I didn’t want my debt to make career decisions for me. A lot of new law school graduates are contract attorneys . . . it ended up being wonderful for me.”
Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
Molly Mimier has traveled a long way to her position in Lima, Peru, as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Growing up in Seattle, she got homesick easily and had no interest in going abroad. She imagined a career as an artistic director of her own theater in her hometown. But then her older sister studied abroad for a semester and Mimier decided to do the same. She enrolled in Semester at Sea, a floating university that travels the world, and was deeply affected by what she saw in developing countries.
"It made a big impression on me," she said, "seeing the disconnect between wealth and happiness and how different cultures face similar challenges" in fighting poverty, injustice and pollution.
That experience led Mimier to Vermont Law School and an interest in working for a federal agency or nonprofit group and helping people and the environment in developing nations.
After graduating, though, she made it a top priority to pay down her $120,000 in student loans, especially her private loans, whose interest rates were far higher than her federal loans. "It was a telling moment when that first monthly loan payment was due," she said. "I realized that I couldn't work in a nonprofit or government agency right away. I needed better money to repay my loans."
To do that, she worked up to 80 hours a week as a temporary contract attorney for nearly three years in Washington, D.C., earning a base salary of $72,000 and racking up enough overtime to pay off most of her student loans and buy a condominium unit
"I had a laser focus on paying down my debt," she said. "I didn't want my debt to make career decisions for me. A lot of new law school graduates are contract attorneys, but people hide it from one another or downplay it on their resume. But it ended up being wonderful for me."
During those nearly three years as a contract attorney, Mimier sent out hundreds of resumes for permanent positions, including at USAID. It was a grueling process that tested her patience, but her persistence paid off in 2009 when she was hired as a Foreign Service Officer at USAID. After being hired, she worked at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., for a year and learned to speak Spanish before being posted to Peru. She handles contracts and grants for the NGO's that USAID hires to do its field work in Peru and four neighboring countries, including projects in public health, education, the environment and other issues.
Mimier, 31, said her experiences studying, working and traveling abroad put her in a good position to land her dream job. She's completed half of her two-year tour in Peru and would like to be posted next at USAID's headquarters in Washington, D.C. "I'm still committed to international development, but I can do that from Washington, D.C., too."
Mimier advises new and recent VLS graduates to be open-minded in their careers, including working as a contract attorney, paralegal or even a non-law job while they gain the experience and contacts needed for their dream job.
"A legal career these days isn't as linear as it used to be," she said. "You might have to take a few jobs that don't immediately make sense in an overall career trajectory, but as a whole will give you the skills necessary to land your dream job. I'd also say be patient. I used to worry that I'd never get an opportunity to work in international development. But I learned that if you focus on your dream and don't lose your passion for it, you'll get there. Even if you have to step off that typical career path for some time, focus on the positive parts of each job. That way, when you do finally have an interview for your dream job, you'll be ready and the interviewer will recognize the passion in your eyes."