The Path to Public Service at SEAS
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This past spring, as I trekked from interview to interview, I struggled to find the correct answer to one simple question: "Why do you want to work here?"
A version of the truth, of course, would never do. "I need the money" and "I thought it would look good on my resume" are not answers that would impress most interviewers. It seemed that most were looking for applicants who had dreamed of working in such places as publishing houses, consulting firms or retail stores from a tender age--or, at the very least, who could play the part convincingly in an interview. I, however, am not much of an actress.
In all honesty, the thought of graduating from college without a career plan scared me. I ended up applying to jobs in areas about which I knew little but wanted to learn more. My hope was that my search would give me direction.
I arrived at my last of a string of interviews dragging my feet. I had almost canceled but decided that I might as well give it a go. If nothing else, it would be good practice. As I schlepped up the front stairs of the State House, I plastered on my interview smile and tried to think positively.
Everything went smoothly for the first 10 minutes. Then it happened. My interviewer asked yet another version of that pesky question: "So why do you want to work in a state senator's office?" I couldn't take it anymore--I couldn't handle trying to fabricate the expected answer about how I'd always been fascinated by politics, had always dreamed of working in the State House. Before I knew it, the truth slipped out, "Well, I don't know a thing about politics, and I wanted to see what it's like here in the sate House." As soon as those words escaped my lips, I knew for sure that the interview was shot.
But much to my surprise, only 30 seconds later, I was offered the job.
As it turns out, the internship has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Now, as I climb the stairs of the State House each morning, I don't need to plaster on a fake smile. Even at nine in the morning, I'm excited to be there.
Admittedly, the first few days were a little bit rough. Working alongside 24 other summer interns, I was intimidated by the presidents of college Democratic organizations and future politicians who surrounded me. I couldn't even work the copier and the fax machine, let alone recognize the Minority Whip and Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means in the hallways. My stomach twisted into knots every time the phone rang--I was constantly worried that I'd accidentally divulge top-secret information.
Since that first week, I've begun to feel more at home at the State House. I spend much of my day tracking and researching legislation and have developed a strange fascination for the General Laws of Massachusetts. This spring, I never would have believed that reading laws on subjects ranging from raffles to operating a motor vehicle while wearing flip-flops could actually be interesting. Yet, now I find myself sitting at the dinner table, telling my family about laws that I never knew existed.
My initial fear of speaking on the telephone has subsided, and I now enjoy taking constituents' calls. It's nice to feel appreciated after taking a few minutes to help complete strangers. While it may be something as small as calling the post office with a question about mail delivery, my efforts can make a difference in someone's life.
Perhaps what I saw as a blunder in that interview several months back was no blunder at all. By admitting that I was ignorant and wanted to learn, I found people who were willing to teach. Looking back, I realize that all of the other people who interviewed me last spring probably saw right through my attempts to tell them what I thought they wanted to hear. My interviews were probably almost identical to dozens of others--yet another person trying glibly to hide her inexperience.
After working for seven weeks in an office full of some of the nicest and most interesting people that I have ever met, I have found what I was looking for in a summer job: a sense of where to go from here.
Laura Semerjian '99 is a History concentrator living in Winthrop House. This summer she is an intern in the office of Massachusetts State Senator Cheryl A. Jacques.
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