1 Every Job I've Had: City Paper, Biking in Jorts, and The World's Largest Design Firm | The Billfold

Every Job I’ve Had: City Paper, Biking in Jorts, and The World’s Largest Design Firm

Washington City Paper, January 2011-November 2012:
I interned for Washington City Paper for all of 2010. It was unpaid, but I wrote a lot of blog posts that I still occasionally reference, and most of the things that I covered—public meetings in Southeast D.C.—I was planning to attend anyway as research for my senior thesis (about gentrification and displacement in a neighborhood called Anacostia).

At the end of my internship, right before I graduated college, my editor offered me a job doing, well, I’m not quite sure what. He created an assistant editor position for me that was ancillary to the assistant managing editor. I did not interview for this. I did a lot of copy editing, fact-checking, and line editing if it was needed. I am still baffled as to how he wrangled an additional editorial position into existence, but I am eternally grateful—I’ve banked on my City Paper work experience in every job interview since.

The assistant managing editor left in 2011 and I applied for his job. During the search for a replacement, I filled the role. Ultimately, no one was hired, and I continued to work the assistant managing editor position. I didn’t get the title, or a pay increase; I did learn how to navigate InDesign and became a more fastidious copy editor.

In March 2012, I was offered a job with another publication that would have paid just over 35 percent more for what was essentially aggregation. Not taking this job is perhaps the only thing I regret, career-wise. I stayed at City Paper because there was a chance that a staff writer position that I wanted—and that I would be very, very good at—might become available. I was also given a slight raise that compensated for the pay cut we had received a few months earlier, and additional vacation time. (My benefits didn’t change, but they weren’t very good. The one percent 401(k) match was taken away during the pay cut.)

The staff writer position did open up, in April 2012. I applied. I was not selected. I cried with the door to my office shut (I had an office with a door!).


Washington Area Bicyclist Association, December 2012-April 2014

In spring of 2012, I had half-jokingly mentioned to an acquaintance that I was looking for a new job, but that I only wanted to work for places where I could wear jorts. (City Paper didn’t have a dress code.) She worked in bike advocacy. She told me I should work in bike advocacy. I sent her my resume.

The director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, whom I had interviewed while at City Paper, messaged me on Twitter a few months later. He said WABA was looking to add a communications position and asked if I would be interested. We met up to see if I could do what the organization needed (use Creative Suite and edit stuff, mostly) and talked about what my role would look like.

This was, in effect, a job offer, though I did a group interview with the entire WABA staff before I started. It was two hours long, and not a particularly useful process. My boss made me a job offer—again, via a Twitter direct message. He also asked for my email so he could send me my offer letter. I would make slightly more than what I was making at City Paper. Health care cost $0 per month, and the 403(b) match was five percent.

I was thrilled to have an interesting escape route from City Paper that was tailored to my interests, which include editing and talking about bikes—so much so that I was willing to overlook the fact that I would be working for a nonprofit, an environment I knew I wasn’t interested in after having interned for the Smithsonian Institution and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The learning curve at WABA was steep. The bulk of my sessions with my therapist from December 2012 to summer 2013 were about my job, which I struggled to become comfortable with because I was autonomous 95 percent of the time. I also began to dislike bikes, with which I worked 40 hours a week from a policy standpoint, used daily as transportation, and rode most weekend days for fun. Many cause-based workplaces are like this.

In August 2013, I applied for a digital communications job with the team I interned with at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and didn’t get it. I was OK with this largely because I did not want to stay in nonprofit communications, but it still stung. Around this time, it became clear that I would need to move on from WABA sooner rather than later. There was no way for me to advance there, either financially or skill-wise. My boss was the only person senior to me given WABA’s organizational structure, and I had no interest in being an executive director of anything.


The World’s Largest Design Firm, forthcoming

My boyfriend moved to San Francisco in January 2014. I spent most of 2013 fretting about this and picking fights about the status of our relationship. (I had already been through one relationship with someone who was gunning to leave D.C., and I wasn’t emotionally equipped at all to handle a second round.)

First, we were going to break up. Then, we were going to date long-distance. Then, I asked him if I should be looking for jobs in San Francisco. By December 2013 I was doing just that. I could get myself to knock out a number of applications per day, and then I’d pause for a week or two. I found that I couldn’t apply to jobs in D.C.* and San Francisco; I’d have to focus on one location at a time. I didn’t keep strict track of what I applied to throughout December. I wasn’t getting any traction, anyway.

*I’ve had a number of conversations with D.C. expats about the hollowing-out of the three to seven years’ experience range here. There are endless entry-level and very senior level jobs in D.C. If you are beyond entry-level but aren’t verging on a decade of experience, there is not much for you here regardless of field or industry. As someone who has, until now, considered her identity dependent on living in D.C., I find this incredibly depressing.

I sent a lot of miserable Gchats to my friends and tried to not think about the fact that I wasn’t getting noticed whatsoever. I started to include the address of my LinkedIn profile in cover letters so that I could at least see if people were looking at my application materials. I also cleaned up my LinkedIn, though I still don’t understand what makes a good LinkedIn presence.

The first contact I got regarding a job in San Francisco was from a global architecture firm. I was playing Candy Crush one afternoon and nearly ignored the call, but answered it when I realized it was a 415 number. I had a video interview with that firm’s San Francisco team and a phone call with a related staffer in New York; each time, I made sure to mention that I’d be in San Francisco in February and would be available for an in-person interview. I hadn’t heard anything by the time my flight took off, but I packed dress pants anyway.

I was in San Francisco for nearly three weeks. I went on a number of informational interviews while there, with SFMTA staffers in particular (I am still in love with the idea of working in PR for SFMTA, but I was rejected because I had too few years of work experience), as well as a very productive happy hour. I was also rejected from the architecture firm, which spurred me to submit about five applications the next day.

I was at Jay’n Bee Club with my boyfriend when I received an email around 7 p.m. from someone at The World’s Largest Design Firm. I was so gleeful, I shoved my iPhone in his face (“Babe, hold it still, I can’t read it if you’re shaking it—wait, what are they even asking you to do? What is this company?”). The email said that typically, candidates underwent an informal interview and, because I wasn’t local, they’d do it over the phone. I immediately responded to say that I was in San Francisco and I would be happy to meet in person.

I met with the person who would be my day-to-day manager at TWLDF’s office. We talked for nearly an hour. I truly enjoyed it. This validated my choice to bring dress pants. I collected several more job rejections. I applied to more jobs. I followed up with everyone I met at that happy hour. I balls-out posted on all my social media platforms that I was looking for a job, that I was nervous, that I was ready to go. I fought with my boyfriend about moving to San Francisco, living together, our relationship, and what I was trying to do, which culminated in me, on his bed, hugging a wad of comforter, crying, frustrated and stressed out that I had nothing to show for what I felt was an obscene amount of work. I scheduled a very small number of interviews. I flew back to D.C. And TWLDF scheduled a video interview for me at its D.C. office with Future Manager and his boss.

Aside from the fact that I had to continually get up and hit ctrl+alt+delete when the backlight on the screen of the computer I was using went dark, I left the interview feeling better than I had about the one I had had a few days earlier (which was for a similar job in the D.C. area). I was asked for my references and scheduled a follow-up call on a Thursday, during which I was told I’d have news by Monday.

I spent that weekend buying clothes and eating my feelings.

I received an offer over the phone from TWLDF on a Monday. It was the only job offer I received out of nearly 50 applications I sent to companies in D.C and San Francisco. It was also one of the few that I truly wanted and that I would move across the country for. I had been a longtime fan of things designed by TWLDF. The potential for working for it blew my mind.

I sent my offer letter to my dad, my boyfriend, a friend who worked in a similar position for a construction company, and my business-lady friend Deb. In general, the conclusion was that it wasn’t a stellar offer, but the ability to get out of nonprofit-land was critical. TWLDF offers twice-yearly bonuses, overtime, and stock options—while WABA has good benefits, I would be depressing my own salary if I stayed there longer. I responded to TWLDF’s offer, asking for about 20 percent more given the cost of living in San Francisco and the fact that I was relocating. I was denied, but given a scenario in which it was possible that I would make the salary that I asked for.

TWLDF did not offer relocation compensation, and it’s going to cost me about $2,000 to move across the country no matter which way I do it. I’ve chosen to drive, bring the best person I can think of to sit in a U-Haul with, and make my departure from D.C. as slow and unraveling as possible (another essay for another time is how deeply I feel about this city and how certain I am I’ll return—perhaps when I’ve done enough work to rise above the aforementioned 3-7 years’ experience stonewall). I’ll stay with my boyfriend when I get to San Francisco. If cohabitating works, we’ll keep at it.

I accepted the job in writing on the Thursday following the Monday it was offered to me. A number of rejections flew in after that. They were small deaths.

I’m excited—to have a dress code (jorts are no longer a priority), to have a manager, to make more money, to have a clear career trajectory. In no job since graduating college have I had a distinct path for success, and I placed a priority on finding an environment in which I could grow. It means making a hard divergence away from informal industries to something much more corporate, via what’s essentially an entry-level job—and leaving behind a life and a city that I love. But I’m proud of myself for earning this offer (especially on another coast, especially without any networking or connections at this particular office).

But I’m going to need things to do after work. If you’re in the Bay Area, we should be friends.


Alex Baca is packing.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons


51 Comments / Post A Comment

garli (#4,150)

“I also cleaned up my LinkedIn, though I still don’t understand what makes a good LinkedIn presence.”

Good point, does anyone know?

alexbaca (#865)

@garli I asked a lot of people and, no, not that I could tell.

Allison (#4,509)

@garli a friend’s dad writes literal books on this kind of stuff, but I’ve never looked at one.

garli (#4,150)

@Allison The only thing I know is every time I update my profile I get a job offer I don’t want. I’m hoping one day to get a job offer I do want. (Without the work of applying for jobs)

Trilby (#191)

@garli No one knows! It’s a mystery. I turned mine off after getting sick of getting requests from people I have no desire to be linked with.

crane your neck (#1,448)

@garli Would be a great subject for a separate Billfold piece (if the editors can find anyone who’s reasonably good at LinkedIn).

garli (#4,150)

@crane your neck I’d love that. I know people who get job offers all the time but I know a big part of that is also their job experience – maybe that’s the real secret.

alexbaca (#865)

@garli @crane The people I know who get job offers through LinkedIn also work in really specific industries that are distinctly not communications.

Human Centipaul (#3,559)

@garli I get 2-3 job offers on LinkedIn every months, because I have experience and skill and the right geographic location for a particular field in which I NEVER WANT TO WORK AGAIN. So I politely decline them all, and say “if you find yourself with any openings in this other thing, give me a call!” I have to keep it on my resume because it’s half my experience, and it’s good experience, but I do sometimes wonder about adding a disclaimer to my About Me to the effect of “DON’T CALL ME NO MORE BECAUSE THAT WAS SOULCRUSHING AND YOU KNOW IT.”

garli (#4,150)

@alexbaca Oh yeah I work in a very not communications field and I do get job offers, my main problem is location. Either they want me to move to the middle of the country, anther country or they’re kinda close but a 45 minute drive either way – no thanks?

@Human Centipaul What field crushed your soul away? I mean feel free not to answer but all the curious.

clo (#4,196)

@garli I got my current job on LinkedIn, and all my interviews in the past two years or so have been from there. The thing with LinkedIn is it costs a lot of post a job (much much more than Craigslist) so it tends to cater towards more wealthy technology companies who don’t feel like dealing with the deluge of Craigslist replies. I work in technology so it works for me. Also I have a pretty decent profile and would be happy to give anyone tips if they want me to take a look!

Human Centipaul (#3,559)

@garli Writing proposals for government contracts. Do you like 70-hour weeks, occasional 24-hour shifts without sleep, and only having limited control over your success because another company can just underbid you and that’s that? Have I got the field for you! Good money, but the frustrations weren’t worth it.

garli (#4,150)

@Human Centipaul Nope, I do not want that. :) But that probably explains why our contracts department is so grumpy.

garli (#4,150)

@clo I’d love tips, I’m sure mine is super amateur hour. I don’t actually want a new job right now but having a better page to work with for the future would be great.

clo (#4,196)

@garli http://www.linkedin.com/in/clairelovell/ message me on there and i’ll check it out.

garli (#4,150)

@clo Crazy it won’t let me message you. Try this out


clo (#4,196)

@garli got it, checking it out.

guenna77 (#856)

very interesting. but i will say the 3-7 years thing you try to claim about DC is not true. my own dept hired someone just this past summer in that experience range, and with a skillset you probably would have fit into. and i got my own job here when i was in that experience range. there’s plenty of stuff; when people say that, it usually means they are mostly looking for cool-sounding places to work.

alexbaca (#865)

@guenna77 I can assure you, I was not looking for cool-sounding places to work. (I have worked at a lot of cool-sounding places and, as I hope this made clear [!], was trying to get away from that.) I’m not saying it’s impossible to get a job in that range, just that a really significant number of people I know left because they couldn’t.

So we’re both running on anecdotes.

erinep (#4,236)

@alexbaca @alexbaca I live in Madison, WI, which as a state capital and a university town has maybe the same sort of job market as DC – gov’t, nonprofits, arts, but obviously on a much smaller scale. I have five years of experience, though in state government, and I’d have to agree with you about the 3-7 years thing. I’m finding a bunch of jobs in my search that fall right outside of these parameters and am having a hard time finding something within my skill set that wouldn’t just be a lateral move.

Thingamabob (#5,522)

@guenna77 At least in DC, there’s just not as much turnover in the 3-7 years range as there is at the entry-level. People are building careers and saving to buy houses, etc., etc. At a higher level, it’s easier to get consultancies or to be brought in as someone’s “expert” on a subject.

That said, sometimes people *say* they want 10+ years of experience, but will really take 5+.

Also, have fun on the West Coast! I moved from there to DC, and all I want to do is go home. (But I’m in that 3-7 zone, and suddenly have realized my career is developing here, whether I like it or not.)

alexbaca (#865)

@Thingamabob I was totally applying to things outside of my reach! I think companies will generally take less experience (except for SFMTA, which sent me back an email that was like, “Your verified three years and one months’ experience is less than the required four years”), but there’s also just tons and tons of people out there with those 10 years or whatever.

I am very, very skeptical about the West Coast. I love D.C. and would have preferred to stay here, but didn’t get a job here. My boyfriend is a bonus, but I am truly doing this for a job. So we’ll see!

Thank you and good luck to you, too.

Blondsak (#2,299)

Thanks for being so blunt and honest, particularly about how emotions/SOs/cultural & geographical identity can play into your job search. As someone who has been around that bend a few times (re:moving for someone – in one case to DC – but only once it made sense for me job-wise) it’s SO MUCH change all at once, and especially hard if you are acutely aware of what you’re leaving behind. Sometimes those gambles pay off, though. Best of luck to you.

alexbaca (#865)

@Blondsak Thank you!

This is awesome and sort of something I just want to stare at and read over and over again. With a nod to no bullshit though, do you ever wryly laugh at how you started with studying about gentrification and displacement and…. are now working in San Francisco? (WRITE ABOUT THAT NEXT.)

Also if you are back into biking again, East Bay Bike Party is a great thing to do after work.

alexbaca (#865)

@Carmen Aiken@facebook Thank you! And, yeah, I do LOL about it—and talk to my friends about it often (I have an urbanist-y bunch of acquaintances). I can’t lie, it is attractive to me to be in San Francisco while there is such agita about gentrification and displacement. My work in D.C. was specifically about a neighborhood that COULD gentrify, but likely wouldn’t (at least in the way that we recognize gentrification) for awhile. So it’s kind of a flip.

kellyography (#250)

This is something I am trying to do right now (get out of the administrative eddy and move to the Bay Area from the east coast with no real ins), and this was a great read. Makes me feel less bad about getting rejected from jobs I didn’t even particularly want and for which I am wholly qualified.

alexbaca (#865)

@kellyography Thanks, and good luck. This process took me about three months, but I applied to a lot. So ymmv.

Faintly Macabre (#1,043)

@kellyography Yeah, this was very hope-inspiring! I live on the east coast, but I’m thinking of applying to jobs in the Bay Area because the job market for my field in my city is awful and the Bay Area has a ton. But I can’t even get interviews regionally, so it’s really daunting. I need to just buck up and apply for more.

clo (#4,196)

@Faintly Macabre @kellyography @alexbaca I also am a former East Coaster who moved out to the Bay Area for work. It does take time, and generally you have to front your own moving costs, but it totally can be done! I made the move 4 years ago and it moved me into my current industry. I’m in my second job in my new career and I now have a very good job. So it can happen, keep at it. And get at me if you have questions!

Human Centipaul (#3,559)

Excellent piece, but I’m surprised New Job isn’t offering you any relocation. World’s Largest D-Bag Move firm!

Or are we at a point now where jobs are so competitive that companies don’t even bother offering that any more? Yuck.

@Human Centipaul I mean, yeah. I don’t know if you’ve looked for jobs over the past five years or so, but definitely. Absolutely. Companies want you to beg to work for them. I would say especially definitely firms in SF or NY. Unless they REALLY want you working there.

alexbaca (#865)

@Carmen Aiken@facebook Agree w/this. I know maybe two people who have gotten relocation out of about 15 or so who have left D.C. in the past year.

Human Centipaul (#3,559)

@Carmen Aiken@facebook Gross. My wife and I have both looked for jobs recently, but they’ve all been relatively local and thus wouldn’t have the relocation issue in the first place.

fletchasketch (#6,453)

This hits a little too close to home- in the opposite direction. I’m at 2 years in DC, and gunning to leave as soon as I hit 3. Its even worse when you do have a great job with multiple clear trajectories- and none of them are what you want to do. I will have to give up the sure thing here for a whole lot of uncertainty out there, but with any luck I can at least skip intermediate break-up/long distance stages and go straight to dragging my BF with me.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

I will add to the anecdote pile that DC likes entry-level and senior-level. I loved the place I worked for in DC, but when I got too old/experienced for the job, there weren’t many other places to go.

AitchBee (#3,001)

I read this, then went back and re-read Alex’s other pieces, then read it again. Really excellent.

alexbaca (#865)

@AitchBee This made me :) :) :) Thanks!

honey cowl (#1,510)

“In no job since graduating college have I had a distinct path for success, and I placed a priority on finding an environment in which I could grow. It means making a hard divergence away from informal industries to something much more corporate, via what’s essentially an entry-level job”

This this this this this. I just about had a meltdown to my (fortunately local & live-in) boyfriend about this yesterday. I’m about your age and have 4 years of startups and mismanaged nonprofits under my belt, and am dying to have a boss that actually teaches me things.

The only thing I must disagree with is that the west coast is the best coast. I hope you love it on this side of the country.

alexbaca (#865)

@honey cowl OMG I did not make it clear enough in this piece that I DO NOT THINK THE WEST COAST IS THE BEST COAST. The East Coast is the best! I said in a comment above that if I got a job in D.C., I wouldn’t leave! But I didn’t! So I’m leaving! TWLDF has a D.C. office and I am hoping desperately that I can transfer into it after a few years.

I am a snobbish, foul-tempered East Coast exceptionalist, and I would like everyone to know that.

Allison (#4,509)


@honey cowl @ally’all

whatever MIDWEST FOREVER. (Sorry, I had to, and I LOVED living in the East Bay. 510 yay areaaaa)

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@Carmen Aiken@facebook Did someone say YAAY AAREEAAAAAAAAAA ::thizzes so hard::

In conclusion, the East Bay>>>everywhere else and yes, I am indeed feeling myself although I am not in the club.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@alexbaca Oh you made it clear, but I have literally THE EXACT OPPOSITE OPINION. Why does anyone live out there in those small states?! The weather is trying to kill you, the traffic is horrible, everyone is SO MEAN, there are Dunkin Donuts instead of Starbucks, what the fuck. My colleagues are in Boston and whenever they come to this coast they’re convinced they should move.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@Carmen Aiken@facebook The midwest is excellent too. I will allow that!

eemusings (#6,021)

@honey cowl YESSSS. That paragraph hit me right the gut.

I too am moving away from informal industries to something more corporate (exactly HOW much more corporate I am unsure and should become clear over time, I haven’t started yet!). I am excited to earn more, still enjoy what I do, learn new skills and work with cool people. This is an organisation where I think I might actually be able to stay for awhile – there are other roles that I think might interest me in the future that I might be able to transition to. Maybe. I’ve not had that feeling/seen the same kind of opportunities in my previous companies. I’m excited to work somewhere that actually has resources and funding.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@eemusings Have you successfully made the move into something corporate (lol high school fave band)? Any advice for me? It makes other people look at me crazily but I’m really ready to work for something less “cool” and something much more STABLE. Like with a boss and a job description and a 401k. Is this the dream now??

Dervisher (#6,416)

DC is definitely a weird beast as far as jobs go. In some sectors it is on fire (as many media outlets have reported). In others it is most definitely not (Fed govt. hiring is a monster to get through and alot of talented people won’t put up with the aggravation of USAJOBS).

But that 3-7 yrs thing is definitely true across alot of the region/industries. Hope you enjoy SF!

in_parenthesis (#4,213)

Great story. And welcome to SF!! Glad to hear your boyfriend has a place here already and now that you’ve gone through the job searching hell you don’t have to go through the apartment searching hell. I’m also an east coast transplant to SF and I love it. I hope you do too and continue to write about your experience!

Also don’t forget to write off your moving expenses on your taxes next year :)

anne_bh (#1,778)

I think your new employer may be my current employer, but I work in one of the Arlington, VA offices in an area unrelated to design. Anyway, best of luck on the west coast and I’m sure DC will miss you!

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