Interview with Jane – Educational Background and Career History, Success and Ambition

posted October 23rd, 2014 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

Today’s post is the first of five excerpts from my interview with “Jane” a successful women with a very unique position in the US government.  I was happy she agreed to be interviewed and granted me permission to “tell her story!!” I hope you enjoy reading it and as usual your comments are most welcome!!

I asked Jane to tell me about her educational background and career history.


Jane says: “Okay, I’m going to go with full disclosure of my background because it might be helpful to younger girls.  I’ll go a little deeper than I usually would.  Normally, I start with college but I think it’s important to let younger ladies know that regardless of your background, if you work really hard you can do all sorts of amazing things.  I come from a family where nobody graduated high school.  All of the adults in my life were very hard-working, my grandparents and my mother, but none of them graduated high school.  They all wanted me to work hard and they all wanted me to go to college but I really didn’t have any type of role model to look to.  I had to forge my own path and figure out what going to college meant.  I wasn’t even sure what kind of tests you were supposed to take in order to get into college and I was embarrassed to tell the teachers that because I was always in the gifted or advanced classes in school.  I always tested very well and so they just naturally assumed that I knew what the process was for getting into college. You had to take SATs in the US and I didn’t know that.  A lot of it was me faking it as a 15, 16, 17 year-old.


“I found a teacher who figured me out and he started giving me tips: you need to take your SAT now and that sort of thing.  I ended up going to a university on an academic scholarship as well as a financial aid scholarship because I was coming from a poor background, real poverty.  I started off as a biology major because I was always a math and science geek. In freshman year, they brought in the fun stuff – frozen cats – and told us now you get to do a dissection. Up to this point, in all my advanced sciences classes, I had been able to find the most aggressive lab partner and assign the gory details to them and I would write the reports.  I would assure them that we would both get an A as long as they hacked up the animal but when you get into college you can’t do that. When they brought in a frozen cat, which I called Fluffy, I thought maybe this isn’t going to be my thing.


“It was horrible.  I switched majors and ended up in accounting.  I graduated with my Bachelor of Science Accounting and entered the work force.


I asked Jane to talk about what she does for a living and how she ended up in her current role. She says: “When I was in a college I was interviewing with all the traditional CPA consulting firms but there was a man who had come from a particular government office and he was very interesting to me because he wasn’t from a traditional CPA consulting firm.  From my perspective, there was a rather cutthroat aspect to working for a CPA firm and a position with the government seemed different to me and that really appealed to me. This particular government department was basically an audit function, an oversight and governance function of the main government departments across the US.


“It was right at the tail-end of Desert Storm and I had read a bunch of reports in the newspapers about how different pieces of military equipment had been abandoned in the deserts of Kuwait and how this money was being misspent and I thought, wow, I could go and take the classic CPA route or I can go and make difference here and honestly it appealed to me as sort of…I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna…but it appealed to me at a very patriotic level as a way to fix things.  I’m entirely wired as a person who never looks at something as, this will never change or we can never fix it.  I’m definitely a let’s get this fixed personality.  It really appealed to me with this issue.


“I started with the government and I was working in a very male-dominated environment, in fact, I was the only female they had ever hired who wasn’t a secretary in a field office.  It was an interesting little culture shock for everyone.  I was there for a number of years and lo and behold a position opened up.  I saw a position, like a job announcement on the internet for an entry-level auditor in a very high profile government department.  I thought, wow, wouldn’t that be neat to work there. I could go there and maybe…it would be behind the scenes…but I could go there and make a difference.


“I started there sixteen years ago as a mid-level auditor when  I was about 26 or 27 and I’ve worked there ever since. I’ve worked my way up.  It was probably in the 2006 time-frame that my boss selected me to be his deputy because I’d worked my way up and proved myself. When he left in December 2009, they did a full search to fill his position which is one of the only positions of its kind in the entire federal government. They interviewed a number of people and the interviewing process is quite gruelling in that all sorts of departments are involved and it is a very political process. In the end, the hiring decision requires universal, unanimous approval by a variety of departments and interest groups. It’s something else to get that sort of unanimity in this type of political environment but they ultimately selected me.”


I asked Jane whether she aspired to be successful in her career and whether she sees herself as someone she would describe as ambitious.


Jane says: “Yes I am.  As a child, even playing a Monopoly game I wanted to win. I was always sort of ambitious, but not cutthroat where I would do anything negative or evil to somebody else to make my way.  I would always set goals and use my own achievements as my yardstick in the sense that I would literally sit down and map out what I thought it would take to get to the next level. Once I would get to the next level, I would literally sit down and look at job vacancy announcements to see what the people out there were looking for, the next job title up, and I would immediately start thinking, okay, if everybody else who’s above me needs to be a certified public accountant, or they need to be a certified information systems auditor, or whatever the certification was or whatever the degree was, I would sit down and come up with a game plan as to how I was going to get to that next level.  It wasn’t so much about dragging anybody else down to make myself look better, it was about looking at what my peers were doing who were the notch above me and trying to emulate that.”


What Strikes Me?

Regardless of your background, if you work really hard you can do all sorts of amazing things


Your background doesn’t determine whether you will be successful in life


It is not a sin to be ambitious and want to win


Being successful requires a strategy for getting to where you want to go


Obtain whatever qualifications it takes to get wherever you want to go


Do what you have to do to achieve the goals you set for yourself


What Strikes You?

Please comment.



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