Be confident, yet humble.

Loose connections can sometimes be the best connections.

Be honest, but be smart.

Career advice like this floated around the otherwise noiseless room full of Washington Semester participants, sinking in to young and eager ears. Four managers with experience in both the private and public sectors had come to give career advice to the group, each of us a student wanting to take on our own role in public service upon graduation. Their combined decades of experience, a multitude of stories about quirky interests, lucky breaks, and nervous interviews, could be used to inform our own futures in public service.

The emphasis here was on obtaining a first job in our fields of interest, the necessary and necessarily anxious first step. When each speaker was starting out their career, they lived in an age with answering machines and without computers. It goes without saying that a distance beyond just time exists between the world of their memories and our own. The job market we inherited from them is one of increased globalization and automation, producing more competition for the same types of jobs, some not even imagined in their time.

Although each speaker had entirely different career paths, universalities emerged nonetheless. As each shared anecdotes, the others nodded along quietly, hints of recognition gleaming in their eyes. Each story lent itself as a form of brutal advice, all subtlety dismissed, personally fear-inducing yet refreshingly honest. Antonio Acevedo of Arlington Human Rights urged us not to take our resumes lightly, a reminder of the weightlessness of anonymity, a name in a stack. It serves to advertise your life and your skills as a product, a labor outputting appliance to complete needed and important tasks.

In the end, the professional development session existed as a type of personal service to us, an implicit recognition that our group would be taking on the collective of each speaker’s responsibilities in the future. Their advice can be well used as each of us begins our own experience looking for our own modern universalities, silently carrying on their legacies in our simultaneous quests for financial security and personal joy and meaning.

If you are interested in the program and eligible (the program is open to students who have completed 60 credits by the time the program begins and are in good academic setting, from all majors, from students with career interests in politics, public management, public policy, law, or the nonprofit or for-profit sectors, to students with an interest in expanding their policy knowledge and experience for a career in the STEM disciplines), we encourage you to visit our website and apply for the Washington Semester 2017.

Austin Berrier
WS Student, 2016