U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration Director Office of External Affairs and Communications
Duquesne University Bachelor, Political Science
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How did you get to where you are today? What is your story? What incidents and experiences shaped your career path?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Apr 15 2020
How I got where I am today, I mean, that's a hard question because that's 25 plus years of education and experience. I am sitting actually in Washington, D. C. where I had my first job just up the street at Capitol Hill. I worked for a congressman, and I started by answering the phone and that was back in 1990 so if you fast forward to 2020 I am now a presidential appointee working at the Department of Commerce, and I lead the Office of External Affairs and Communications at the Economic Development Administration. So packed in those almost 30 years, I guess is a lot of work doing different things but it's always been media communications and external affairs work. So right out of college, I had my first job working on Capitol Hill and that job I had for four years, and it was truly further education because working on Capitol Hill, it's an amazing place in the United States Congress. So learning how you know that legislative body function was I considered it like graduate school so I took all that and went into media communications that I've been doing that since then so there's a lot in between there but the real way I got there I think is just hard work and being curious about what's out there.

What are the responsibilities and decisions that you handle at work? Discuss weekly hours you spend in the office, for work travel, and working from home.

Based on experience at: Director Office of External Affairs and Communications, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Wed Apr 15 2020
So, as the director of external affairs and communications at the Economic Development Administration, I am in charge of all the external activities that the department has. We are one-of-a dozen bureaus in the Department of Commerce, which has 47,000 employees almost, EDA which is Economic Development Administration, we have about 300 employees scattered all across the United States. I managed two offices, I manage the Office of Public Affairs, and I manage the Office of Legislative Intergovernmental Affairs so that public affairs speak peace is when the assistant secretary is out in public, making a grand announcement, visiting an opportunity zone, meetings at the White House, any external activities he has I'm responsible for coordinating that inside and outside of our office. Regarding the side of the legislative affair of the building and the Intergovernmental Affairs that team works with the United States Congress, both the House and Senate every day, and we have intergovernmental affairs for us means any of our government partners could be Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Housing and Urban Development could be the White House could be even within the Department of Commerce so it's all of those activities and interactions that we have with each of those entities and that ranges from having a meeting on the Hill with Senator to speaking with a member of Congress in the congressional district, anywhere in the country. So I manage that staff there about 20 people, about 10 in each office, and it's their daily activities, I'm not a micro-manager those offices are run by professionals. But the work that we do and the fact that we do that all over the country, it's kind of a 24-hour operation so my work hours are long but with phones, you can do it from just about anywhere, I mean, I'm in the office every day about 8:30 leave around 5:30 but I'm on my phone at 5 a.m. and I probably get off it at 10 p.m. It's just managing all of those steps. As far as travel, I speak for the department of EDA as well in my role. Just last week, for example, on Wednesday and Thursday, we were in Long Beach, California, San Bernardino, California with assistant Secretary Fleming, our special assistant for E. D. A. and our head of Public Affairs traveled all the way to California for two or three meetings, a grand announcement and come all the way back. So there's a lot of travel and we're on the road a couple of times a week, it's rigorous, but I do.

What tools (software programs, frameworks, models, algorithms, languages) do you use at work? Do you prefer certain tools more than the others? Why?

Based on experience at: Director Office of External Affairs and Communications, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Apr 15 2020
When I say tools, when you say tools, they're different, any of Microsoft office suite. But I am on my iPad, I'm on my iPhone, I'm on my desktop there are so many different tools in each of those, pieces of electronics it's really focused on that. I mean, I don't have like I can write on Word, I could do anything on excel, but it's just that suite of Microsoft tools that everyone else has as well.

What things do you like about your job? Were there any pleasant surprises?

Based on experience at: Director Office of External Affairs and Communications, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Apr 15 2020
The things that I like about my job are so first a bit about What the Economic Development Administration does? We are the sole federal agency in charge of economic development in the United States and we do that primarily through giving grants to distress communities and communities recovering from natural disasters and Congress gives us about $320 million annually to do our core work in about a $1.2 billion dollars during the last two fiscal years to focus on natural disasters. So being able to have an impact, be it small, be it large and communities across the United States that are struggling for whatever reason they have been for a while is really fulfilling that said, you do this work and 99.7% of the people that you do it for you'll never meet, and I'm okay with that. They don't know who I am that's not part of my job but it's making sure that those distressed communities and communities recovering from natural disasters have a little bit of assistance from the federal government to move on. So I've been a political appointee appointed by the president for this position. Before I did this when I was at the United States Peace Corps and that was external affairs work as well. I didn't realize that those works, it's kind of similar. I mean, we're working in distressed communities here at the Department of Commerce and my role in the Peace Corps, we did that in distressed communities, developing countries across the world so I really didn't think that it was going to be those similarities, so that was a surprise, for sure.

What are the job titles of people you routinely work with inside and outside of your organization? What approaches do you find to be effective in working with them?

Based on experience at: Director Office of External Affairs and Communications, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Wed Apr 15 2020
The folks I interact with, a few weeks ago was in a meeting with the Secretary of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and weekly we have meetings with chiefs of staff, sometimes I attend those. We have an assistant secretary for the Department of Commerce so we interact with her. I interact almost on a weekly basis with folks from the White House, they could be deputy assistant to the president. I was at an event a few weeks ago with the president and I work daily with mayors with county commissioners, with senators, state senators, federally elected officials. So it's really if you could think of any federal government title, I've probably worked with them in one way or the other. And in my previous work, too, I worked with presidents of developing countries, I've worked with members of the Senate, I've worked with governors and one thing about each of them and I think a really effective approach is absolutely having to understand the respect of each of those offices and positions, but still working equally and treating all of them with respect as you would someone that might collect the garbage at your house or run multi $1,000,000 corporations just respect across the board each of those human beings.

What major challenges do you face in your job and how do you handle them? Can you discuss a few accomplishments?

Based on experience at: Director Office of External Affairs and Communications, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Wed Apr 15 2020
Sure there are challenges every day when you work in the federal government, it's a big, big bureaucracy and people joke, it's hard to get a pencil, it's hard to get on WiFi, it's hard to get travel vouchers approved. It's all of those things on. Sometimes they're very frustrating you just had your WiFi issues. Sometimes you do, and sometimes that could be more frustrating than with not getting a memo to someone on time that's easy for me, meeting those deadlines in the middle of the night or early in the morning. I mean those are the challenges that I have done this so long that I never miss a deadline, I never want to sometimes I do but it's usually technical challenges that get in the way of some of that. Sometimes I handle them like everyone else. They get super frustrated, sometimes I'm really zen and calm about it, so it depends on the day. But I mean in my position, it's pretty high profile the work we do because we work with the highest office in the land in Washington, country meeting at the White House is one thing. But at the same time you know, you have to again try to remain calm at all times and just move past those. I can't tell you what I had for lunch on Friday. I can't tell you what I did over the weekend, even though it's Monday. But I can tell you that I got this memo out on time and I got this done. Whatever those challenges ran in, I ran into along the way they didn't bother me and we're still working. Moving on soo few accomplishments, I guess the professional accomplishment I've been in this position for almost a year would be a year next month. And when I first sat down with assistant Secretary Fleming when he first started as well, he started a year ago this month. We were talking about his goals and objectives for the department, his goals, and objective in his job and some of the things that the Department of Commerce would like him to achieve. and some of the things that the White House would like to achieve as well, he said it confirmed political appointee. But kind of leave all of that at the door, we have goals to meet. So we're working now with opportunity zones. It's an initiative of the president. It was part of the tax Cut Jobs Act 2017 and basically gave a tax credit for people that wanted to invest in the capital gains investments so they could use that create qualified opportunity funds in distress communities and so back in April, we set out to figure out what that was and what that role of the Economic Development Administration was and so along goes during that year, we got ourselves plugged into the White House. Opportunity vitalization counsel. We started working really closely with other members of the Council of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Labor, SPI a Small Business Administration we started making policy changes here at EDA to help to be more focused on opportunity zones on. We started putting more and more financial resources making grants and opportunities. So as far as my biggest achievement accomplishment, I think it's getting EDA lined up so we could be more effective in opportunity zones and also promoting that in the national local media across the country.

What qualities does your team look for while hiring? What kind of questions does your team typically ask from candidates?

Based on experience at: Director Office of External Affairs and Communications, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Apr 15 2020
I think it is very important and it's hard because it's experience and even if you want to work in communications or media if you're hiring someone to be your electrical engineer, they have to know about electrical engineering without a doubt, If you're hiring someone to work in media communications, they need to have a host of other experiences and so it's taking a look at those experiences, unique experiences so it all depends on a lot of folks to have the congressional experience that always helps, regardless of Woodside of the office you worked in. But it's really having in-depth experience. I also like to see folks that have traveled internationally and I'd like to say that a lot of Americans haven't traveled far from their home. In America, I think being open and seeing and understanding other cultures are really important and I've always looked for that while hiring folks. The number one question I ask people out of all those questions not to name your top achievement, your weakness or strength but I want to know how people work under stress. Some people manifest that in different ways, and we all go through it but in this line of work that's often my number one question. I also like to know what people do to blow off steam like Do you go to the gym? Do you like to ride your bike? You like to read books because I think it's important to have that work-life balance. I really look again for people that are balanced in a way that international experience, some media communications experience but the kind of questions I ask folks are more about life and their life experiences than they are technically for the job because you could see that.

What was the hiring process like for your job? What were the roles of people who interviewed you? What kind of questions were asked?

Based on experience at: Director Office of External Affairs and Communications, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Apr 15 2020
The hiring process for my job is a little unique. There are 3000 or so political appointees that each president gets to appoint through the government. So you may or may not know this, but there are only that amounts in the federal government to about 0.1%. and that's the leadership of the U. S. Government. So that the Department of Commerce, for example, there about 47,000 employees but there are 120 political appointees, and those appointees work with the civil servants to run the department. So the hiring process for a political appointee, it varies, either you're appointed to be Senate which I wasn't or you're appointed to just have the job. I have to go through a background check and be qualified for the job for starters and then go through a background check. I'm something called Senior Executive Service and I received that title about two years ago, and that was because all the experience I've had working and the work I did at peace corps so the hiring process really is it's a bit of my CV to White House presidential personnel they go through it to see where I might fit good in the government and then you go over to that department, interview with that White House liaison and then that White House liaison reports back to the White House and says this person would be a good fit or not and then if that's okay and the political leaders think should be a great hire then you have to go through a background check on and once that happens, you start your job.

What are some future career path(s) for you? What skills, certificates, or experiences do you plan on acquiring?

Based on experience at: Director Office of External Affairs and Communications, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Apr 15 2020
I have been doing media communications work, external affairs for about 20 of my 30 years of working now, so I'm pretty set on that path. I really like working in this job like serving the presidents and I would like to continue to do that for how long, who knows? But after that, I would like to continue my work in media communications and probably do that for a corporation or multinational company to continue to do that work because I'm passionate about it, and I really like it, it's not messaging but just talking about the work that organization's doing, trying to spread that and amplified that across all kinds of social, traditional media platforms. As far as skills and certificates I mean every day on the job training here so I did take an adobe class a couple of months ago because I need to sharpen those skills. Often I take speaking classes, leadership classes, mentoring classes, just to be able to be a stronger, better, more compassionate leader in the roles I have. So it's seeking those experiences and learning from others that both worked for me and that I work for every day.

What are different entry-level jobs and subsequent job pathways that can lead students to a position such as yours?

Based on experience at: Director Office of External Affairs and Communications, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Apr 15 2020
I went to school for political science, moved to Washington, D. C. My first job was working for Congressman, so that kind of fit. My first job was answering the phone for a member of Congress and now I am a political appointee and I lead a pretty important bureau in the Department of Commerce. So I don't care where what your first job is. I think there's dignity in all work, and as long as you had a job and you been responsible for those jobs and you moved up the ladder, great, I mean in this type of work, however, there has to be a media communications element to that as well, for sure, but people often ask me to Well, should I go and take this job right out of college? I'm a big proponent of gap years and going and doing that studying first, taking a break from studying and traveling abroad and if you do do that and have to mow lawns if you have to deliver the paper if you have to work at a hardware store to do that or work at a grocery store or at a restaurant to pay for that, that's good work. But a lot of folks now get these jobs, that media communication jobs get some of that experience and some have real-world experiences as well, so I mean, that path can vary for sure. But for me, I really think if I were me 30 years ago, I would stay on the same path. I probably learn about the world a little more, even though you can do that from your phone, you can learn about politics in Bangladesh by following someone on Twitter. I would really be a proponent of going there, traveling there, seeing how it works. Also being an intern, I really think that's valuable to go and basically volunteer your time to do work that your colleagues do, I think that's super beneficial to have an internship somewhere in your path, anywhere you could go to school for 10 years, you could get it advanced degree and then intern be a fellow somewhere it doesn't matter. I just think that experience is invaluable.

What were the responsibilities and decisions that you handled at work? What major challenges did you face in your job?

Based on experience at: Associate Director External Affairs, Peace Corps
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Apr 15 2020
So in that position, I had a larger staff, I think there were 35 to 40 folks that I managed and we had five different departments under me. It was the press office, legislative affairs, external affairs, It was there was a special grants program and then there was I can't remember it now, even though it's just a year ago, but it's five different departments and there were similar responsibilities. I had five direct reports and it varied across the board of work that we were doing at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. and I think the Peace Corps at the time probably still is in 60 or so countries. So you can imagine, I think the Peace Corps manages 10 or 12 media social media platforms from Instagram, Twitter to Facebook but in those 60 programs in those countries, there were 120 social media platforms that they were managing. I had to oversee people that oversaw those. So it was a challenge making sure that all of those were in sync on message and working in a really well-oiled manner when they're doing it in 60 different languages or more, different time zones. There are 60 plus different countries, there are different issues, it was a 24 hour a day operation where we dealt with everything from moving a Peace Corps group out of the country because of violence that that happened it ranged from working on Capitol Hill to explain why we would like to enter into a new country.

How did the school prepare you for your career? Think about faculty, resources, alumni, exposure & networking. What were the best parts?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Apr 15 2020
I think it's with most students, it's connecting with professors, studying and really learning the subject matter and being part of that. I like to read now, I can't say that I loved to read when I was in college because there's so much to read. But the faculties at Duquesne University were really good. It's a really good Jesuit school and that type of learning I really benefited from and it was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania still is, it's not just part of being at school in the classroom, but being in that city as well and finding that school-life balance. But I think it was really learning about political science and learning of how the United States our democracy is 200 plus years old, and we're still trying to get it right, and others are as well but just understanding that the course of how that worked and understanding that foundations of how the U. S. Political system and the foundation of our country came about and comparing that to others as well. I think that really prepared me for my first job in Washington but again, it was being a really good writer that was super important, networking as well. I work for the congressman from the districts. He represented where I was from, so I had to know a few people that worked in his office is as well as folks that were from my hometown. So it's networking with those people as well so Pittsburgh was a great city to go to school and do come as a really, really good school. I got so much out of my education.

Would you like to share something that is not on your resume? This may include your passions, facing setbacks or adversities, a unique experience, or an unexpected help.

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Apr 15 2020
I think part of this is that you'll never see on anybody's CV is rejection letters. I apply for many jobs that I never got, but it never ever deterred me from stopping to try and when you get those rejection letters sometimes they are formal letters which hurt even more, sometimes you get to the second or third round of interviews and you don't get it. There are also times when I had my own business and we were trying to secure client for whatever reason, we got almost to the finish line and didn't get that. I think what served me well is going back to those folks and saying, Listen, I know you didn't hire my firm to do this. Why? What did I lack? Even in jobs if you rejected What didn't I have that you think I needed to be an employee to hire me to represent you, what was missing? When I applied for the Peace Corps the first time, I was a volunteer in the suit too from 95 to 97. They told me, Listen, this you have this on your CV, but you need to have these things too. So some people would say, You know what I don't want to get those it would be too hard to do that. If someone tells you that you didn't get this job because of this or you weren't hired because of that, listen to them and take that advice and go out and work hard not to become what they want you to be, but to have those skills so you can sit down with the next employer and say, Hey, I'm ready for this job because I have these skills. So I think it's those rejection letters and learning that I'm not the best man for every job but those that I applied for and if I didn't get those that made me stronger than before.

Do you have any parting advice for students and professionals hoping to get to a position such as yours? What 3 dos and 3 don'ts would you suggest?

Based on experience at: Director Office of External Affairs and Communications, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Apr 15 2020
I'll start with the do's, keep trying, you're not going to get the first job that you want, you're not going to get the first salary that you want but don't let that deter you. Stay focused on that career path that rooted in and why you want to do it. Also, people say this all the time it may seem like a cliche if you're passionate about what you do it's going to make your work life it won't make it easier there's no doubt about that, but it will make it more fulfilling. My job is really hard, do I like it 99% of the time that 1% when I don't do I want to give up, not at all, never give up no matter how bad it gets. Some don'ts, I think I would like to phrase it as do I mean respect everybody that we work with. It doesn't matter who they are, what they do in your organization. I think it's really important if you're a leader or not to respect everyone in your operation for sure. Don't sit on an email for more than 24 hours, don't say that I never got that. You got that email, I know you got that email you got that text, you can't hide from those things anymore. So I guess, to be honest, you didn't get that email or you missed it to say that and own it. Another do I think is trying to find something that you like to do in life that you think will not just be fulfilling but is making a difference and I always tell folks I was the Africa policy analyst for US Committee for Refugees for four years, and I worked on policy changes in Geneva, I worked on policy changes in New York at the U. N, policy changes in Washington, D. C. and none of those refugees maybe a handful knew who I was or what I was doing. This isn't about you really, work that I do now isn't about me and be okay with that. If you want to be on the headline to be that person that is out and leading an agency in public, do that work hard toward that, If you're not that person, be okay with that really work hard because you are making a difference, even though you might think it's only this much that still, it can change lives.