ASK FRASER: My career path has been a winding road. What's next?

by Fraser Traverse

I’m interested in finding a new job in my field, but my career hasn’t followed a straight path leading to an obvious next step. How do I figure out my next target given all the different issues I’ve worked on and types of employers I’ve had? - Joe K., senior economist


This is a great question and one I hear often from mid and upper level job seekers. My first answer is always this: Be encouraged that having a linear path in the world of politics and policy is virtually unheard of. Most of us have moved through our careers with some degree of intention, but mostly a lot of happenstance. But, yes, when you haven’t been unexpectedly offered something new, being proactive and figuring out your next move can be muddy. 


So do this: Instead of looking at your resume as a chronological list of jobs you’ve had, look at it as a summary of all the skills you have. Lump them together. Do you have a history of managing large teams, large budgets, and multi-year projects? Have you done a lot of public speaking? Have you written a lot of reports and articles? Do you have a specific issue that you are passionate about and can show your expertise in? Being aware of the top three skills you bring to the table —regardless of who the employer is — will help you to not only find more jobs to apply for, but build your confidence in interviewing.


One example: A good lobbyist is a good lobbyist. You don’t necessarily need to know the policy issues cold at the start of a new job. You can learn them, through research and by listening and learning from those who have been in the trenches. If you have a good network on the Hill, a solid reputation among stakeholders in previous jobs (i.e., good references), and a track record of getting things done, you will be a prize for any employer. The same goes for PR experts, good writers, journalists, fundraisers, and many more. These skills are transferable across a wide range of industries and issues. Once you know your strengths, you are ready to interview anywhere.


In closing, don’t sell yourself short in thinking you haven’t built a “career” or worked toward some specific goal all these years. You have been blessed with a lot of different experiences that have honed what you are really good at and where you can add the most value. Now use that confidence to find your next dream job!