In college, most students are limited in their understanding of the jobs that are available to them when they enter the workforce. Doctor, teacher, banker and the like are the categories of options most people grasp. Even students with interests in the area of political science, economics, and government who have looked into careers are usually limited in their thinking to those in law, or political campaigns, or on Capitol Hill. Because of their school, or their geographical location, or family background, they may not have been exposed to the wide range of career options available to young conservatives and libertarians. They might not know that such dynamic options exist such as “external relations” for non-profit policy associations and think-tanks.
Caitlyn Korb recently became the first Director of External Relations at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a “nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” She is coming from her recent position as Manager of External Relations for the Cato Institute.
Caitlyn Korb describes external relations as conducting “outreach efforts to national and state-based organizations and policymakers.” It is the area of networking on an organizational scale, and it is a growing career with many opportunities, but she didn’t hear about these opportunities from the career counselors at her alma mater, the University of California, Los Angeles.
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In her second to last quarter in college at UCLA, Caitlyn was naturally anxious about her career after graduation. It seemed that everyone else had a job lined up, mostly in consulting.
It was a complete freak accident that I stumbled upon a poster for the Koch Summer Fellows program. It was probably posted by mistake in a UCLA hallway. I can’t imagine anybody knowing what it was and purposely posting it.
I had no idea what I was going to do. The only options presented to me where AmeriCorps or Teach for America. I went to college and career services, and nothing along the lines of the Koch Summer Fellows program was mentioned.
I stumbled upon this sign, and I went online and started reading the descriptions of all the organizations. They were all really interesting, and I agreed with everything that they said, and I remember thinking that I wouldn’t have to lie through my teeth to apply to one of these places.
For those students whose career services department also neglected to mention the Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program, is offered through the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. The program “combines a paid public policy internship” with “career and policy seminars.” They are no longer accepting applications for this summer’s program, but current students should be thinking ahead to next summer.
Once she applied for the program, Caitlyn took her efforts a step farther and reached out to people at many of the organizations that the Koch Summer Fellows program had listed as good placement opportunities. “It’s amazing how generous people are with their time,” she said.
I sent off seven emails to alumni and a couple cold emails to organizations I was interested in such as the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the German Marshall Fund… They all got back to me the next day, it was unbelievable.
She blatantly says that this was “the best thing I did, and the best thing that I would recommend anyone doing.”
It’s a great opportunity to explore a career path or an organization with no pressure, nothing on the table, not even sometimes a job opportunity. It’s just reaching out to people who either are in a career you are interested in or at an organization you are interested in working at and seeing if they are willing to take a little bit of time (20-30 minutes) to just tell you about themselves. And most people like talking about themselves.
To initiate this kind of “informational interview,” Caitlyn recommends starting with your school’s alumni network. If you are reaching out to an organization with which you have no connection, “a person with hiring authority is always the best person to go to,” such as internship coordinators or human resources directors. She also recommends reaching out to scholars who have done work in an area that you are interested in, because if ” they are working full-time in something you are interested in, maybe they know something you don’t about how to do that full-time.”
Needless to say, Caitlyn had a whirlwind experience when she came to Washington, DC, for a week for her informational interviews. By the end of that week she had corresponded with the intern coordinator at the Cato Institute, which lead to her being offered an internship, and eventually landing the job there as Manager of External Relations. She firmly believes that her willingness to show up in person and ask questions is what seized the opportunity.
There is no way my application would have been anywhere near the top. I had no idea about libertarianism. When I first started at Cato, the first few weeks when I heard someone say “Ayn Rand” I thought they were saying “Iran” – the country. Some kind fellow intern took me aside… and walked me through the entire history of libertarianism.
Learn the best practices of networking.
This experience also taught Caitlyn a lot about networking, lessons which are invaluable in external relations.
It exposed me to an array of other organizations. I got to meet a lot of people that I still work with. There were a lot of networking opportunities that came as a result.
One of her early lessons learned is to spending your free time, such as lunch breaks and after-work hours, investing in other organizations by attending their events.
Another thing I would recommend to people, if they are interested in working at an organization or have applied for a position there, get inside the door and start meeting people from the organization so they can see that you are normal and smart and sharp and interested and willing to take time out of your day to learn about them and contribute to their programs. I still spend a lot of my time still going to events held by other groups in order to build relationships. Even if the panel session isn’t relevant for you… it’s good to meet people and later on you’ll have something to talk about.
External relations is all about “building up relationships” and “making sure that you are always looking for new people and new potential allies” or “just increasing awareness of what you are doing.”
One of the greatest sources of networking opportunities is attending happy hours, such as the regular events and happy hours hosted by America’s Future Foundation. Caitlyn says to involve food and alcohol whenever possible because “it makes people feel more comfortable.”
So happy hours are probably my favorite opportunities to meet people because there are lots of things to do, people feel more comfortable, you can talk to people for a shorter or a longer amount of time.
You never know who you are going to meet. Make sure that you treat everyone you meet as important. It’s only going to give you more contacts and more experience and establish your community better.
A final piece of advice from Caitlyn.
More often than not, your next opportunity professionally will come from people you know or will meet in your current job. So you have to be careful and always kind.
If you are interested in the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council, make sure tocheck out their new blog, AmericanLegislator.org, and follow Caitlyn on Twitter.
Jacqueline Otto’s shelves at home are lined with used-book store finds; just a few of her favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Orson Scott Card, Ray Bradbury, Jules Verne, and George Orwell.
She first read F.A. Hayek and Frédéric Bastiat at 16. Her political affiliation on Facebook is “Freedom,” and she hopes to always be known as a lover of liberty.
Jacqueline is on Twitter at @jacque_otto.
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