Plan Ahead, Plan Ahead, Plan Ahead – But Don’t Rely on It!

Toney, Headshot

By Ryan Toney, BS Biological Sciences, Minor in Public Health, GWU 2016

Since middle school, I have had 5, 10, and 20-year plans in mind. I’ve always found something so romantic about extensively planning for the future. Maybe it lends me a false sense of achievement – if I tell people what I’m going to do, that’s one step closer to it actually happening – or maybe it’s the awestruck response from friends and family when I tell them what positions I’ll be applying for at the age of 30. Regardless, I’ve wanted to pursue a career in public health and epidemiology for a very long time, and I’ve structured my entire undergraduate career to support that plan, culminating with the plan to join the Peace Corps right out of graduation.

However, when it came to actually realizing my Peace Corps plan, and I began to fill out the application and revise the personal statement, I came to a sobering realization that I very well may not be accepted. After talking to a colleague at work, who gave me some statistic about 2015 having the highest number of Peace Corps applicants ever, panic mode began to set it. Suddenly, my 20-year plan was being overturned and my future career as CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was ruined. I’d be working at some 9-5 or worse, living in academia forever. I struggled to find  backup plans because those were positions I hadn’t been turning over in my mind for the last 6 years – I simply had to do the Peace Corps.

It was at this point that I met with Kelsey in the career center, who helped me prepare for my Peace Corps interview, and also gave me an idea of what steps I should be taking in order to find a good backup plan. It wasn’t so much the organizations and companies she told me to apply to, but how to apply – how to properly format your resume (turns out I had been doing it all wrong), what questions to ask in an interview to strategically place yourself, how to design a matrix to track every job you’ve ever applied for, and numerous other job hunting strategies. Kelsey put my mind at ease, but at the same time adequately prepared me for the Peace Corps interview. The next week, I had the call with the recruiter from Peace Corps and it was intense. Over 3 hours, mostly behavioral scenarios, and a fairly strict line of questioning about the hardship I would undoubtedly face living abroad for two years. Not even two weeks later, however, I got the acceptance email! I was going to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.

With further help from the career center, not only will I be departing in September 2016 for Lesotho to serve as a Healthy Youth – Community Outreach Specialist, but I am also interning for my dream company, PATH. A lot of my success has to do with the planning early – I started my Peace Corps application two years before I submitted it! But something I learned through the application and interview process was how invaluable outside help can be. Despite planning years in advance, I wouldn’t have been as prepared for the Peace Corps interview had I not gotten an outside word. My advice for seniors still job searching? Even if you think you know everything there is to know about that position, even if you’ve researched the company extensively, even if you’ve had this plan since middle school, still talk to someone else. In my experience, the Career Center is the best place to do that, and now I’m one step closer to achieving that middle school dream.

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