After graduating from The College of William and Mary with a degree in Public Policy and International Relations, Virginia native Olympia Trumbower worked at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City before “picking an adventure” and leaving Manhattan for Seattle. Through networking with East Coast colleagues, Olympia made a connection at the foundation and started work as a program assistant. Trumbower talks candidly about the importance of supporting the mission, the type of person who succeeds here, and the simple pleasures of a lunch break.
As a program assistant, you support people who are doing huge things. You also engage with staff from other program areas in addition to grantees. It’s very fast paced and you have to take it seriously because your work and their work matters. Even the small tasks can make a difference. Leadership really values program assistants and the work we do.
Once you work at the Gates Foundation, you become a voice, an advocate, for some of the world’s most pressing problems. You find that more people want to talk to you.
You’re surrounded by extremely smart people here. People with diverse backgrounds from all over the world. Many are the cream of the crop and because of that, the foundation can be very choosy about who they hire.
The mission is what drew me in, not the position I applied for. That is something you need to seriously assess: how long do you want to stay in your role? This is not like many organizations, where positions can easily be upward moving. Some are, some are not.
You can actually take a lunch out here. The emphasis on work-life balance is really true. I make the time to catch up with colleagues and talk about things other than work. Happy Hours are a common occurrence as well as staff volunteer days.
About three months is the make-or-break time. That’s about when you understand the culture and if you will succeed.
To work here, you have to be good communicator, verbally and in print. You have to have a backbone. Use your time wisely and be quick on your feet. Optimism and rigor are highly valued. If you don’t like to collaborate, don’t work well under pressure or don’t ask for feedback, it will be hard to work here. Timidity doesn’t work. If you are unwilling or unable to understand more about the work we do, you will not do well here. You are always learning, you have to want to learn more, and you have to learn it fast.
If a friend asked me about preparing for their interview here, I’d tell them to really review the website. Read the Impatient Optimists blog. Read the Annual Letter and Report. And if you’re in Seattle, go to the Visitor Center. It’s full of information. And it’s information worth knowing.