By: Jon Chesebro
July 2009. I arrived in Washington DC to 90 degree temperatures and extreme humidity. I had no job, no permanent residence and high expectations. After all, I just graduated from the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies, one of the top international studies programs in the world. In addition to having a degree in Global Finance, Trade and Economic Integration (GFTEI), I completed two internships while a student. I was determined to find a job
Upon arriving in DC, I immediately connected with the Josef Korbel Washington DC Alumni Group, which I learned about on the Josef Korbel School's Career Connections trip that I participated in while still a student. The Korbel DC Alumni Group was extremely helpful in connecting me with other alumni in my field of interest, providing advice on job searching and job leads, where to live, and the best places to get Ethiopian food.
I rented a small, sparsely-furnished room in a three bedroom house in Takoma Park, MD, ten miles from DC. Rent was $800/month. The room had a mattress, a desk and wireless internet. Everything I needed. I spent my days applying to jobs online, attending job fairs, and doing informational interviews with Korbel alumni and other contacts. At one government job fair I attended, there were over 500 people in suits and ties. I waited in line for forty five minutes to speak with an HR representative from the Millenium Challenge Corporation. So these are the other people who are applying to jobs. During the evenings I attended networking events sponsored by organizations such as Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and Devex (a website for international development professionals).
Progress was slow. I often did not hear back from organizations where I applied. Don't call us, they'd say, we'll call you. More often than not, they didn't call.
I received excellent job searching advice from Korbel alumni:
- Treat the search like a full-time job.
- When you meet somebody, email them immediately and write down personal details on the back of their business card (where and when you met, common interests, etc.).
- At the end of informational interviews, ask if there are other people that it would be helpful for you to contact. In this way you expand your network.
- Have your 30 second elevator speech and business card ready.
After three weeks of job hunting I received an email for my first interview. It was for an international trade specialist position at the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration. I had done an internship at the Commerce Department in Denver so I had some knowledge about what the work involved. To prepare for the interview, I contacted Korbel alumni at the Commerce Department to ask for interviewing advice. They told me to be enthusiastic, show a willingness to learn and do new things, and be likable (because people want to work with people they like). I did extensive research on the organization, including reviewing their website and researching current events related to international trade. I read "What Color Is Your Parachute?" by Richard Nelson Bolles (an excellent book for job searching and interview advice) and did practice interviews with friends. I felt prepared.
I received a job offer in early September and started in early November. Four months from first interview to start date is fast for the federal government I was told. I credit my success to the support of alumni and friends, diligence, and a lot of luck. Without the advice and encouragement of many people, I would not have received a job offer.
Washington DC has many opportunities for jobs in international affairs. It can also be a tough place for job seekers. Everybody has a master's degree, has travelled abroad and speaks a foreign language. However, I found that attending the Josef Korbel School set me apart from other job seekers that received their degree from within the beltway (the term affectionately given to DC). The connection with alumni was stronger. We spoke about which classes and professors we had, skiing and how much we missed the Rockies. The Korbel alumni network in DC is strong and I am grateful to everyone who helped me along the way.
About the author: Jon Chesebro has worked as an international trade specialist at the U.S. Commerce Department's International Trade Administration since November 2009 where he does trade policy analysis to help U.S. companies export. He currently serves as Co-Chair of the Josef Korbel DC Alumni Group, which is dedicated to helping alumni succeed in Washington DC by providing opportunities for professional networking, social interaction and cultural events in the Washington DC area. To get connected to the Josef Korbel DC Alumni Group, email email@example.com and join our facebook page.