Kristin Thompson is a Senior Advisor to the U.S. Treasurer.
As Senior Advisor to the Treasurer of the United States, what does your job entail?
What I love about my job is that it’s different every day. My office oversees all coin and currency production at the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. We also lead the Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence Steering Group, which is a collaborate effort between the United States Secret Service, the Federal Reserve Board, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and Treasury. This group makes recommendations to the Secretary of the Treasury on currency design. The recent announcement to include women on our currency was unique and special project that I worked on, that was the vision of my boss, Rosie Rios, the Treasurer of the United States. Another special project that has been an exciting initiative is our annual Women in Finance Symposium that was started in 2010. There is a different theme each year—some themes that we’ve focused on so far have been Investment, Entrepreneurship, the intersection of Finance/STEM and the role that women were playing during the economic recovery. I love that the event highlights senior level women and their role without focusing on gender issues.
How did your own vision of your future evolve throughout your life, and especially during your time at Washington College?
Growing up I thought I would be a lawyer, but in high school I began to gain interest in the business world. I knew that going forward into college, a small institution would be a good fit for me—in the end, I went to Washington College, which, incidentally, just appointed its first female president, Sheila Bair! WC was an environment I could thrive in; I played a sport, which facilitated friendships, and joined a business-centric group called Students in Free Enterprise. I think a really important part of my education was the fact that WC gave me a strong liberal arts foundation along with my business focus, allowing me to gain essential skills like the ability to communicate through writing. After graduation, my plan was to work for a Fortune 500 company and enter through a management trainee program. It wasn’t until someone asked me if I had an interest in pursuing a job in the federal government that I began to think about new path. Before I knew it, I came to DC to interview for a job working in strategic planning and performance management at the Department of the Treasury and landed my first job.
Do you believe your success is highly attributable to self-motivation, and if so, why? How do you push yourself?
I’m a firm believer in proving yourself; I got my first job because I worked hard and showed my merit—sure, it took a recommendation of a college friend, but it has to happen based on your capability, not only your connection. Hopefully, you will have mentors and champions along the way, but no one is going to create your success for you, self-motivation is key. I think one of the best things I’ve learned in terms of self-motivation is how to be able to let go of certain things and recognize that things don’t always work out in your favor, and it’s impossible to control every little detail in your life.
Obviously, a job such as yours requires many skills—how do you feel you acquired these skills? What factors in your life developed them the most?
I believe that education is extremely important, especially in our current time, when many people are earning advanced degrees and competition is more intense than ever. I recently went back to school to acquire my M.B.A. While I did that, I decided to remain working full-time—that’s not for everybody, but I did it intentionally so that I could use what I was learning immediately. And while education is important, I think acquisition and improvement of special skills comes from actual work experience, especially in the business field. Education gifts you with knowledge and adds tools to your toolkit, but on-the-job experience teaches you how to fit that information into your specific field and use them to the best of your ability.
How has your identity as a woman played into your career, especially in such a male-dominated field?
Honestly, I never really thought about my gender until more recently, as many conversations about having diverse opinions are more evident in our galvanized age. I do believe that focusing on the work and the tasks at hand is important; the truly crucial part is that many different viewpoints can weigh in on issues, facilitating more effective decisions and better representation concerning policies, especially in a field such as mine.
What key advice do you have for girls who aspire to work in our government?
It is absolutely important for young girls to pursue their passions. I think that girls put a lot more pressure on themselves, and there is outside pressure, especially with recent moves to recruit more women into fields like STEM and have better representation in general. While representation is necessary, I think even more important is simply encouraging young girls to find what they truly love and run with it. If you can find your passion early, that’s great, but it’s okay if it doesn’t happen as naturally. I would say my favorite thing about public service is how rewarding it is—I believe that giving back to one’s community is extremely important, and a lot goes into public service; it’s an underestimated career in my opinion. I think the key piece of advice I can give is simply this: go for your passion. It’s not always going to be an easy road to follow, and it may not be what you expected to love, but if you can find something that enamors you, pursue it with all you’ve got.
And what’s your favorite quote right now?
“Forget all the reasons it won’t work and believe the one reason that it will.” – Unknown
Contributor: Dante Jordan Laird