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How to Find a Job in D.C.

10 Sep
Lincoln Monument

D.C. is considered one of the easiest places in the country to find a job.

As I’ve lamented before, D.C. is a city of overachievers, so if you’re going to get a job, you need to bring your A game.

After returning from Australia, it took me three months to get a job. I felt very fortunate because, from what I’ve read, the average length of time in this area is at least 6 months.

Below are the resources that helped me. I hope they can be of help to you, too.

National Search Websites It’s all about these days, which compiles job postings from seemingly every other possible site. I found that the only downside was the number of posts it aggregated; it can be a bit overwhelming. Then again, I was unemployed and had nothing but time.

LinkedIn: My last true job search was about 6 years ago, so this time around I was a bit slow to realize how important LinkedIn has become. It took me several weeks to start looking at job postings on the site. Doh! Such a rookie mistake.

LinkedIn gave me a month of the “premium” membership. I didn’t find that I needed it, and discontinued it after the free month, but it did help me see what keywords my competition was using, and it also let me get an idea of how qualified (or not) I was for various positions.

If at all possible, get a couple recommendations from past managers or coworkers. And keep your profile as up-to-date as possible. I found many hiring managers looked at my profile, so I made sure to have additional information beyond what was presented on my resume.

Regarding the LinkedIn photo, this is just a guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington, D.C., has the highest percentage of LinkedIn users (not counting actors) with professional head shots on their profiles. Personally, I couldn’t afford to get my head shots done, but luckily I had a decent photo that I think passed muster. Suffice it to say, however, that a selfie in your car is not going to cut it. This site is generally most useful, I’ve found, for part-time work, but I still checked it about once a week during my job search. I’ve found two full-time jobs using Idealist in the past, and it’s still a great way to find non-profit jobs. This is where to go if you’re looking for a government job. Recently, the application process has, thankfully, become much less cumbersome.

Local Search Website The Post’s jobs website has heaps of job listings. In fact, I found my current job on the site. Another site that many local companies and organizations take advantage of.

The Hill: Go here for jobs on Capitol Hill.

Industry-specific Resources
Websites: I found quite a few writing and communication job postings on Mediabistro. Investigate websites in your industry that list job postings. ScienceCareers is another example.

Listservs: Look for job listservs in the work that you’re interested in. Here are a few for Capital Hill jobs.

Ask a Manager
After reading this blog, I completely changed my cover letter. I also emailed the owner of the site with a couple questions, and she got back to me right away. This is an incredible resource; so much so that, after I accepted a job offer, I sent her a thank-you note.

Don’t dismiss the idea of temping, especially if you’re just starting your career. I worked for an organization whose jobs were very competitive, and three of my co-workers got their feet in the door by temping as administrative assistants. Eventually all three found other jobs within the organization that interested them more.

I temped a couple times after college and found it a great way to see different parts of the city, meet different people and get an idea of what work environments suited me.

Glassdoor is a place where former (or current) employees post yelp-like reviews of the place and often show salary information for certain positions, which can really help when you are required to give a company your salary requirement. You can also job search on the site.

I used to hate the term networking because, to me, it conjured up images of schmoozing and asking for favors. When I returned to the D.C. area, however, I was overwhelmed by the number of people—some of whom I didn’t even know that well—who offered to help me in any way they could. Friends and acquaintances passed along my resume, endorsed me on LinkedIn, proofread my cover letters, and gave me much-needed words of encouragement. Now I don’t see “network” as a dirty word, but as a band of people helping to get me where I want to go.

Thanks to A&E editor Bruno for his assistance with this article.

Foreign Service 101

6 Aug
The U.S. Embassy in Berlin

The U.S. Embassy in Berlin

You can’t swing a dead cat in D.C. without hitting someone who’s either in the foreign service or wants to be. Therefore, it would behoove you to know a thing or two about it so, ya know, you can sound smart. Here’s your crash course:

1. What’s a foreign service officer anyway?
A foreign service officer is a diplomat. If you’ve ever been to an embassy or a consulate, you were interacting with foreign service officers (unless they were national staff, which the State Department also employs). The U.S.  is unusual in that it takes people from all walks of life into the foreign service, not requiring any particular education background or work history.

2. What does a foreign service officer do?
For a generalist (I’m not going to get into specialists) there are 5 tracks: consular, economic, management, political and public diplomacy. The life of an FSO is an unusual one. Officers are required to move about every 2 years, and if they are in a hardship post, their family can’t come with them. Understandably, many marriages are strained by this lifestyle, particularly because employment for spouses can be difficult to get, unfulfilling or poorly paid.

3. So what’s the appeal of being in the foreign service?
Serving your country, seeing the world and having a hand in important diplomatic issues.

4. How do you get in?

  • Step #1: Complete an online exam.
    The first part is multiple choice and it tests your knowledge on everything from history to math to management. The second is an essay question, the topic of which is a surprise.
  • Step #2: Complete four narrative questions.
    You have to write brief examples showing that you possess the skills it takes to be an FSO. Reviewers look at your answers along with your application materials.
  • Step #3: A super intense, all-day oral exam.
    This is where they really separate the boys/girls from the men/women. First you have to figure out a hypothetical problem with the other people in your group while the evaluators watch you interact. Then you have a written exercise. Finally, there’s an interview with the assessors. Then you wait awkwardly with your group as your called in and told whether you pass go and collect $200 … or begin the entire process again.

5. Is it, like, competitive?
At lunch one time I overheard (okay, fine, I was eavesdropping) two young women discussing their dating lives. One had recently started dating a guy who was applying to be in the foreign service. She said, “I’m not too worried, he probably won’t get in.” While her new beau probably wouldn’t have appreciated her pessimism, she was, statistically speaking, correct.

Only 2-3% of the 20,000 people who take the foreign service written exam actually become a diplomat. In addition to the three steps previously discussed, applicants also need to pass health and security screenings (plus you can take a foreign language test to bag some bonus points). AND, as if that’s not enough hurdles, those who completed all those steps but don’t get offered a job within 18 months have to begin the ENTIRE process all over again. You can go through the process as many time as you like until you turn 59, and then you’re too old.

6. I want more!
If you think this sounds like the job for you, here are some helpful resources to get you started:

Image by Scott on flickr.