But there were perks, Smith explained to education professionals at the twice-yearly YEP-DC Edu-Jobs event focused on career knowledge and advancement. The biggest? She advised Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on higher education policy and, in turn, had a hand in shaping some of the administration's major higher education proposals. That eventually set Smith on a trajectory that brought her to the White House as a senior policy adviser on higher education issues to President Barack Obama.
That’s why you shouldn’t be afraid of making lateral moves, said Smith, now the strategy director at the Lumina Foundation and recently named in Forbes' "30 Under 30." "Do your primary job well, whether that be booking travel or scheduling, then people will usually let you add on things that you want to do," she told the education professionals in the room.
But for rising education professionals unsure of what jobs they should strive for, Kirkland-Harris suggested that writing your own ideal job description is a good way to give yourself direction. "Pull out stuff from other job descriptions that catch your eye, and then work to gain the skills you need," she said. "And ask companies for informational interviews, so they remember you in the future."
As education professionals, Mark Hecker, executive director of Reach Incorporated, told the professionals at his breakout session that it’s important to be immersed in the community you are trying to transform. "Be helpful, spend time there, build trust. That's the hard part. Credibility matters," said Hecker, who spends most of the time as the founder of his company doing just that: listening to and learning from the needs of the students and parents his program serves. Hecker's organization hires teenagers to be reading tutors for younger students, in hopes of strengthening academic and personal advancement for both parties.
Hecker also shared that with being a founder and working for yourself comes "great stress and great loneliness," but "great freedom" as well, which suits his personal ambitions. On the contrary, in her move to Lumina, Smith discovered that her priority is to help disadvantaged communities improve their educational outcomes, but sans the burden of stress that had once been harmful to her personal life. Some people thrive on stress and on being in high-pressure environments, she said, but it wasn't for her. "So just think about what's important to you, and go after it."
Francesca Duffy is a communications and advocacy specialist at a national association for school superintendents. She can be reached via email or Twitter.