I have been lucky enough to have never had a real job. Yes I spent many a summer among six year olds, but I have never worked for a for-profit company, never stood behind a counter, never taken someone’s order. Over the past five years I have been even luckier to almost exclusively work for organizations dedicated to reproductive health and rights. Now after landing my first job out of grad school, the first gig I plan to stay in for more than two years, it seemed about time to put all the knowledge I have garnered to work for someone else.
1. Don’t be afraid of networking. Just because you’re a self-righteous crusader doesn’t mean a job will magically fall into your lap. Lots of people do lots of incredible things. It’s who you know AND what you know. Possibly in that order, but you need both.
2. Know what you’re talking about. And I don’t mean be able to recite Gonorrhea symptoms or what TRAP stands for. I mean stay on top of the organizations and issues you love EVERY DAY. Get on Twitter and Facebook and RHReality Check and set-up a Google Reader to guide you through the rest of that internet thing. Perhaps most importantly read feminist theory, old and new. It’ll inspire you. Don’t forget books.
3. Find a mentor, or two. Sometimes it takes someone else believing you for you to believe in yourself. Sometimes you just need to talk to someone older and wiser who understands how badly you want to change the world. And when you find a mentor, don’t let them go.
4. Keep your activist friends and make new ones. Not everyone you love is going to care about vaginas the way you do, but there will be days when you’ll want to pick-up the phone and cry over a Governor’s veto override or celebrate the IOM. It’s essential to have people on speed dial for these pivotal moments.
5. Grapple with and respect the complexities of reproductive health, justice, and rights. Analyze yourself and where you fit into these intersections. Where you are an ally, an activist, and perhaps most importantly inapplicable?
6. Obtain marketable skills. Bleeding heart activist does not go on a resume but is still a requirement for the job. Find hard skills like communications, development, clinical, legal, and research that excite you and pursue them. Volunteering is a great way to do this, and can often lead to a job. Remember, there needs to be a reason to hire you.
7. Judge what you’re up against. Sex is, well, sexy. Lots of people leave undergrad thinking they are the first to bring condoms or Take Back the Night to their campus. You’re not.
8. Be nice. If I could give anyone one piece of advice it would be this. This planet is small, your city/town is smaller, our universe, minuscule. People will remember you and they will show-up when you least expect them, so be nice.
9. Fear not grunt work. If you do a good job with copying they will give you fun stuff to do, I promise. It just might take a year or three… but we all must suffer through maintaining calendars and wrangling space phones, no matter how smart or passionate or deserving you are. At least one day you might take pity on an intern and order a shredding truck instead of making her/him do it by hand.
10. Remember the economy sucks and do not give-up! I too worked outside of reproductive health but I came back to it within two years and you can too! Do not forget that there are relevant skills that you can gather outside the field to help you land that perfect position.