Real World Career Paths: ‘The Advocate’

bizmenThis is one of an occasional series of “Real World Career Paths” interviews. These interviews highlight real people, their careers, and how their experiences – good, bad, planned and unexpected – affected their lives. People from various backgrounds have agreed to share their stories so that they might give insight and perspective to your career decisions. Names of employers and other details have been omitted to protect confidentiality.


Kristen is an advocacy coordinator for a non-profit health association in Washington, D.C. The 35-year old went to college right after high school and earned her Bachelor’s degree in journalism.


Q: When you were 16, what did you think your adult life would be like?
A: I knew I wasn’t going to be in the town I grew up in. I figured I would be living in Boston, writing for a daily newspaper — and definitely be single.

Q: What was high school like for you?

A: I loved high school. I was one of those students who was popular with everyone. I didn’t play that whole “you’re not cool enough for me” game. My favorite classes were history, social studies, English, journalism and television production. (My career interests started young.)

Q: What was your college experience like?
College was even better than high school. I majored in Journalism, with a minor in African-American studies. I loved my journalism classes, to the point that I was finished with my major by the end of sophomore year. Like in high school, I had friends ranging in every color, political and economic spectrum – which made my experience at college one that I will never forget.

Q: How has what you learned in high school and college affected your work life?
I went to a public high school and a state university. The university catered to working-class students, so I learned life skills and how to work with a wide spectrum of personalities. Also, since I attended a state university, I learned how to set myself apart from the large number of students who attended the core classes. I wasn’t coddled, and it has helped me immensely.

Q: What was your first “real” job?
A: My first “real” job post-college was working as a membership coordinator for an industry association. I consider this my first reall job because it was the first non-temporary job I had since moving to Washington, D.C. after college.

Q: In your 20s, what were the biggest challenges in life?
I was working for a financial institution, making good money, but going nowhere in my career. I was dealing with insane managers. But the money was really good. However, I still hadn’t learned the value of saving and paying off long-term bills like my college loans, credit cards, etc.

The minute I graduated from college, my mother started the hard-court press on my social life, and was interested in who I was dating because I’m the youngest child and the only girl. Even now, in my mid-30s, she hasn’t accepted the fact that I’m extremely happy being single and am not even thinking about “landing a husband.” I’ve been able to make great circle of friends here from various walks of life.

Q: What influence has your family or friends had on your education and/or career?
A very positive influence. While I was in high school, my father was the director of a program at the community college in my hometown which worked with first generation, at-risk, disabled and older students. I saw the doors that higher education can open.

Q: What outside influences had the most impact on your career?
A: Job opportunities are a definite impact on any career. Even if I wasn’t happy at a job, I couldn’t just walk out the door without another job. That’s both negative and positive because while I’m on the job, I keep learning new (things about the industry). But I get frustrated when I hit the glass ceiling.

Q: How did you get to where you are now?
A: Honestly, I’ve stumbled into every job I had while living in D.C. Thankfully, I haven’t regretted the opportunities that have popped up.

Q: In the past five years, what has changed about your career or financial goals?
Since starting this position six-plus years ago, I have come to the realization that I like working in the political realm, especially helping to empower regular citizens to get their voices heard. Because of that, I find myself looking at jobs which involve some type of advocacy component. It’s funny, growing up I had two parents who worked in human services positions. Looking back at that, I can definitely say that the positions they held have influenced me in some way.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for you at this point in your life?
A: Job and money are two major challenges for me. Because of the downturn of the economy, my employer has cut salaries by 10 percent. Many non-profit positions with livable wages in this area have all but disappeared. But I feel positive that the job market will change soon.

Q: What are you thankful that you did or did not do when you were young?
A: I’m glad that I knew that how you treat others will come back to help or haunt you later in life.

Q: What do you wish you had done differently when you were younger?
A: Kept on top of my finances when I was in college. Just because credit card companies want to give me accounts doesn’t mean I should accept all of them.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: I see myself in a VP position at a non-profit, preferably one in which I can make a difference in how Members of Congress communicate with their constituents.

Q: What career advice would you have for a 16 year old? 22 year old? 35 year old?

  • 16 year old: If you’re able to, look at internships which can help you long term. If you can’t afford to work for free, be creative and look for job opportunities which can help you build relationships that will help you out in the future.
  • 22 year old: Recognize the fact that the piece of paper you have, or about to get (college diploma), doesn’t necessarily dictate what you are going to be doing in your career.
  • 35 year old: Changing jobs can be a challenge, but don’t get frustrated. Try volunteering with an organization. The connections you can make through that may be able to help you in the long run. It’s very clear: We live in a workforce in which it’s all about who you know.