Own, don't help. That's How You Get Ahead!


“The world is going to tell you there are opportunities you don’t deserve because you are Latino.” These words from my college scholarship program director functioned as a warning for me and the journey I would embark on. I grew up in Atlanta, a diverse city, graduated from Georgia State, a diverse university, and had earned a scholarship that was a pivotal step in preparing for a career in policy and advocacy as a Latino. It hadn’t truly occurred to me until then that my skills or intelligence might be questioned because of my ethnicity, or that I’d need to advocate for myself because I was Latino. My scholarship director was right--I’ve faced my share of unique challenges in just the three years since I graduated. However, I’ve succeeded despite them, serving as a Congressional Public Policy Fellow through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) and moving on to other Congressional roles where I could advocate for marginalized communities through national policy.


Now, as a Policy Analyst at Groundwork Collaborative, I work with economic policy wonks--particularly those of color--to tell the economic story of people everywhere, especially those in marginalized communities. After all, people are the economy, not ambiguous market numbers. I also mentor fellows at CHCI, which empowers Latinos to come to DC and find a place within policy and government that matches their goals. I’m a living example of that. I’m a queer, brown, progressive Georgian and I’ve been able to stay and thrive in DC through CHCI, so I believe in giving back. Here’s what I tell the Latinos I mentor about reaching their goals:


Make your resume tell your story--not your boss’s. The first time I had my resume reviewed, I learned I hadn’t given myself ownership of the projects I’d accomplished. We Latinos tend to think of ourselves as helpers, but the workplace values owners. Now, when I’m reviewing resumes of those I mentor, I’ll point out if they are using language that hands over ownership to someone else. The language you use to describe your accomplishments is vital.


Ask yourself these three questions to determine if it’s time to move on. I worked in Congress for nearly three years and sensed it was time for my next step, but I wasn’t sure. My dad, a wise confidante who works in media, encouraged me to ask myself these three questions to guide my decision-making:

  • Do I feel valued?

  • Am I being paid enough?

  • Is this institution and this role aligned to my goals?

If the answers to at least two of those three questions are no, assess whether you should stay in that role. While anyone could benefit from asking these questions, for minorities, the responses are a little heavier. Are you valued as much as your white colleagues, for instance? We also have to work twice or three times as hard as our white peers in both rigor and commitment. This may mean that you assess your timeline and whether or not your employer lengthens your timeline. The answers you find could be more difficult to face, but illuminating.


Find points of connection before the interview. As a gay male, I struggled with the typically masculine banter during interviews. I can’t relate to dominant male talking points, like sports. I’d study the LinkedIn profiles of those I was meeting with ahead of time, to find points we could connect on. If we both have a connection to the same LGBTQ organization, undergraduate connection, or civil rights organization, I’d direct the conversation to that. It’s more genuine than nodding along to small talk--people value your excitement and your passion!


Negotiate smartly with these strategies. In my first role on The Hill, I negotiated my offer up $5K. How? I take notes during interviews, and I’d remembered my hiring manager mentioned I was overqualified. When he gave me the offer, I reminded him that he’d said that and asked him for more. Using an interviewer’s own words to benefit you can be an effective negotiation tactic. Similarly, if I know I hit every point on a job description, I also point that out to the hiring manager when given an offer. Finally, if you know you’re killing it in your current role, and you have references who can attest to that, adopt the mindset that you deserve more. That’s a lot of power to go into a negotiation with.


Share your salary numbers to help others rise. Talking about salary should be normalized. Having conversations about salaries and benefits stimulate companies to invest better in their employees to remain competitive. Here, I’ll go first. As a Congressional Public Policy Fellow straight out of college, I made $21k. I was offered a job as a Staff Assistant for $32k and negotiated to $37k. For the role of Legislative Correspondent, I was offered $40k and negotiated to $45k. In my role now, I make $60k and feel fairly compensated--and not just because of the number on my paycheck. I can tell my firm values workers--in practice, not just as a mission statement. I get gym and travel benefits, a phone bill reimbursement--they even sent me a pandemic care packages during the quarantine. But more than that, my supervisor believes in progressive economics and has a labor background. If someone demonstrates the same values as me and similar experience to me, I’m going to believe what they have to say and their values in parity.


Use your experiences as your antidote to imposter syndrome. Everyone struggles with self-esteem issues, and for Latinos, who may have grown up with the notion that they had to be exceptional to succeed in the world, these feelings can be persistent. I remember listening to a Latinx White House Official under the Obama administration say that she herself felt the imposter syndrome and often questioned her intelligence. She earned a spot in the highest office in the land during Obama’s term, and still felt that way. It goes to show you how pervasive those faulty feelings can be. Own your experiences, use them to fight those confidence battles, and never let anyone take away your confidence nor your ownership. Call to mind all you’ve accomplished to remind you that you’re intelligent and strong enough to be exactly where you are.