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My Sister Went from College Grad to COVID Vaccine Worker: Here’s Her Career Advice

I have experienced the motherload of emotions with all three of my siblings. With Rylee, my sister closest in age, such emotions enhanced competition. 

Her A on a spelling test for knowing “thyme” the herb was not “time” on the clock resulted in my utmost contempt. Her mocking of my left-handedness, and therefore increased ability to die from knives designed for righties, resulted in a sharp bite mark on her stomach. As I grew older, my naivety (and associated violence) faded. I no longer looked to Rylee from opposite the boxing ring, but as my muse, my source of inspiration. 

Today, I am consumed by pride for my sister. Proud of her ability to style my untamed curly hair. Proud of her ability to navigate the post-college “adult life.” Most recently, proud of her part in fighting COVID-19 as part of the Center for Disease Control.

Whenever I brag of my sister’s profession, questions pour in. How did she get that job? Does she know Anthony Fauci? Does she think Dr. Fauci is hot? Is she, like, saving the world?

As a recent college graduate with no connection to Anthony Fauci, my sister received her job on her own merit. In a time of turbulence, I asked my sister for her own career advice for college students everywhere.

Before you doubt this advice, trust me, in my 20 years of life, my sister has never been wrong.

Networking, AKA talking to strangers at breakfast, is a must

Unfortunately, my family’s connections to the powerful of society fall short. So while some may believe Rylee’s impressive job stemmed from the Rockefellers or the Rothschilds, it instead resulted from a kindhearted 90-year-old woman named Nanette.

Rylee has enforced one concept into my brain since birth: talk, talk, talk. So one morning in New Orleans, eating her fried chicken at her favorite restaurant, she couldn’t help but ask a random woman, “How’s your morning going?” Rylee, of course, asked such a question not with self-serving motives, but rather heartfelt sincerity. After talking for hours, this woman — who Rylee now calls “grandma” — suggested she apply to the CDC due to her passion to fight public disease.

Don’t doubt yourself

When looking at the application to the  CDC as a public health associate, Rylee’s fears consumed her. This job, among the 50 others she applied to, sought a candidate with five years of work experience and an adult attitude. After days of debating whether she should apply and if the hiring manager would simply laugh at her application, she pressed submit.

Today, Rylee reassures me that if you are not qualified for a job, they simply won’t hire you. You might as well give it your best shot. As a self-proclaimed feminist, Rylee adds that women often lack confidence in themselves while applying for jobs. According to Forbes, “Women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.”

My sister reminded me that women often strive for perfection, doubting their abilities even when they are “perfect applicants.” She constantly tells me,  “You just need more confidence, Aliya. Their loss if they turn you down.” With my sister’s advice in mind, apply for everything — even if you believe you are underqualified.

At the end of the day, though we relay my sister’s acceptance to the CDC as a success story, in reality, it was the only job application she heard from out of 50. (We just don’t tell the story that way.)

Fight imposter syndrome

Rylee works on combatting the pandemic at the federal level, an impressive feat for a college graduate with only a year’s experience in the field. On her first day, Rylee called with a stutter in her voice, “Everyone that works here was, uh, in the Peace Corps. Last year, I was partying at Mardi Gras and eating beignets. I am in trouble.” Since the age of five, my mother has told me and my three siblings to fake it till you make it. Rylee did just that. 

Faking it is simple. It involves confidence, and confidence only. Afraid of your new position due to minimal experience? Don’t stutter. Approach each task with the mentality of an executive. Can’t find the bathroom on your first day? Strut throughout the hallway until you find it, and swing open that door like it's Studio 54. Soon enough, your brain adapts to this mentality and consumes it. Lastly, Rylee relies on inspirational memes and Leslie Knope's Twitter.

Community work is essential

As recommended, Rylee got internship after internship in college. Advisors and professors alike told Rylee research and research only would provide her with the most experience and brainpower. Yet, after four years, Rylee discovered that her greatest experience was far from the computer and the back pain associated with it. 

"Working with people is more important than plain, old working," she claims. You can learn how to perform a specific task pretty easily, but learning how to interact with people is the most desirable and most difficult skill to obtain. Additionally, working on a microscopic level aids in working on the macroscopic, higher-level scale later in life. Rylee, now working at the federal level, declares that understanding the general public on a personal level is invaluable. This advice stands true, even in a virtual setting.

It doesn’t always go as planned

Upon receiving her dream job, Rylee’s plans were soon stymied. The CDC needed Rylee in New Hampshire. A Miami girl with immense spunk and bold fashion didn’t quite match up with “The Granite State.” Yet Rylee headed to New Hampshire despite never having seen, let alone dealt with, snow. Six months later, Rylee drives in snow, walks in snow, and kicks ass in snow. When she first arrived, she knew not one soul in the state, and she is candid about her initial culture shock with New Hampshirites. Today, she is what my family refers to as the Carrie Bradshaw of the Granite State. 

Phone call after phone call, Rylee’s confidence and comfort grew. My worry as her self-proclaimed best friend morphed into fewer phone calls and utmost pride. My sister now stands securely on her own two feet.

Currently, Rylee works for the COVID-19 vaccine communication branch. Day after day, she claims her impact is minimal. Yet, in my eyes, she has the most essential job as she delivers information to the general public. Rylee contends that luck is the reason for her job. Yet, as the person to whom she is closest, I know there is no one more deserving. She has put the entirety of her being into this job. “I don’t think I’m paid enough to worry about all 331 million Americans every single day,” she says. 

To which I respond, “Most people who have your job don’t care the same way you do, Ry.” She rolls her eyes and smiles.

This is not only my sister’s advice for success but my ode to her and all health care workers fighting COVID-19. I am proud of you, and I love you.

For more information on COVID-19, click here.

Aliya is an Editorial Intern for Her Campus Media, as well as a member of the Her Campus and Spoon University community at her college. She is a student at Washington University in St. Louis, with a major in American Culture Studies and a minor in Design. When she’s not aggressively snapping ~artsy~ photos or binge-watching films, Aliya is most likely obsessing over absurd fashion trends or perhaps trying them herself.
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