As I like to tell people who are interested in coming to Washington to work for the first time, I showed up here fresh out of college with two suitcases, no job, and nowhere to live but a friend’s couch to sleep on for a few weeks.
This is a line you will hear from almost everyone who works in this town. Most of us just showed up, slept on a couch, and worked for free when we got started.
After a year of traveling around the world after college, I decided to get serious and look for that first job. My background was in journalism and political science, so I arrived in Washington looking for freelance writing work, which would hopefully help me get a full-time job.
But everywhere I turned, the signs did not look good.
Newspaper headlines warned of a coming recession, potential employers were telling job-seekers to come another year, and competition for any job in Washington was as fierce as ever. I found myself competing with Ivy League graduates with 4.0 GPA’s and talented professionals with full résumés who were twice my age.
Friends who had worked in Washington told me that I couldn’t just rely on my résumé and hope that employers would call. They advised that the best way to find a job would be for me to hit the D.C. social circuit and start shaking hands with people. In short, my résumé needed a face to go with the paper.
Following their advice, I went to Kinko’s and printed 500 personal name cards. I took my blue blazer to the dry cleaner and paid to have my pants pressed. Armed with my new cards, a clean suit and sheer will, I went to every function, forum, happy hour, bar night, and D.C. gathering I could find.
When you’re alone, it’s never easy walking into a room full of people you’ve never met. You have to take yourself well beyond your comfort zone, shake hands with strangers, and without seeming desperate, find new opportunities. I took a deep breath and tried to meet as many people as possible. I would make conversation with new faces and share my business card. At night I would go back to my temporary home (a friend’s couch), try to remember everyone I had met, and follow up the next day. Over time, I started making friends.
It wasn’t a week before I started getting interviews. Within three weeks I had a job offer, and only a month after I first arrived in Washington with my worn-out suitcases, I started working in a full-time position. With my last few dollars left over, I rented a room in the city and even bought a bed. This was the beginning of my career in Washington, D.C.
For the past two years, I have worked on new media projects for a think tank in Washington, D.C. I edit the blog, run the online social networks, and try to create a buzz around the research my colleagues produce. Working with the communications department, I find new and innovative ways to get our work to the public. I collaborate with bloggers, researchers, writers, policy analysts, and activists.
The work that I do is exciting, fast-paced and revolves around national-level news and events. Every day, I work with people who are regulars on the major news shows and people who publish their ideas in national magazines and newspapers.
This is a city where people come to work, so it’s full of energetic and ambitious young people who are interested in making change and shaping policy on a national level.
If that sounds like the place for you, then pack your two suitcases, find a couch, and make your start along the Potomac. The good news is that there are networks like the Institute for Humane Studies here to help. They can help you get started, find a great job, and meet the movers and shakers of this generation. And you never know. You just might be one of them.