The Secret to Success
During your internship with The Washington Center you’ll be given lots of assignments to complete in addition to your course work and internship. One in particular that a lot of interns quickly dismiss is the informational interview, but you shouldn’t make that same mistake! This is your excuse to approach anyone you might admire or want to learn more about, even if you know nothing about them previously. More importantly, if used properly, it can be an incredibly useful opportunity to learn from someone who is succeeding in your area of interest. I had the opportunity to meet with someone who could probably get away with firing Donald Trump if they dared let her on The Apprentice and my experience was so inspirational that I felt it would be unfair to keep it from my fellow interns.
Walking the Walk
For my informational interview I had the privilege of meeting with Sylvia Gabriela Andrade, senior economist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Now, I have no plans of becoming an economist and I’m not very good with finance but what really motivated me to meet her is not the type of work she does but how she got to the position she holds in such a short amount of time. My conversation with Ms. Andrade revolved more around building and managing a career in general and not specifically how to get to her position. We discussed strategies for being successful and she shared some of the challenges she faced and how to capitalize on the successful outcomes of those challenges. To say I left our meeting inspired would be an understatement.
I met with Ms. Andrade in her downtown D.C. office, which is located in the impressive IDB building and is worth visiting for the grandiose foyer alone. Everything about the IDB building has an understated elegance, from the intimidating monolithic exterior to the gracefully terraced marble lobby with a cascading fountain at its base. Something else worth noting is the moment you enter the building you are greeted in Spanish and, as I made my way to Ms. Andrade’s office, everyone I encountered along the way spoke in Spanish as well. The reason being, the Inter-American Development Bank focuses entirely on Latin American countries so it only makes sense that they all speak Spanish. This of course wasn’t a problem for a tri-lingual Spaniard like me, having been raised speaking English, Castellano, and Catalan.
When I was first referred to Ms. Andrade through my internship supervisor I was advised that she is a very busy woman and runs a tight schedule. However, when I finally sat down with her for our meeting, Gabriela (as she prefers to be called) really made me feel like I was her only priority at that moment and gave me her full attention, which is a rare quality that not all leaders possess. Let me give you a little background on who she is...
Gabriela was accepted to McGill University in Montreal, Canada and moved there to pursue her academic goals right after high school, leaving behind her family in Ecuador. Anyone familiar with the Latin culture and the strong family values they hold will understand what a difficult decision this must have been for Gabriela at such a young age. Adamant in her pursuit for higher education, Gabriela completed both her undergraduate and her master’s degree in economics at McGill University. Thanks to her academic performance and her passion for economics, Gabriela was able to secure a research fellowship position with the Inter-American Development Bank. This was the foot in the door she needed to prove herself.
Our meeting ran just shy of an hour but I feel like I’ve walked away with years of lessons learned and advice that I’ll keep with me throughout my career. Now read carefully fellow interns, you might want to write this part down! It takes passion to be successful; passion is what will keep you going during those long nights in the office (we all have to pay our dues) and it’s your passion for what you do that won’t let you quit when tasks feel insurmountable.
Coming straight out of post-secondary, many students are ready to conquer the world and aim straight for the top and won’t settle for less. Being humble can be difficult when you know you deserve only the best but don’t overlook those entry level positions that you may feel over qualified for. Gabriela did just that when she applied for a job at IDB. She knew that is where she wanted to work and was willing to take any position in order to get her foot in the door. Even though she was turned down for the position, she was now on their radar and when a position opened up that fit her credentials, Gabriela was one of the first people contacted. If it’s something you really want then it’s worth swallowing your pride for a while.
Another important lesson I learned is to just say 'yes.' If your boss offers you a task that you feel is beyond your ability or that is extremely demanding, do it anyway and learn along the way. This very situation happened to Gabriela and she related to me her experience. Gabriela found herself working late into the night every day of the week but her perseverance paid off and the expertise she gained through that project put her in a unique position where her newly acquired skills were needed on other projects and eventually led to a permanent staff position. When you first start out the work won’t be glamorous and is rarely recognized but the skills you acquire will build up your career and reputation. Nothing worth achieving is ever easy.
Something else that is important to recognize, and that Gabriela pointed out to me, is the fact that you still need a little bit of luck. Gabriela feels she was lucky in who her boss was throughout the different positions she held within her organization.
As my time with Gabriela came to an end she left me with this one last piece of advice: Never make assumptions about anything, never close doors because of those assumptions, and don’t stress! Something I myself am still struggling with is picking my battles and effectively prioritizing those important tasks in order to spend more time on them than those tasks that won’t have as large of an impact. To be successful it takes perseverance, initiative, passion, and a little bit of luck, but most importantly, don’t stress! As I handed in my badge to security and walked out of the building with a little more spring in my step, I couldn’t help but wish I had spoken with Ms. Andrade earlier in my time in Washington.