As part of ELGL’s expanded offerings, we introduce you to our newest feature, “Josh’s Job Search (JJS).” See related article: New Blog Feature: Josh’s Job Search. Josh will be conducting informational interviews with key figures in the region. Read Josh’s first two entries Josh’s Job Search Interviews Olivia Clark, TriMet and Josh’s Job Search Finds Teri Bankhead, City of Milwaukie
An Informational Interview with Chris Fick
This past week I sat down with Chris Fick, Intergovernmental Relations Associate with the League of Oregon Cities. Chris, an Oregon native and graduate of Central Catholic High School earned his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon in 2002. After graduation Chris joined the Teach for America organization and spent two years in rural Louisiana teaching social studies to sixth-grade students.
Chris’ next move was to the city of Baltimore, Md. where he did some environmental work, public policy, and some grass roots organizing. The biggest opportunity for Chris during this period in time came when he got a job with Senator Barbara Mikulski on Capitol Hill. Under Senator Mikulski, Chris conducted work on environmental energy issues, education, and tax and budget issues. Chris continued his work with Senator Mikulski for two years but always had ambitions to return to his home state of Oregon. With a resume that now reflected educational and Federal Government work, Chris knew he needed to get experience in Local Government before job searching in that sector.
The interest in Local Government led Chris to the University of Maryland where he earned a Master’s in Public Policy with a focus on Management in Finance and Leadership. An internship back in Oregon at the Portland Revenue Bureau allowed him to conduct his Capstone project under Commissioner Amanda Fritz on the proposed Headquarters Hotel. Thereafter, Chris had experience in Local Government and was able to land a job working for the League of Oregon Cities. Initially, Chris started out doing research for the League, but when a position became available in Lobby Staff he moved into working on water, waste water, and energy issues. Chris currently works in the tax, finance, and economic development portfolio.
Chris’ Transition into City Government
Details on Chris’ shift from Federal Government to Local Government
Chris Fick: I did my graduate work like I was going to be applying for a job. So, I did a number of projects on Local Government, and more specifically Oregon Government. This made me familiar with the debate on the Oregon Health Plan and how it would be implemented. It wasn’t nearly as rough as a transition as it would’ve been if I had just gone straight from Federal. I sort of knew some of the property tax issues some of the budgetary issues. So it was a relatively smooth transition. I benefitted because I came on [with the League] initially as a researcher, which fit my background in graduate school anyway, and then moved up to being a lobbyist, so that helped the transition.
Joshua Gregor: How was the job search after graduate school?
CF: I actually started my job search half way through my second year of graduate school. I put a lot of applications out there. I was definitely aided by the fact that I was doing my Capstone project for Commissioner Fritz. That gave me contacts/references here locally that proved invaluable in my employment search. I interviewed with the League in March of my last year in graduate school. The references I used in the application process were folks from Commissioner Fritz’s staff and folks from the Portland Revenue Bureau.
JG: What did you do to make yourself marketable? Especially since your job search was being conducted cross-country.
CF: The summer before I graduated I had a position with the Portland Revenue Bureau through the Oregon Fellowship Program. That is a program that Portland State University sets up. They help graduate students find summer internships, paid internships with Local Governments. I took that opportunity and made the most of it. To try and network and create some job opportunities I was meeting with folks from throughout the city of Portland’s government as well as folks in Metro. The Capstone Project through Fritz was a direct product of that. I was able to meet with someone on her staff and talk about some of the issues they were looking at, and some of those overlapped with some of the stuff I was interested in researching. That is exactly how my Capstone project came about. That enabled me to further contact folks in Oregon, whether that be Travel Oregon, the City of Portland, or Metro, I was able to network and meet folks from there.
Also, I tried to use all of my breaks from school when I would come back to visit family to build up contacts and network. When my wife was coming out to interview for a position I would come out with her and talk to a few folks. When we were visiting for Christmas, I was meeting with people.
The director of the leadership program said that you should try and meet with one person every day of your internship. It is a ten week internship so that meant you should try and meet with 50 people over the summer to network and get to know what they do in the hopes that maybe there is an opening eventually coming up. I didn’t do 50, but I certainly did a couple dozen meetings and it was crucial in finding a position later.
JG: How did you find out about the position with the League of Oregon Cities?
CF: I happened to be searching on Portland State’s website, they have this, or at least they used to have a list of all Local Governments and organizations. I came across the League’s job posting site and saw that there was an internal position that was open and I happened to apply at the right time. My wife was coming out to Oregon and so I tagged along with her and met with a couple guys before I even interviewed down in Salem just to network.
JG: What made you decide to pursue the position with the League of Oregon Cities?
CF: I think it was caring a lot about city government. I really like cities and the idea of cities. That thing that draws people to live in urban environments has really always been an interest to me. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in variety of different cities for lengthy periods of time or at least visited them frequently. I have really enjoyed researching and visiting cities because I am intrigued by them. I also enjoy the idea of working for Municipal Government so the League’s position really appealed to me and I think that came across in the interview and also in the background work that I had done in graduate school.
JG: What skills do you possess that have helped you so far in your role with the League of Oregon Cities?
CF: I think that my odd combination of work experience to date has been really helpful. Even teaching right out of college. There are presentation skills that you develop in teaching, even to sixth graders… You sort of have to boil things down to their simplest form which is very similar to any public speaking or public testimony. Also the organizational skills that you get when teaching. My advocacy work thereafter just built upon the positions that I’ve had whether it be: organizing at the grassroots levels, doing some policy issues around environmental and energy issues, moving up to the Federal level and learning about interest group politics and partisan politics, or how things go from an idea to becoming a law and having it implemented and all the challenges therein. I think all those things and my graduate work that further honed my research and writing skills. I think all the work experience I’ve had to date has all sort of been built towards the position I have now.
I think everything just sort of builds upon the prior experience. I think that it is important that when you’re looking at your resume and looking into a new career, you want to try and come up with a narrative — what best explains your path and how is it relevant to the job that you’re applying for?
The Job Interview
My next few questions for Chris focused on his knowledge of the hiring process. The more I understand about what employers are looking for, the better prepared I become in person as well as on paper.
JG: Knowing what you know about your job, if you were hiring for the position you hold now, what sort of skills and qualifications would you look for in a candidate?
CF: So right now I’m essentially a lobbyist for local governments. I handle tax finance and economic development issues. In this position the qualifications would be an understanding of our very complex property tax system and an ability to explain it pretty concisely and easily — and also, to do so both verbally and in written material. So you’d be looking at basic speaking, writing, and analytical skills. But the key to all that, and something I think is rare among a lot of college graduates is that I think you have to be interested in the subject matter. So, you need to have an interest in what makes Local Governments effective or ineffective and how they get their revenue and what the consequences therein are. You need to have an interest in economics, you need to have a pretty big interest in politics, and you need to have somewhat decent people skills because you are going to be talking to people constantly in this line of work.
JG: Are these the same type of things you’d look for if you were hiring someone to work for or under you?
CF: Yeah, absolutely. Probably less on the public speaking skills if they were going to be in the research capacity, but I think those develop while you are figuring out how things work around you.
JG: Realistically, if the League of Oregon Cities wanted to hire someone to work in your department, how involved would you be in the hiring process?
CF: If we were hiring for my position I would see the folks that we’d bring in for interviews and go through maybe three or four different steps:
There would be a standard interview where you go over someone’s resume and talk about why they are well qualified. Then we have done a couple other exercises in the past, one that our most recent hire was subject to for a lobbyist position. They were given an exercise and they were required to write several articles summarizing what they had just read about. It could’ve been a weekly bulletin that we put out which updates members on an issue that we are working on, or maybe you have them draft a testimony on a bill that they would be testifying on. So that written component would be really important. And the third component would be more analytical, where you give someone a scenario, this is your objective — this is what you know — draw out a timeline or a strategy memo as to how you’re going to bring this concept to fruition. That is another written exercise that is then followed up with a panel of three folks at the League who question candidates: what was your strategy here — who are you going to talk to — who are your allies — who is your opposition — how are you going to counter that opposition. In our line of work it is important to have a lot of conversations with people and to talk collaboratively about different approaches and different angles.
The Dynamic Duo
I’m curious to know how each person I interview responds to the following questions. I believe the answers provided to these questions contain highly valuable and diverse information for job-seekers.
JG: How important is building your professional network?
CF: Extremely important… it is very, very important. Opportunities come up and if you’re on someone’s mind when an opening becomes available, you’re more likely to hear about it and be seriously considered for the position. A resume is one thing, personal connections are another. People often times are willing to go out of their way to find a position for you, or make a position for you if you show that you have the skills that they’re looking for. The network is really, really important.
JG: Do you have any advice for job-seekers or anyone looking to build their personal network?
CF: For every job that you apply for, you have to slightly tweak your resume and cover letter to fit that job. Your resume is your background and your cover letter is the narrative that shows why you are the right fit for that position. You need to walk people back by going through your resume and talking about why you’re the perfect fit for that position, and what in your background gives you the skills to have that specific position with the organization.
JG: Did you have anything in mind when you were a kid as far as what you wanted to be when you grew up?
CF: When the Blazers were playing well I wanted to be a basketball star, but outside of a sports star… You know, I thought the coolest job ever would be a National Geographic photographer so I could travel the world and see lots of cool stuff. When I got into politics I always thought maybe a presidential speech writer would be awesome.
J: Who do you admire the most?
CF: The person I admire most is John Lewis, who is a civil rights hero. He is currently a Representative in Congress and when I worked on Capitol Hill I was able to meet him. I had a chance to meet Barack Obama, Ted Kennedy, and since my wife was working for Hilary Clinton I saw her a lot, but John Lewis was just awesome. He has a book called Walking with the Wind, and TIME Magazine called him one of the modern day saints.
A quick message from Josh
I wanted to take a minute and thank my first three interviewees. I have been using a digital recorder to capture these informational interviews and although the transcription and review of these recordings have enhanced my strategies and understanding, what I have truly valued have been the connections I have made. I view networking as not only developing positive professional relationships but as making friends. I take pride in the three friends I have made thus far and look forward to the next.
Editor’s note: Contact Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org with job tips, career advice or Oregon Duck tickets.