In Washington, D.C., reputation can be everything. Whether students are looking to launch careers in government agencies, NGOs, or the private sector, building a strong reputation through experience and networking can be the key to opening doors.
Purnita Howlader has been a major resource to students in D.C., providing Badgers with advice, connections, and opportunities that they might not otherwise have.
Howlader, who is a senior advisor in the Office of the Chief Administrator at FEMA, launched her own career in D.C. after graduating from UW–Madison with her JD in 2011. While in Madison, she focused on labor and unemployment law, a subject that allowed her to build on her bachelor’s degree in human resources from the University of Minnesota and five years of work in the field.
Howlader began at FEMA as a Presidential Management Fellow and continued in various roles throughout the organization. Her current role has her reporting to top executives in the organization, managing policies, communications, and working across divisions. She also reviews external communications to make sure that the message and direction from her office is in line with the mission and goals of leadership.
Since moving from Wisconsin, Howlader has stayed connected with the university in a variety of ways, including facilitating internships for participants in the Wisconsin in Washington Program.
“I see it as a win-win,” Howlader said. “People provided opportunities for me when I was in school, and I think it is important for students to have those chances to get a sense of different industries and acquire experience.”
Badgers interning at FEMA have worked on a variety of projects, including development of an agency-wide wellness campaign, marketing and communications materials, intranet sites, and a property plan for the hundreds of facilities and properties managed by FEMA. Howlader noted that two interns for FEMA made such a strong impression that they were asked to continue work part-time remotely after finishing their internships and were even able to line up jobs with the agency following graduation.
“At FEMA, we are not looking for one particular candidate with a particular background. It comes down to experience, the ways candidates present themselves in the interview, and the quality of their resumes,” Howlader said. “This program gives these students a chance to do tangible work, which is good for us and also for them.”
Badgers looking to connect with people and professionals in D.C. have an advantage through engaged leaders like Howlader, who has served in various roles in the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association, including as president.
“A big reason I got involved with the Wisconsin Alumni Association was that it was such a welcoming group,” Howlader said. “We as a group have tried to make the organization a group that offers something for everyone.”
Through the chapter, participants can take part in volunteer events, sports leagues, and socials. They can also connect to a network of Badgers eager to help the next generation. Howlader advises students to take advantage of the alumni network, or their own personal and professional contacts, to provide advice, make introductions, and help them take the next steps in their own professional journeys.
“Anyone you are trying to connect with is probably busy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to help you,” Howlader said. “Be appropriately persistent. It is not easy to network and not easy to send those emails and make those phone calls, but it can really pay off if you’re willing to be uncomfortable for a little bit.”
At FEMA, we are not looking for one particular candidate with a particular background. It comes down to experience, the ways candidates present themselves in the interview, and the quality of their resume.
This program gives these students a chance to do tangible work, which is good for us and also for them.