Everyone’s job search story is different, but each individual story can inspire and empower others who are on their own unique path. We love to hear how our readers have found rewarding careers in Portland, and we want to share these stories with you to inspire you in your job search and to help us all better understand the local job market! In this job search success story, Jessica Ventura, Legislative Director for Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, shares how she has created a meaningful career path.
What do you do for a career? Who do you work for?
I am extremely fortunate to work for Secretary of State Shemia Fagan as her Legislative Director. I oversee the Secretary’s legislative agenda and represent the four Divisions she leads: Archives, Audits, Elections, and Corporation. My role is to advocate on behalf of our agency and execute the Secretary’s mission and vision for Oregon. As the Secretary’s lead lobbyist, I work closely with agency staff to analyze bills and provide non-partisan information on how proposed legislation impacts our agency.
One of my main roles is to present technical information in front of committee hearings and meet with legislative members. I have spent over a decade learning how to navigate the legislative process, spending seven years at the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) in a similar role. Prior to ODE, I worked in the legislature for Rep. Gallegos. My legislative career actually started when Senator Burdick offered me an internship in 2010.
How long did it take you to find this job?
I was not actively searching for a new role when this position opened. I loved working for the ODE but when the position was posted for SoS Fagan, my gut told me it was time to move on and grow. I was at a place in my career where I could take my time and be intentional about my next steps.
This allowed me to take a step back, look at my journey in the legislature, and figure out how I wanted to structure my family life and work. It took about three months to go through the hiring process—two interview panels with the Secretary and Chief of Staff having a final say. I was pretty shocked to receive the offer in late September.
How did you find your job? What resources did you use? What tool or tactic helped the most?
My current role was posted in several places. I saw it on the Oregon State Workday website and in closed private, professional groups on Facebook, such as Professionals of Color and Oregon Wonk and Hacks. It was helpful to see it posted in several places because it kept popping up on my various social media accounts.
But to get more information about this role and clarify what skills were essential to the Secretary and her team, I did it the old fashion way. I called trusted mentors I knew working in the Secretary of State’s office to determine if I was the right candidate.
What was the most difficult part of your job search? How did you overcome this challenge?
The most challenging part was deciding to apply. I was not looking for a new position but knew in my heart I was ready for a new challenge. It took me a while to make peace with the fact that after seven years of dedicating my life to education equity and policy, it was time to move on and apply what I had learned to a new policy area. It was difficult to envision working at another agency. I also struggled a bit with imposter syndrome and was unsure if I was the right candidate for the job.
As a queer Latinx woman, I also had to think about what sort of systemic biases or barriers I would face in making the transition. Systemic bias exists and the current infrastructure is not built to create equitable spaces for Latinas or other people of color. After speaking with many people who knew me personally and gave me the necessary encouragement to apply, I worked on my materials and submitted my application.
What is the single best piece of advice you would offer other job-seekers?
Remember that a job is not the only thing that gives life meaning. For a long time, I thought I needed to build my life around my career. Society drills into our brains that working hard and putting in the hours will bring us fulfillment. As the first to graduate in my family, I thought pulling myself by the “bootstraps” was the way to approach life.
But over time, I have learned that your career is not everything. You have to define what gives meaning to your life. For me, it has been our children. I have a lot of privilege now and know how extremely fortunate I am to work for a Secretary who encourages us to center our children and families and work around their needs. This allowed me to dedicate myself to my career in a way I had not done before.
Why do you love your job?
I learned early on that one of the ways I could create meaningful and positive change was to impact policies at the systems level. My job allows me to think creatively and strategically about passing legislation and allows me to collaborate with a diverse group of people. I work with legislative members, their staff, other lobbyists, partner organizations, and the Secretary herself!
As an undocumented student in Portland, I never thought I would get an opportunity to help pass legislation as a career. I feel respected, seen, and heard in my current job, which means a lot to me. I feel an immense privilege, responsibility, and honor to be able to do this work.