Transitioning into the workforce after completing my 3-2 B.A. in Philosophy, Politics, and Law – Master’s in Public Administration program at BU was one of the most terrifying–and exciting–times in my career. To paraphrase my advisor at the time, Professor George Homsy, it
was time to get my foot in the door–any door. After graduation, I’d completed a smattering of courses related to ethics and public service, a graduate assistantship, worked as a writing tutor, and had scattered experience working on political and issue-based outreach campaigns in the
Binghamton area. Luckily, after months of searching, I was able to land a job working with the New York City Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit (PEU) as a Home Support Unit (HSU) Outreach Specialist.
As an Outreach Specialist with HSU, I was able to connect with hundreds of New York City’s real estate professionals and work with them to make housing opportunities available to New Yorkers experiencing housing instability. By building on my experience with campaign outreach
and my ability to navigate public policy and social issues that I honed during my studies at Binghamton, I was able to help dozens of families find homes and make a tangible difference in their lives. Not only that, but the role opened many avenues for me to pursue my long term
The road to my first position was a winding one. While a lot of other students in my graduating
class had been able to parlay their connections or their internships into long term positions, I
wasn’t as lucky (or skilled in that way). However, in retrospect, there were a lot of hits and
misses in my job search:
Miss: I wasn’t open to opportunities I hadn’t already considered.
One thing that hurt my job search was a sort of tunnel vision I’d developed. I was stuck with the idea that there was a specific role, in a specific place, in a specific set of organizations that I would accept. So when an opportunity presented itself early on in my search process, I didn’t
recognize it or even entertain the idea. While having a solid idea of where you’d like your career to go is always important, when your search is too specific, it means you’ll spend a lot of time waiting for an exact match to come up.
Hit: I emphasized my strengths, especially ones that could be backed with examples and hard numbers.
While I hadn’t had a prolific work history related to the positions I was looking for, I had achieved several impressive feats at the positions I did have on my resume. Across all of the positions and outreach work I had done, I had knocked on thousands of doors to speak to residents of
Broome County. I had also logged several achievements as a Graduate Assistant that I could use as stories where I could present myself as a perennial dragon-slayer, or someone who can tackle an organization’s most challenging and mission-critical problems. For anything that I was relying on my education for, I referred to projects, papers, and other deliverables that I had created during the courses rather than just on having taken the courses themselves.
These all helped me present concrete evidence of my skills on my resume and during interviews rather than making claims about my skills that were seemingly untethered to a position or anything concrete that I had done. As someone who now plays a role in hiring processes, I can
see how this made my claims about my skills seem like something that can be verified rather than something that I manufactured in order to sound qualified. Saying “I did this! (which demonstrates the skill)” is better than saying “I have this skill (but cannot or did not try to prove
Miss: I didn’t take enough internships/side positions/side projects
One thing that made getting a position quickly difficult for me was my overall lack of job experience. Although my degrees had helped me build some top-notch skills and would later help me bring valuable insights to the table, I hadn’t spent enough time looking for opportunities
to actually apply my skills outside of the classroom. Looking back, even conducting independent analyses, writing a blog, taking more volunteer roles, etc. would have helped. Even better, internships would have helped me tackle projects that organizations would go on to use,
and do so under the guidance of an experienced professional. That supervisor would also have gone on to be a valuable job reference for my search and may even have been able to bring up my name when they heard about a position I could fill. Their mentorship would have helped me
connect what I was doing in the classroom to real-world practice.
Hit: I rethought how I approached experience
Initially, I felt that my education was enough to help me move directly into supervisory positions in my field (and, it was, indeed, enough to meet the experience and education requirements for many job descriptions), but the world simply doesn’t think in those terms. When applying for
jobs, there were people who may not have had the same background, but had been working in related positions or even the position that they would be supervising. At the start, this attitude and my lack of experience hampered my job search extensively. After a time, I made two important adjustments to my thinking: I started thinking of my education as an experience multiplier instead of an experience replacement, and I started considering the kinds of experience that positions would offer me as part of the benefit. My education helped me bring more to the table than I would have otherwise, but, until I was able to apply it, it remained unproven. By considering the experience I would gain in the position a
benefit, it helped me see beyond traditional considerations like pay and vacation days. Positions that might not provide everything I was looking for but that would provide me that sort of job experience that would help me move forward later on became much more enticing options than
they would have been at the start of my search.
Miss: I hadn’t spent enough time networking.
One of the ways other people in my graduating class got their positions was through their social connections with professionals in the workforce, especially with alumni. At least several of my close friends from my MPA cohort had made these connections by attending events put on by
the Alumni Association and by the program itself, such as CCPA’s annual Party with a Purpose. While I’ll never consider myself an extrovert by any means, making more of an effort to put myself out there and connect with alumni and other professionals would have made my job
search easier in the early stages. Not taking the time to network left me scrambling to catch up after I graduated: desperately reaching out to my old professors to make a “warm connect” to their LinkedIn connections, reaching out to my fellow graduates to see if places they had gotten their own positions were still hiring, and, sometimes, even just cold-messaging alumni in the field on LinkedIn to see if they would connect and meet (and a surprising number actually were!). If I had been networking throughout my degree program, making the connections I needed would have been a much less frantic experience.
Hit: I looked for intersections.
The most successful leg of my job search happened after I started looking for positions where my MPA and PPL degrees and the experience that I did have overlapped. For me, those positions all involved some sort of outreach, being able to navigate complex issues, had a
tangible impact on a vulnerable population, and involved some level of coordination/project management as I had done in my graduate assistantship. Positions where all of these things came together didn’t just play to some of my strengths–they played to many of them.
Looking for intersections allowed me to present a more competitive resume because it was easier to include positions that were relevant instead of using them as “space fillers” just to be able to say that I did something. Tailoring my resume to the position was also easier, because
there was just a lot more I could refer to. Even when I needed to rely on my education, I could point to specific coursework that would be an asset in the position.
My post-graduation job search was a journey of learning and growth. I made some mistakes along the way, but I also learned a lot about myself and what I want in a career. Despite my challenges, I consider myself lucky to have found the right position at the right time. Starting off
my career as an Outreach Specialist with PEU allowed me to apply my strengths to the benefit of some of the families who needed it the most. That position gave me the “foot in the door” that I needed to be able to build a record and participate in some of the most historical initiatives of
the past few years. From helping place families in permanent housing, to allowing me to take a reassignment to help lead a mass vaccination site during the pandemic and help deliver tens of thousands of doses of the vaccine, to projects that helped register and preregister tens of
thousands of young New Yorkers to vote, to participating in projects that directly support newly arrived asylum seekers, working with PEU was exactly the “foot in the door” that my career