Name: Pamela O’Leary
Job Title and Description:
As the Executive Director of the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN), I lead the nonprofit through its next phase of organizational development by further building its membership, resources and national profile.
The Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) is the only national organization whose sole focus is preparing college women for leadership in the public policy arena. Each year, PLEN brings women students from colleges and universities across the country to Washington, D.C. for a weekend, week, or an entire summer to experience first-hand how public policy is shaped and implemented at the national level. Students meet with and learn from women leaders making and influencing public policy at the highest levels in the Congress, courts, federal agencies, corporate sector, policy research, advocacy organizations, and the news media.
College/Major: University of California, Berkeley; Environmental Science
Twitter Handle: olearypd
HC: What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Pamela O’Leary: There is not a typical day, which constantly makes my job exciting. The main aspects of my job involve fundraising and managing. I am constantly networking and meeting with people, which is a lot of fun. I manage two full time staffs as well as our organization’s budget. I help evaluate our programs and think of new ways we can improve them. As Executive Director, I have the incredible opportunity to work with others to create and implement a new vision for the organization.
HC: What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?
PO: My first job right out of college was working as a Resident Consultant for my sorority Alpha Omicron Pi. I worked full time while attending graduate school full time. As a Resident Consultant, I managed a team of multiple stakeholders such as from campus administration, international headquarters staff, local alumnae, and university students to establish a new chapter of an international sorority. I found out about this job from a sorority sister who graduated the year before me, and was currently involved in starting the new chapter. My background as a Resident Assistant while in college was helpful in me getting hired.
HC: What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?
PO: Having a strong background in fundraising is invaluable to a career in the nonprofit sector, as well as for a political career. I’m glad I was able to first acquire these skills by selling Girl Scout cookies when I was younger! While I originally hated fundraising, it’s all about building relationships with people to support causes you believe in, so I actually now really enjoy it.
HC: Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?
PO: I am incredibly grateful to have had many strong female role models and mentors, so I cannot pick just one. I have found that established career women are more than willing to share advice with you; you just have to proactively seek it and be open to it.
HC: What words of wisdom (well-known quotes, an anecdote from your boss) do you find most valuable?
PO: I strongly believe in the power of positive thinking and gratitude. At all times, be grateful for everything you have. Do not allow negativity or doubt to pervade your thoughts. It’s really hard, but even as you’re commuting to work in the morning, try to be grateful for the small things in your life. Practicing yoga on a regular basis has also helped me cultivate this life attitude.
HC: What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
PO: At the end of college, I started an online company selling feminist t-shirts. I jumped in too fast before I had really thought out a long term business plan. Sometimes it’s important to restrain passion and fully plan before you begin a large endeavor.
HC: What is the best part of your job?
PO: I do mock informational interviews with the college women who come to PLEN seminars. I truly enjoy getting to spend some time with the students one on one and develop a relationship with them. When my job gets tough, I remember that everything we do is to help inspire and prepare them to get their dream job. This keeps me going.
HC: What do you look for when considering hiring someone?
PO: The most important quality in someone I hire is a positive attitude. I want someone who is willing to help out with anything, and won’t complain. Always be that person who is willing to learn new things.
HC: What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
PO: Don’t just go home after work and watch TV! Get out there and network- join young professional groups; meet new people at receptions and happy hours; and attend professional development trainings. Also, for the nonprofit sector, I recommend volunteering with different organizations to gain new skills. I first got experience in the area of grant writing by volunteering with my local United Nations Association. Be proactive about advancing your career: Network, network, network!