You’ve made it to Washington, D.C.! You were going to launch the career of your dreams, find a life that has meaning, and change the world. You were going to move policy on Capitol Hill, keep the country you love safe by working in national security, save the environment, or simply help drive change that will make America a better place for the next generation….or at least that WAS the plan.
Maybe you can’t land a job at all, maybe you have a job but it really sucks, or like your job but is not in your field and you can’t help but wonder if you’ll ever get to do what you really want. Many feel lonely, many feel lost without a plan, and many feel like they simply can’t catch a break. I know exactly how you feel and it is the reason I started D.C. Hopefuls (for those new to our site I hope you click around after the article). D.C. Hopefuls is my attempt to help the hundreds of young aspirational professionals pouring into our nation’s capitol who simply need some help! I never had a mentor and I desperately needed guidance as I aimlessly wandered through the first five years in Washington, D.C. so this is my attempt to be to you what nobody was to me.
Check out below the 5 things I wish someone had taught me before I launched my career in Washington, D.C. CLICK HERE to receive the PDF version of the information below along with my Ultimate Guide To Washington, D.C.
1) Appearances Are NOT What They Seem
I am the senior intelligence analyst and a team manager on the lead 9/11 at the Military Commissions Defense Organization (MCDO). I am doing exactly the type of work I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve recently been promoted and reached my salary goal at age 30 that I had set for myself over eight years ago. Everything is going my way…..but appearances are not what they seem. My first five years in Washington, D.C. were a professional nightmare. I could not break into real national security no matter how hard I tried. Hundreds of job applications, hundreds of dollars spent on professional resume writers, job fairs, subscriptions to every job site, and even $65,000 in debt for a graduate degree, yet nothing worked.
I was brutal to myself. I had convinced myself that everyone else had it all figured out and there must be something wrong with me, but remember appearances are not what they seem. People in Washington, D.C. love to post their career accomplishments on LinkedIn or facebook. They’ll eagerly tell you about their amazing job and what they do. What they don’t openly tell the world is HOW….because the HOW is not sexy, it is not cool, and it is not something you post online.
At some point in 2012 I decided I was going to do something so simple that it felt revolutionary. I was going to talk to as many people as I could that I deemed successful in their career field (even if it wasn’t the field I wanted) and simply ask them HOW. I wanted to know how they got to where they were professionally. I spoke to dozens of people and was totally shocked by the similarities in all of their stories. These people weren’t randomly applying online, aimlessly writing cover letters, going to job fairs, or attending more school (except with precision focus on an exact outcome). These people all had built strong (surprisingly personal) professional networks. Through these networks they were offered amazing opportunities that the other 99% of us never knew existed. As mentioned earlier these stories were not glamorous, it was a lot of phone calls, coffees, and persistent emails. Also think about it this way, nobody who gets a job through a connection is going to post that type of thing online or share it with you at a happy hour. Some would rather you think they simply got it solely based on their credentials well most are great people who simply don’t see the value in offering up that information to most people.
It was from these amazing people and my thousands of life failures I developed the Steadfast Spirit and started down my path to success. Do NOT torment yourself; appearances are not what they seem.
2) Stop Applying Online
I wish someone would have smacked me across the head and screamed STOP APPLYING TO JOBS ONLINE! It doesn’t work and is a bad use of your time!
I landed my first job straight out of undergrad at the Air Force General Counsel. There I was this kid from Arkansas driving across country with everything I owned to work at the Pentagon and get my graduate degree in Washington, D.C.! Overall the job was a great experience and I made lifelong friends but the work was not related to national security and what I was studying. The position was part of a student program that began being cut just a few months after I started. I quickly started applying to jobs thinking I’d be able to get something better before the program dissolved. I applied to 120 jobs before getting my first interview, which never called me back.
I’ve read several places that 80% of jobs are not posted online. That might be high but I am confident over 80% are not truthfully posted. That means the jobs you want are not getting on job boards at all OR they are being posted to meet some internal requirement but they already have their exact candidate picked out. So when a job you would like does make it to the job board there is a good chance it is not real plus you are competing against hundreds of applicants. Check out this actual email I received in March 2013. Over 700 applicants, I stared at this email for what felt like hours and realized that day I was done applying online.
The problem is that applying to jobs feels good. You feel like you are doing something. I use to track all my applications and feel great about how I had applied to 10, 15, 25 jobs that month and it was simply a matter of time until I got some good news. This can be emotionally devastating as you begin to imagine and day dream about these new roles only to constantly be rejected by automated email, if you get any response at all! Stop applying online constantly and begin focusing on what works.
3) Fix Your Resume
Every time I’ve spoken on campus I ask the group to raise their hand if they’ve ever studied for a test or wrote a paper and spent over 8 hours doing it. Every hand in the room goes up. I then do some pretty basic math and point out that even if that paper or test was 25% of their final grade it still was less than ½ of 1% of their final GPA. I then ask have any of them spent 8 hours or more on their resume? Often I a single hand does not go up. I was just like the hundreds of D.C. Hopefuls, I went to my career office, we worked on my resume a bit, and I thought I was done.
I wish someone would have explained the importance of a great resume. Not great because of amazing experiences but great because it is written in such a way that opens up networking opportunities. When I had finally developed the steadfast spirit I networked my way into an incredible meeting with a very well connected mover and shaker in Washington, D.C. We got along great (I had become a solid networker by this point) and he told me to go home and send my resume because he wanted to make a bunch of introductions for me. I was excited because I just paid a professional resume writer $550 to write me a great resume. I sent it to my new contact and he asked “what is this? Send me your actual resume.” I didn’t know what he meant so I sent my old one. A few days later he wrote back basically saying he wished me the best but he couldn’t pass along this resume. Resumes are how new contacts pass you around and the wrong resume will KILL opportunities.
4) Build a network
I wish someone had explained to me that your network is everything and without one you have nothing. I wish someone had told me to not be a hero. I was embarrassed that I landed my first job through a good friend. I felt guilty that he urged his bosses to hire me, prepped me for the interview, gave me tons of resume edits, and even let me stay with him when I came up for the interview. I convinced myself that I’d get the next job, my real job in my real field, all on my own. That somehow I’d be a hero by impressing total strangers with my application. I wish someone had told me how stupid I was behaving.
A network is the foundation of any successful career and your early years should be focused on building that foundation.
5) Pick Your Head UP and Stop Leaving Grease Stains
Finally I wish someone had said to pick your head up off the glass you are leaving a stain! Every day for over two years I took the same shuttle from Rosslyn to the Pentagon. There was an actual stain on the third row window on the right side of the bus because every day I literally could not keep my head up and would rest my forehead on the glass to and from work. Feeling sorry for yourself is going to get you nowhere! So if your head is down right now I’m telling you what someone should have told me…pick it up!!!
You have to start believing in yourself and remember that you are incredible. You wouldn’t have made it this far if you weren’t. The fact you are this far in an article like this tells me you are opening up to the steadfast spirit. You are realizing you need help, that getting help is a sign of strength not weakness, and you are ready to do what it takes. When you stop hiding behind a computer applying online and replace that sense of accomplishment with tracking real accomplishments, like building a professional network, your whole world changes.
In 2013 I had given up on national security but was just starting to put the steadfast spirit into play. I wanted to jump on a campaign but since it was an odd year only the Virginia governor’s race was an option. I was told I had no experience in politics and no chance of landing a job, but I landed one. After we won I was unemployed and getting married soon. When I picked up my mom from the airport the week of the wedding she began giving me a pep talk. She told me it was ok that I’d been out of work for 12 weeks and it would work out. I just grinned and said “thanks mom!”
I grinned because in those 12 weeks I had already landed 14 interviews. I had not applied to one announcement or wrote a single cover letter. What I did not tell her is I had actually turned down a few job offers the week before. As we drove the phone rang, it was a call I was pretty sure was coming, offering me an intelligence analyst position at the Department of Homeland Security Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. This was what I had been wanting for five years. I received this offer despite not having the necessary clearances, experience, and having never applied online.
In a twist of irony today I ride the very same shuttle this time from the Pentagon to Rosslyn every single day, but now there is definitely no grease stain on the window!
The right resume and a strong professional network changed my life. It inspired me to start D.C. Hopefuls and it has changed the lives of dozens of people just like you! If you are tired of feeling stuck, feeling alone, feeling like you are in city of your dreams but a million miles away from achieving your dreams then I urge you to join us at D.C. Hopefuls.
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This post may have left you with a whole new set of questions. Is my resume great for networking, how do I make a great resume, how do I build a network, what if I don’t know anybody, how do I utilize my network once I build it, and where do I even start? Luckily there is an answer to all these questions and more in D.C. Boot Camp. This 16 module online course walks you step-by-step from the beginning to the end. The result is the skillset to develop a great resume for networking, multiple great resumes for different situations, the skills and mindset to build a vast professional network, and the self-management skills to put all of this into practice for launching the career of your dreams.
The best news it is TOTALLY FREE for all new members of D.C. Hopefuls Fellowship. This community is comprised of people just like you striving to launch the career they have always wanted. They too have completed or are taking D.C. Boot Camp and they all realize the amazing value of this community. While it took guy like me hundreds of hours and years to develop a core group of people in my life (feedback friends) who I could lean on for support and guidance, D.C. Hopefuls Fellowship member get an instant network of 29+ people the MOMENT they sign up! I would have done anything for something like this when I was getting my career off the ground. Our online group offers each other support, guidance, insight, potential job opportunities, and feedback. We host monthly happy hours, support group sessions, and workshops (to improve resumes and practice networking)!
Is this community for you? Yes! Our members range from sophomores in college in the middle of the country to advanced professionals trying to break into their field. We did not attend ivy league schools, come from well connected/insider families, and not all of us made the best grades or had the best internships. We are people from all backgrounds at different points in our lives who are brave enough to come together in an attempt to master the mindset and skills to have the career we want!!!
Applying to join our community is easy but don’t take that to mean you should drag your feet. I’ve decided to close this community off to new applicants following the sign up of our 60th member and we are just at 30 as of today. Spaces are running out so do not drag your feet to change your life!
To learn more simply CLICK HERE.
To watch a 20 minute video about our community CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE…
If you ready to join just Click Here to Sign Up Now! And no matter what…stay steadfast!
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