Describe your current position and what led to your job.
As State Advocacy Director for the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association I am responsible for development and implementation of the organization’s public policy agenda in Delaware and Philadelphia. It is very rewarding to work with heart disease survivors and patient advocates to improve the health of Delawareans. We work on a range of issues from reducing tobacco use to improving the system of care for acute heart attacks and strokes. This job is my first after graduating and I found the opening on careerbuilder.com. Although the other candidates considered for my position at the time were typically mid-career professionals I stood out because of my experience working with the Legislature from the inside as well as the outside. I had also spent a summer lobbying with Verizon Delaware, Inc. while they sought a franchise from the Public Service Commission to offer FiOS TV service in addition to being a Legislative Fellow as I describe below.
What has been the most rewarding/challenging moment in your career?
The most challenging moment of my career has been adjusting to the changing economic environment and losing a close colleague to necessary layoffs. Not just because I was personally close to this person, but because I relied on their help, insights, and expertise. The new realities of the workplace are truly focusing on core competencies and getting by with the resources available, which is a big shift from where we were several years ago. The most rewarding moment in my career was watching a controversial bill pass the Philadelphia City Council that we had advocated for. Health advocates were up against powerful lobbyists and interests but succeeded in convincing the Council and the City that our proposal on calorie and nutrition labeling in chain and fast-food restaurants was worth passing. It was satisfying to achieve that victory for the right reasons and being a part of a novel area of health policy in the country. Following this victory I have been sought within my organization as an issue expert across the country in this area.
What is the best career advice you have received?
The best career advice I ever received came from a fellow lobbyist, maybe the most powerful lobbyist in Delaware. He said, “your word is your bond” and that the most important thing is for people to know that what ever you say is always accurate, sincere, and honest. Credibility is absolutely your most valuable asset and if you lack it, you’re left with nothing. In legislative lobbying typically there are opposing sides to each issue and its best to present both upfront. Knowing issues inside and out is crucial.
What would you recommend to someone interested in working in your field?
Working for nonprofits can be rewarding, but typically the salaries are a little lower. Nonprofits need people who are dedicated and passionate. In our sector we need people who can raise money. Still, if you’re interested in working in a particular sector or area of interest you need to actually be able to show how you can produce results and that you possess a familiarity with current issues and trends in the field. Get internships, jobs, and summer placements and take every opportunity to get as involved as possible.
What skills are necessary or what prepared you the most for your career?
Working in government relations and public policy required me to understand the process, the environment, and the key players on day one. Working as a fellow in the Institute for Public Administration’s Legislative Fellows program was the opportunity of a lifetime. As fellows, we worked directly with members and committees and were able to be an integral part of the process. Having this inside view of the Legislature, learning how it worked, the formal and informal rules and power structures made all of us very valuable candidates in the job market. What it comes down to is that school and class are critical, but being at a great university is about more than that. There are opportunities to learn and grow outside of the classroom. When you seek employment this is what will set you apart and get you the job.
What professional associations have aided in your professional development?
The Delaware Association for Public Administration has kept me connected to the field as well as to people whose paths I might not otherwise cross. The Delaware Association of Nonprofit Agencies also provides a critical network for people in the sector to work together on our common challenges and learn from each other. Attending conferences and working with professional organizations is critical to keep up with the emerging issues. Don’t just join and pay the dues for membership attend meetings and conferences and participate in these organizations because they are often where employers want to find qualified candidates for open positions.
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