I’m excited to share with you this Q&A with one of my supervisor’s at my internship in Washington DC.
The interviewee is Ju Young Lee, a program associate at the Kleptocracy Initiative. After graduating from Claremont McKenna College (CMC) in 2014, she was hired for a full-time position at the Hudson Institute, a large Washington DC think tank where the Kleptocracy Initiative is housed. In the past year she has spearheaded the China program and most recently concluded an extensive resume and interview process for the new fall interns.
What was your first job/internship in your field?
My very first internship was at a local branch of the International Rescue Committee, where I tutored refugee students to help them pass California’s high school exit exam. It was an eye-opening opportunity to serve a community that represented the human faces of foreign policy.
My first IR-related internship was at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), where I split my time with the Korea Studies Program and Meetings Program (public events department). The full-time internship was part of Claremont McKenna College’s Washington Program (we also had night classes twice a week). I am a passionate advocate for CMC’s Washington Program, because my semester interning for the CFR really cemented my interest in pursuing an IR career after being exposed to all of the different opportunities Washington has to offer.
What was your favorite part of undergrad?
My favorite part of undergrad was participating in CMC’s Washington Program. As I mentioned before, the internship and night classes really helped deepen my intellectual curiosity and passion about IR and East Asia. I also loved being surrounded by a cohort of students who were similarly passionate about international relations. Another defining experience was my study abroad semester in Seoul, South Korea. In addition to learning new things about Korea in the classroom, I learned how to navigate the social subtleties of being a Korean-American in Korea as I explored the city with friends. I also cannot forget the professors who genuinely cared about my education (and invited us to dinner at their homes!).
Most importantly, CMC’s community of hard working (but also hard playing) students is definitely the main reason I will always cherish my four years of undergrad that have helped define who I am today. From the freshman water balloon fight to senior week in San Diego, I created lasting memories with life-long friends. Plus, there’s no better bonding experience than (attempting to) pull all-nighters together!
How did you get a job in Washington DC straight out of college? Any advice for those wanting a similar path?
Short answer: internships. Meeting and talking to a lot of different people during my time in Washington before I graduated, it became clear that proven experience is most helpful in securing a job straight out of college. While it may seem like graduating from a well-known college is the silver bullet, being able to speak about different projects you’ve worked on during various internships is much more impressive and effective in conveying your ability to perform specific tasks that fit the position you are interviewing for.
What is your average day like?
I start my average workday with monitoring relevant news developments. Keeping up-to-date helps prioritize what kind of research should be done to follow up or dig deeper. After sending out the Kleptocracy Initiative’s daily brief, I respond to e-mails and address any other programmatic tasks that need to be done. The majority of my day is spent conducting the research for different projects or articles so they can be published on our website, kleptocracyinitiative.org.
Our team also regularly huddles for strategy meetings to figure out what the most pressing kleptocracy-related developments are in addition to discussing long-term goals for the program.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is doing something I am genuinely passionate about. I feel very fortunate to be working with an organization that reflects an interest I’ve been pursuing throughout my undergraduate years. My supervisor has also been very supportive in entrusting me with leading the Kleptocracy Initiative’s China program. It’s been an exhilarating experience straight out of college.
My co-workers are also great about maintaining a collaborative environment in which we openly share our ideas and learn to accommodate different views. We’re always willing to discuss the merits of our various opinions in order to determine the best approach.
What is the biggest resume mistake you’ve encountered?
Messy resumes. Notwithstanding the fact that this is the first time I’ve been in the position of reviewing resumes, I was very surprised by the number of individuals who did not bother to proofread or correctly format their resumes. A resume is the first impression you give to your potential employer. It’s important to take the time to make sure the bullet points and dates are lined up. In other words, make your resume look neat and easy to read. The reviewer is less likely to take a closer look if it takes effort to figure out what’s on the page in front of them.
What have you found most challenging as a young professional?
The challenge can be found in the name: “young.” Understandably, more seasoned hands have lower expectations for young professionals since they are less likely to have a proven track record. Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with this as much since my supervisor is always encouraging me to step outside of my comfort zone in order to show my potential and why I should be taken seriously. That said, it’s important to show initiative without coming off as arrogant.
What are you looking for in an intern or new hire?
For both cases, I always look for an individual who exhibits a proactive attitude. It is important to show your prospective supervisor/employer that you are able to go above and beyond with little need for supervision. Strong organizational and time management skills are also key criteria a candidate should demonstrate through their resume, cover letter, and correspondence.
What is your “go-to” wardrobe piece for the office?
My favorite type of wardrobe for the office is clean-cut dresses like the one I’m wearing in the pictures. It is definitely empowering as a woman when I’m able to express my femininity in the workplace through structured pieces that “professionalize” colorful and/or patterned dresses.
Biggest wardrobe “mistake” you’ve encountered in the workplace?
I think fashion is a great way to express oneself. That said, there is a subtle balancing act for being fashionable in the workplace. Tight-fitting outfits can come off as unprofessional, for both men and women. Revealing clothing is also a no-no. The biggest tip to remember is to err on the conservative side when making wardrobe decisions for the workplace. Another oldie but goodie: it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.
Do you have any career mantras or idols?
My career mantra is to continuously learn, stay humble, and never give up. I’m a true believer in taking all experiences (good or bad) as opportunities to discover the best path for personal and professional development. I think staying humble is a related mantra – recognizing that there is always something more to learn and being open to dissenting views. Last but not least, not giving up on one’s goals is hard but the decisive key to success. It’s something I continue to struggle with, especially when faced with rejection. But going back to my first mantra, I take each rejection as a learning experience on how I can do better the next time.
I like to keep it simple – cup of house coffee, black.