks. As people respond, be mindful that they are in the driver’s seat so you’ll want to try and meet on their terms when it comes to time and location. Spend the rest of the day meeting people for coffee. Informational interviews should be treated like real interviews so have a plan of attack. Go in with the best possible understanding of that person’s background and be prepared to ask questions. Keep the conversation 2/3 about them or something objective. In sales, they call this the ‘spotlight’. Above all, you are seeking institutional wisdom as an outsider, and there is a lot to learn! Always ask for a business card as that will often give you someone’s complete information: email, phone and mailing address.

Be thoughtful and always follow up with a thank you note – email is recommended but a handwritten card is strongly preferred. Emily Post’s Etiquette book seems to be rejected by boomers and foreign to millennials but the principles are timeless and more effective than ever before in an age of transactional behavior. Beyond this, maintain the relationship and understand folks are very busy in this town. Every time you reach out to someone, it doesn’t always have to be about a job. Millennials have a tendency to depend on less formal means of communication, but a phone call is bar none the strongest way to connect with someone. If you receive no response from someone via email and don’t have their number, ‘drip’ on them in intervals of one, two then three weeks. After that, if there is no response, it is best to put them on a six-month rotation.

Don’t Neglect the Power of Networking
Happy hours and networking events are an essential part of the job search process because of the connections you can make that you otherwise would not have online. As an introvert, I still think that being ‘out and about’ is good exposure. After all, the job search is stressful and you deserve a free drink…even if it is Franzia box wine. Just be sure to moderate your drinking. When you leave the event, you’ll want to be remembered, but for all the right reasons.

Lastly, Stay Positive
In the end, give yourself points for sticking to the job search and going through the process. While there are many career opportunities out there, the competition can often be intense. There are honest, smart, and hardworking people that get shoved in a corner while other folks seem to fail their way up to the CEO’s office. Life is unfair, step one is getting over it. Find a confidante you can talk with when things aren’t going well. There will be many calls, emails, and applications that never get responded to. All you can do is keep moving forward. Success is found through failure.

Starting a New Career in DC: Office Etiquette

Originally Posted at AFF on November 1, 2018

Whether you just landed your first job out of college or arrived as a mid-career transplant, moving to the DC area can be a bit overwhelming. There are few places around the world that offers such cultural diversity with so many different customs, it’s easy to get confused. Below are a few office etiquette suggestions that are timeless, and should help you start off on the right foot, wherever you are in your DC journey.

Know Your ‘Why’
While this isn’t meant to be a deep philosophical question, you were hired for a reason. Why? Odds are, you are there to solve problems and push the organization in a specific direction to create long-term value and meaningful results. Having a professional demeanor not only inspires personal confidence but it also impacts the culture around you. As issues arise in the office place (and they will!), manners go a long way in treating everyone with respect. Conduct yourself with civility, even when there is disagreement among your colleagues. This will deepen trust and allow people to be more open and honest about various aspects of work and perhaps even their personal life. Knowing your ‘why’ will keep you driven to accomplish results in your role and will help you and others to seek fulfillment through teamwork and collaborative efforts.

Dress the Part
Outside of banking and fashion in New York City, DC is the home to an industry where dressing up has always been the standard. If an employee manual was not given to you during the onboarding process, ask for one. Most outline the do’s and don’ts and some may even have helpful suggestions. While many employers have ‘gone casual’ in in the past few years, it never hurts to dress ‘one step’ more professional than the rest. You’ll get noticed, but for all of the right reasons. Since much of DC revolves around networking, food and drink after work are commonplace. With that in mind, seek to build a wardrobe that is as much function as it is fashion. Achilles-cutting high heels and strangling dress shirts are no way to go through 16 hour days.

Be On Time
It has been said, “If you’re five minutes early then you’re five minutes late.” While not all work cultures practice this, in DC it couldn’t be truer. With a city that revolves around the action (or inaction depending on your perspective) of Congress, there is always somewhere you could or should be. From an important staff meeting, a committee that needs your testimony, some luncheon or a happy hour with all the important people, Washingtonians move with purpose. Be respectful of everyone’s time, especially your boss and anyone you request to meet for a call, coffee, or cocktail (the 3 C’s).

Getting to Know People
Today’s culture says to avoid anything unpleasant, even something as minimal as a momentary awkward interaction. With a diverse group of people, you’ll come across names you can’t pronounce and accents that are hard to understand. Do not be afraid to ask someone to repeat their name or spell it out for you. In DC, there are a lot of elected and appointed officials. While they all have different titles, it is best to use them unless told otherwise. In your office, default to the formal as it is better to be safe than sorry by speaking out of turn.

You now live in a city that by its density, is one of the most educated in the world. By default, people like to get their thoughts and ideas out in the public space; after all, most of the nation’s media and communications come out of DC. Truth be told, you’ll learn a lot more from listening than from speaking. There is a lot to take in and the unique perspectives will expose you to ideas, thoughts, and perspectives that might be completely foreign to your upbringing or education. There is always something to learn from everyone.

Your Office Space
While many of us are ‘out in the field’ with said meetings, we still spend a certain amount of time as ‘keyboard warriors’ within the office. Depending on the hierarchy or modernity of the layout, the space could be open and collaborative, corporate with cubicles (cubes) or a labyrinth of offices amongst hallways. Respecting one’s space is just as important as their time. Even though cubicles are open and without a door, they are not necessarily an open invitation for disruption. Here, permission is better than forgiveness. Asking “Are you available?” or “Is this a good time to talk?” is a high sign of courtesy and will be remembered. Talking over cubes will almost always be frowned upon as it negates their very purpose. Cubes aren’t soundproof so it’s important to remember nearly all conversation will be overheard. Meetings with guests are best held in conference rooms for the open space as well as the privacy. While one should never eavesdrop, if something private catches your ear, be sure to keep that confidential. While workplace rumors can be poisonous, having something spread from being misheard could be worse.

For those with an office, layout and décor set the tone for visitors. Always best to greet guests standing at the door as opposed to waving someone in while kicked back in a chair. The door for an office is a large non-verbal cue as to your focus so only close it when necessary. A door is best utilized during a confidential conversation, meeting with a visitor, or perhaps when you are trying to concentrate on something over a duration of time.

Communal Resources
As mentioned earlier, maintaining privacy and using discretion is always appreciated by coworkers. You’ll often use a fax or copy machine to conduct business. On occasion, one may come across a coworker’s confidential or personal information. When you find documents left in the printer or on the scanner, best practice is to set them aside in an orderly manner and if needed, place them in the interoffice mailbox labeled for that individual.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
All of us have menial tasks in our jobs and some more than others. If someone is bogged down by a big project such as a mailing, if time permits, offer to help. DC is a place of horse trading and it never hurts to build goodwill with folks within your office. It is far better to be the one handing out favors as opposed to always taking them.

Passing the Torch
At some point, you won’t be the new person in the office anymore and someone new will walk through the door. As the seasoned veteran, it will be your responsibility to take the initiative, reach out and show them the ropes. Over time, people develop institutional knowledge and sometimes the incentives are misaligned to where one withholds information in order to maintain their value. Far better to build a network and team of people who see life with an ‘abundancy’ mindset instead of a ‘scarcity’ mindset. This approach to helping others first and sharing information when it benefits them sets the tone for a positive culture and increases the quality of life for all those within the workplace. While you should be helpful, also be forgiving as you did not walk through the door with all the answers on day one. Leadership is an exercise in lighting the torch and making sure the flame gets brighter with each passing from generation to generation.