Front row, from left to right: Justin Lee (2014), Lana Schanz (2011), Yilin Zhang (2009), Karim Farishta (2015), and Jessica Liang (2015)
DC is a place to constantly meet new people, and Yilin Zhang (2009 Fellow), who spoke about her experience in private sector health care consulting, stressed the importance of holding onto relationships: “Out of anything you work on, it is the people that you meet that will really enrich your experience and perhaps provide different opportunities down the line.” Zhang shared with fellows her ingenious method of setting up calendar reminders to follow up with people or to wish them happy birthday. As fellows sift through career opportunities, Zhang encouraged them to observe their managers and directors and reflect on whether they could see themselves having those same responsibilities in 20 years—if the answer is no, then the job is probably not the best fit. Still, she urged fellows to attend events outside of their comfort zones and to be open to projects on new topics that might turn out to be pleasant surprises.
Karim Farishta (2015), is now a White House Office of Management and Administration Staff Assistant, making him the youngest employee in the Obama administration and the only one without a college degree. During his breakout session, Farishta opened up to fellows about how his diverse South Asian identity influenced his interest in becoming one of the burgeoning number of minority leaders involved in public service, which for him “is not just serving the American people, but living out the values my parents taught me.” His parents never imagined he’d end up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but Farishta credits their lessons for getting him there: “If you’re driven by your morals and values and not by the accolades you choose to achieve, there’s a lot you can achieve.”
Justin Lee, currently the Research and Administrative Assistant for the Bipartisan Policy Center Advocacy Network (BPCAN), discussed his experience at the intersection of legislative affairs and think tanks. He told fellows with brutal honesty how imperative it is to get the basics right before reaching for loftier aims. “It’s not a good look when your intern has just come in and is ready to get career advice from the senior VP.” He reminded fellows to remain humble and to make sure their work speaks for itself. “If you can’t write a one-page cover letter, how can I trust you to do anything else?” he said, making a point about the employers’ thought processes.
In the room next door, Lana Schanz, a Program Analyst in the International Programs Directorate of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS/IP) at the Department of State, walked fellows through some of the details of applying for employment at a federal agency. Having transferred from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the State Department, she is familiar with the most efficient ways to navigate the USA Jobs website. Schanz explained the unique format of the lengthy federal resume, how to make the most of the GS employee pay scale by pursuing graduate school, how to attain agency-sponsored tuition reimbursement, the circumstances of the security clearance backlog, as well as how to balance personal life as a working adult.
The Career Workshop concluded with enthusiasm and plans for alums to connect further with various Fellows who had additional questions. The Fellows and ILF staff send gratitude to the alums for sharing their time and talents to help mold these future AAPI leaders.