Experience: that thing you have to have to get a job, but that can be hard to get without…well, without getting the job! I recently had the pleasure of interviewing someone with a lot of experience, which she credits for helping her land in a field she didn’t mean to pursue and a job that she loves.
Since 2014, Sarah Cahillane has served as the Director of Development for Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, Bloomington’s premier community food resource center. Sarah and the rest of the staff, alongside hundreds of volunteers, work tirelessly to fulfill the mission of Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, “To provide healthy food for all, in ways that cultivate dignity, self-sufficiency and community”. They achieve this by offering a food pantry, garden and nutrition education programs, and a lending library of kitchen and garden tools in their newest program, the Tool Share.
As Director of Development, Sarah is primarily in charge of fundraising. “This involves a variety of things,” she shares, including, “special fundraising events, dealing with donors, writing grants, writing letters, keeping track of donations, creating newsletters and reports for patrons and donors, and probably a lot more that I’m forgetting!” She loves her job, especially the collaborative work environment, but confides that it doesn’t allow for as much direct service as she’d like. This comes as no surprise, as Sarah’s history is chockfull of direct service that would be hard to stack up against.
Even before graduating college, Sarah got more real−world experience than many of us could hope for in a lifetime!
“I did a summer working in the Western Province of Kenya. This changed my direction completely. I had been raising money on the side for an organization called Outreach Kenya Development Volunteers, and got the opportunity to go with them to do their work. We traveled the Western Province providing education about HIV/AIDS to schools, churches, and anyone else who wanted it.”
The following summer she completed her internship – at the UN Headquarters!
“I worked in the NGO/DPI section (now just DPI). It was 2003, right after George W. Bush invaded Iraq, defying the Security Council’s ruling that it was unjust. People (in the UN and all over the world) were not happy with the American president’s decision to defy the Security Council. I was one of two American’s in my office. It was a humbling experience, and I was grateful for it.”
After graduating with a degree from SPEA in Environmental Management, Sarah pursued jobs in both the environmental field and public health NGO’s. After three years of searching to no avail, she took a different route: she joined the Peace Corps.
“I worked in a health clinic doing PMTCT (prevention of mother−to−child transmission) work. I also assisted setting up support groups for women with HIV, which is how I helped be a part of starting Mothers for All. I stayed on after completing my service in the Peace Corps in 2008. The women I had worked with for 2 years at the clinic became part of the first group of women I trained to make recycled paper jewelry. We wrote a grant allowing for me to move to the North Western part of the country where I started three more groups, one in the Kalahari, one in the Okavango Delta, and one in the city of Maun. I traveled a lot, driving three hours or more to reach each village where we had expanded. I also was in charge of sales in the northern district and thanks to Botswana’s high end tourism, we managed to sell regularly to safari companies. We sent several of the women participants to vocational colleges, and they eventually took over for Jenny and I, who had been the initial directors. It is still going today, with success.”
The incredible work experience Sarah gained in her years abroad can be paralleled only by the incredible life experience she gained.
“It was an amazing experience living in one of the most well preserved countries in Africa. I waited for elephants to cross the road on every work outing, camped among hyenas and lions, and became a great safari guide. I played it cool around the crazy, poisonous spiders and snakes that visited my house every day, and learned how to speak the local language. My roommate was pilot and often let me sit right seat and fly his Cessna with him. It was a great adventure!”
Though she hasn’t had to tap into those safari−skills since settling back into the workforce here in the States, the experience has proven valuable nonetheless. Experience of all kinds is what Sarah says employers look for when considering new hires.
“It’s always nice when people have had jobs outside of school, or have spent time volunteering. School is a valuable experience, however, the knowledge that is gained on a job is not learned in a classroom. I waited on tables and volunteered throughout my undergraduate years, through these experiences I learned a lot about how people think and how to communicate well. Having experiences outside of school demonstrates an ability to manage time, and reassures employers that the individual will have some knowledge of how to handle difficult situations.”
Sarah is a prime example of the power experience holds in the workforce. During her junior year, while working with Outreach Kenya Development Volunteers, she realized that her personal and professional interests aligned more with Public Health than Environmental Management. “If I hadn’t been so far into my degree at SPEA, I would have changed courses,” Sarah confided. But it turned out that the degree didn’t matter – her scores of experience got her into the field of Public Health, where she has happily remained for the duration of her career.
As I get ever−closer to starting a career of my own, this is incredibly comforting. Though I can’t say that I have any professional experience in my field (Community Health), by golly do I have volunteer experience! And that, it seems, makes all the difference.
Erika Wheeler is a junior pursuing a degree in Community Health. As a native of Bloomington with no college aspirations, she grew up thinking of Indiana University as nothing but a big pain in her small hometown. She has since changed her mind.
Categories: Career Advice
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