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Fulfillment in unexpected places
A love of biology and a desire to help others pushed Clinton Canady IV toward pre-med during his freshman year at UM. But one internship experience opened up a whole new word of possibilities—and shifted his direction irrevocably.
Clinton’s interest in politics was piqued in an unlikely place: an internship he completed in Ottawa, Canada. While at the nation’s capital, Clinton split his time between the Canadian Parliament and the Assembly of First Nations, an interest group dedicated to advocating for the welfare of the indigenous peoples of Canada.
He spent his time learning about the First Nations’ history and culture, building relationships with their communities, and campaigning for them within Parliament. But during his time in Ottawa, political winds shifted and Clinton witnessed as Parliament slashed the Assembly of First Nations’ budget, forcing them to cut half of their staff.
“It was really devastating for them,” Clinton recalls. “And it gave me a close-up look at how money and power and politics go together—and sometimes in a really negative way. That ignited me into wanting to do more in politics and I went back campus to immediately declare for political science, which is what ultimately led me to my next internship.”
Clinton still carried a torch for medicine and the study of natural sciences, but it was political science where he wanted to—and felt he could—make an impact. As he cemented this shift, he made new plans, opting to pursue internships at the State Department in D.C. and the Michigan Legislature in Lansing instead of shadowing at a hospital, and later finding fulfillment as a Foreign Service Officer rather than in a healthcare or medical career.
For students like Clinton, in-the-field experiences in the form of internships, whether in-person or virtual, are learning moments that can transform a student’s vision of their life and offer enduring insights and learnings that can make career decisions that much clearer.
Clinton now works his “dream job” as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department but the destination isn’t really the story here—it’s the journey that was chartered.
Hurdles, not roadblocks
On paper, Clinton was the ideal candidate: passionate, eager, growing fluency in other languages, educated at multiple prestigious institutions, and experienced in government and politics. He recalls a defining moment of personal revelation.
“I was 23 and I was on top of the world,” Clinton says, remembering his first interview, an oral assessment for the Foreign Service position. “I thought I knew everything, I hadn’t yet been knocked down that much.”
His interviewer hit Clinton with the interview question: Why this job? Why foreign service? Clinton gave his answer—international travel, unique opportunities and people, and serving the government—touting many of the “perks” of being in the service but not the overarching purpose.
“My focus was on me, not on service,” Clinton impresses. “In the back of my mind I knew I wanted to join the foreign service because I wanted to give back, but I hadn't really thought through that or articulated it.”
When the interviewer pointed out that Clinton’s motivating desires could be satisfied by any number of other positions, Clinton paused. He stopped and asked himself, “why do I want this job? Why not international development contracting or another government job?”
“I had this idea that I wanted to be a foreign service officer but I thought, ‘there are various components to it, maybe I can get fulfillment doing something else,” Clinton explains. “Ultimately it brought me back to this career as a foreign service officer, but it was a journey to get there.”
So, Clinton set off to explore.
Articulation and matriculation
Along the way, Clinton graduated with his International Master of Business Administration degree into 2011’s failing job market, a product of 2008’s housing marketing crash and the subsequent recession—one of the worst in living memory.
Business schools are famous—or infamous—for their high employment rates, particularly in the corporate realm. In a typical year, Clinton estimates that 80% of IMBA graduates from the University of South Carolina are employed immediately upon graduation, with students going on to work at companies like Delta, BMW, and Bank of America. Contrast that to Clinton’s graduating class, where he estimates a 10% placement rate upon graduation.
“Most of us were struggling,” Clinton remembers grimly. “I thought: if I’m spending $100,000 on a degree, I can’t come out making $50,000. But then I came out making $30,000 and I had to adjust my thinking. How much do I need to pay rent, to eat, for transportation, for my cell phone?"
Clinton wasn’t one of the lucky few from his graduating class that found a corporate job, but he was able to lean on his personal and professional network to find an opportunity. After graduating, Clinton decided to move to D.C. because of its relatively stable economy compared to his home state of Michigan.
Enter his former choir buddy and meaningful connection, Josh. At the time, Josh needed a business manager for a new project, and reached out to all of his networks in search of one, including his former choir group which Clinton had been part of years earlier. Fresh out of business school, he was perfect for the role. When asked about taking a role unrelated to his intended career path, Clinton advises:
“Don’t rush, be flexible, adjust your expectations and remember what’s important. Don’t measure your progress based on what other people think.”
With that mantra in mind, Clinton did what he had to to make it work.
“[That position] kept me afloat,” Clinton stresses. “It taught me new skills, expanded my network, and allowed me flexibility. And it led me to another opportunity, which led me to another opportunity.”
Although he continued to face challenges over the coming years, connecting with his old choir buddy was the gateway position Clinton needed to break into the job market.
“If it wasn't for him and my social network, then I might have slipped into depression and not found the next position and the next and the next until now where I am at my dream job,” Clinton shares, thanking Josh in a recent LinkedIn post.
From there, Clinton took the advice of his Foreign Service interviewer, exploring a variety of positions—supply chain analyst, contractor, international development analyst, political campaign operative—in search of a profession where he could put all of his experience to work and find fulfillment.
Over ten years after his last government position working as a staff assistant in the U.S. Senate, Clinton returned to federal work to dedicate himself to public service as a Presidential Management Fellow and in pursuit of the same dream he left behind: to become a Foreign Service Officer. But this time he had more than a decade of experience under his belt, certain that this was the position for him, and confident he knew why.
For the greater good
So what finally got Clinton the Foreign Service Officer position? His persistence for one. Despite multiple rejections, Clinton never gave up on achieving his dream and learned how to navigate “no.”
And number two? He learned. Every rejection, every failed test, every botched interview was a lesson that he took time and energy to reflect upon.
Or in Clinton’s words:
“I’m quite stubborn and I have a high opinion of myself and my abilities despite being knocked down. And it’s not only because I pursue something that I want. I think on it, pray on it, meditate on it, and try and see if it’s something that actually feels right. And then I pursue it and I attack it from various angles.”
Clinton attributes his eventual success to a “strategy.” First, he focused on pursuing the National Security Education Program’s Foreign Language Fellowship, an opportunity he was not only passionate about, but hopeful that the international and government experience it provided would lend him a leg up in his application to the Foreign Service—and it did.
In the end, the most significant factor in Clinton’s admittance wasn’t a strategy he used or his professional experience, but how those experiences impacted him as a person. The Clinton that was hired to the Foreign Service in 2017 was a different person than the 23-year-old that had first applied more than a decade before.
This time, when asked “why the Foreign Service?” Clinton knew his answer without blinking.
“We get a lot out of this country,” Clinton reflects. “So [it’s important] you give back in the way you can.”
This is a lesson Clinton has been taught his entire life by a maternal grandfather who was a Marine; a paternal grandfather who was an Army Officer and dentist for the Tuskegee Airmen; a paternal grandmother who advocated for integration in schools; a father and sister who are judges, the former who does proactive work against substance addiction; and an aunt who was the first Black female neurosurgeon in the United States.
Unbeknownst to 23-year old Clinton, he was surrounded by mentors, all of whom greatly influenced his desire to serve and who still play a role in who he is as a person and professional today.
“I don’t know if it was ever explicitly told to me that [service] was something I needed to do but it is definitely something that I’ve seen in my life and in my family,” Clinton says. “Working in the federal government feels good. It’s hard, many times it’s thankless, but it’s a worthwhile and important thing to dedicate my life to.”