How She Got Her Job

From our blog archives in 2014 this is a first hand account of how one job seeker got her job. My name is Jessica Johnson. I am a 27 year old soon-to-be Campaign Trainer for Organizing for Action. I found my job after an extensive search nationwide and the fruits of my labors is a new position in Long Beach California starting on January 13th. 

Presently I am in Washington, DC; so on Tuesday I will be driving across the country along with my boyfriend and my dog Kano to start my new position. I’m thrilled to be starting the New Year this way. It was quite a journey to get to this point. I would like to share my story with you and inspire others who are still searching.

My path to this position started in 2012 when I got laid off from my job as a Banquet Manager for the Air Force. I was 25 years old and had no clue what I would do now that my “dream job” had been snatched from me. My lay off was the “business-based” result of budget issues within my department.

As the youngest and most recent hire, the logical solution was to eliminate my position. I went from being a young manager with a staff of 40 people, to unemployed.

As I searched fro a new job, I found myself in the same boat as others “millennials,” I was “over-qualified” for entry level positions while “lacking experience” for mid-level and other management positions. My 2 years of management experience seemingly meant nothing. To keep my skills current I started volunteering at my church and with my Sorority. I also applied to temp agencies in my area and went to countless job fairs looking for work in event management or communications. But from March 2012 to July 2012, I sent out hundreds if not thousands of resumes with no luck. While I was able to claim unemployment benefits, I was totally disheartened.

As we know, 2012 was a pretty historic election year and I decided to volunteer for the Obama-Biden re-election campaign which was then called “Organizing for America (OFA). As I was registering to volunteer at my local field office, I saw a link titled "work for the campaign” and saw the position of “Field Organizer.” I had no idea what a field organizer was but the job description called for someone who was personable, detail oriented and willing to work on community events. I was hesitant, but with no job offers to speak of I decided to take a shot an apply. Well within a week of sending the application I was contacted by a Field Director in Richmond, VA. The very next week I was on my way to Richmond to begin an intense 4 months of work a field organizer. I did everything from door to door canvassing, hosting phone banks, recruited college students as volunteers and interns, and organized rallies for both President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. In all my “traditional” jobs and internships I had never had such a high level of responsibility. I recognized quickly that I was coming into contact with high powered people in local and national politics, entertainment, organizational communications, and finance and wanted to make an impression by doing my job well, and absorb as much as I can from the professionals I came into contact with.

That mindset took me through the 2012 campaign and victory, to being a Regional Lead for the 47th Presidential Inauguration, to… nothing. No work again for another 8 months. In the meantime, I made sure to attend every OFA Alumni mixer, workshop, happy hour, and conference call I could. Making sure to shake hands and take note of repeating named and faces. It was at one of these mixers that I heard whispers of OFA becoming a non profit and would be looking to hire in the coming months after senior level staff was in place. Keeping that information in mind, I found a temporary position selling subscriptions to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (not as sweet as it sounds). was working there for about a month when I got an invitation to go on a weekend retreat with other OFA alumni. The goal of the workshop was to teach us how to train others about field work and how regular people can make a difference by organizing in their neighborhoods around the issues that matter to them. other call to join another Virginia campaign. It was another temporary position as campaigns tend to run for a limited time period, but again with no other prospects I said an enthusiastic ‘yes’ to join the battle that was the 2013 Virginia election. 

Keeping in mind my goal to be effective and memorable, I worked hard, took extra assignments, and though my race was not successful, I made a good enough impression to be invited to a Youth Summit at the White House this past December. I was floored. Here I was, with a golden ticket, but no job to speak of. But on the faithful day I ran into a person I met in 2012 in Virgina- who was now on staff in the White House Office of Public Engagement. I also had an email from the coordinator of my Alumni retreat saying that she would pass along my credentials to some offices looking for trainers. Approximately two weeks later, I got a job offer to train interns and volunteers in Long Beach.

If there’s anything that this job search taught me, it’s that you really have to be your own advocate in your search. It’s not enough to simply apply and even a standard follow up call or email may not be enough to get you noticed. Go to more than job fairs. I went to workshops, retreats, volunteer activities, happy hours and everything in between when I was unemployed. Considering all the free time one has anyway, doing things like this gives the double positive of going out and lifting spirits, and being seen by the people you want to work for and with. I think my biggest aid was my willingness to talk to strangers and learn their stories as I told
my own. People are more willing to help those to whom they feel connected.

Most importantly, never, EVER be afraid to say what you’re good at. It's sounds so cliche but you really never know who you’re talking to and who they’re connected with. Perhaps they have a job developing that hasn’t hit yet. Who really knows?