How Selling Window Blinds Will Help Get You That International Affairs Career

posted on September 4, 2012 in Professional/Career Development


By: Benjamin Bodnar, YPFP, Job Link Staff

Note: The entry below is based off of a conversation.  Names, places, and locations have been changed to maintain that person’s confidentiality.


After getting out of the office on a Friday evening, I went to go visit my friend Lou at a store he had been working at for the past six months.  We went to college together and then got Masters degrees at different schools.  When I walked into the store, it was empty until I saw Lou poke his head up from his desk to see who had come in.  I sat across from him and saw several semi-circles with lines through them.

“What are you drawing?”

"Using the protractor, I’m visualizing the highest point on the earth’s surface you would have to be in order to see the greatest distance.”

“Oh.”  Like most of my conversations with Lou since his Masters degree, I nodded with genuine interest but I could not understand all of the terms he was using and studies he was citing. 


What was more interesting was we were sitting in a chain store on a Friday evening during a slow business hour while he was explaining this to me.  Lou sells window blinds in a nice neighborhood in Washington, DC. 

While some of our mutual friends have gotten jobs at big defense firms or government agencies, Lou was waiting for his security clearance to clear for over a year and was working at this chain so he could make ends meet.

“I’ve written about 25 pages on this topic, it’s really coming along,” Lou said. 

“Wow!  You must have quite a bit of time on your hands.  I’m glad to hear you are able to work on topics that you are passionate about while you are here at this job.”

“Actually, this job is refreshing because you work with the public and learn to understand what people want.”


Lou was taking full advantage to build another skill set while refreshing his education. 

“This one guy, Sami, he’s from Sudan, he’s the best at sales.  He’ll go to competitors’ stores and feign interest as a customer to gauge the prices and then mark down our store’s prices to secure the sale.  There are some things they just don’t teach you at grad school!”

“Haha, that’s pretty ruthless.  So how’s your clearance coming along?”

“Oh, I just got it the other day, but now I have to wait for our contract to go through.”

“When will that be?”

“Who knows, but I’m doing well here and I’m learning a lot.” 


It was surprising that Lou was as nonchalant as he was about when this job in his field was going to come through. 

Today’s job market in the international affairs field is filled with talented, smart individuals from good schools.  Lou, myself and everyone else who studied or are studying in this field all saw themselves entering college so they could build the expertise needed to not only earn a career in international affairs, but also thrive in it.  There is a disconnect, however, in getting there. 

Getting into that career takes persistence, networking with the people already in the career you want, and continuously developing and honing skills like Lou has been doing at this window blinds store.  Whether Lou eventually gets that job in his field or it falls through is beside the point.  Being proactive to develop your skills is necessary to keep yourself relevant in these challenging times.


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