When it comes to navigating the professional world after college, a mentor can make all the difference. Meganne Lemon can attest to that. Lemon is a Program Analyst for the Defense Technical Information Center at the Department of Defense. In that capacity, she works with IT research and development. Her organization has built databases for the DoD’s research and acquisition programs.
Lemon entered the government sector early in college. She was enrolled as a student in the Office of Disability Support Services, where she was introduced to a program called the Workforce Improvement Program. Through this program, students with disabilities could interview with a recruiter and enter the information into a database, which agencies, government and nonprofit organizations could view. The program helped Lemon get her first job as an intern for her current organization at the DoD. From there, she moved from researcher to content administrator, and finally to project manager—her current role.
In graduate school, Lemon studied library information science. She attributes her success towards her mentor, who was interested in the same area. “She was the person who really led me to see that there’s more to libraries and information than being a librarian,” Lemon said.
When it comes to finding a mentor and pursuing a career within your area of interest, Lemon had several tips. Her biggest takeaways include:
Look for a mentor with similar passions. While you may know what your interests are, it can be hard to figure out what kind of career best fits you. “Finding a mentor whose career you kind of want to emulate is important,” Lemon said. This allows you to talk with someone who is already in a respective field that contains some aspect of what you’re passionate in. It’s also helpful to have someone who you can go to and just ask questions.
Also, seek people who may not be doing what you want to do. While this seems counterintuitive, you can get an objective view into what you’re interested in and learn of alternative approaches to the way you do things or even the way you see your own career.
Expose yourself to different experiences. While her mother worked for NASA Langley, Lemon never really thought of public service as a viable option. “No one really talked about public service, or what you actually did,” she said. Take some risks and try new things. If there’s an opportunity open, don’t be afraid to take it just because it may not fit your exact needs or qualifications. If it sounds interesting, you should give it a chance. This new experience may just lead you down the path that will become your career.
Learn from more experienced and seasoned workers in your organization. As a millennial, Lemon identified one of the biggest challenges as understanding your position in what might feel like an older and more experienced work environment. “[Different generations] are influenced by different motivations, goals and aspirations,” she said. To get a better understanding of the organizational culture, connect with people who have been there for a while and can give you insights into the place they know best. Ask them to teach you new skills and show you are willing to learn.
Practice patience. It is important to learn how to be patient and put your ideas into perspective. Remember that things don’t change overnight. It can be frustrating to enter an organization and feel like you aren’t working in the field you imagined. Working in public service can be difficult when you often face more constraints than opportunities. Find a place where you can express your voice and frustration. “You need someone who’s right there in the thick of it with you,” Lemon said. During hard times, remember what you’re passionate about and that your desire to make a difference can help push you forwards.
One of the biggest things to remember is that everyone is coming from different backgrounds and bringing different skills and talents with them. That’s the beauty of public service. “Public service can accommodate all that,” Lemon said.
Leverage your different strengths and experiences to create a role for yourself. As a millennial in public service, Lemon reminds herself to be patient and to never stop looking for opportunities to learn from the people around her.
And to those who are still doubting the value of public service, Lemon had some advice: “To anyone interested in serving others, just go out and find your story.”
This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.