When I was in undergrad, I loved all the student leadership roles I held. I was a star Resident Assistant (RA), senior office assistant in the Dean of Students’ Office and involved in many aspects of student life. I knew that I was making a difference every day, which made me feel like that work was my contribution to the world.
That led me to pursue my Master’s in higher education and student affairs. I worked in various functional areas to find my fit — residential life, graduate admissions, DEI and women’s centers. I realized the common thread in all of my experiences was to help people, specifically coming from marginalized backgrounds, get to their next step by leveling the playing field. I wanted to get them access to the necessary information and resources they need to succeed in the workplace and get the same chance at opportunities their privileged peers have a higher probability of obtaining.
This passion led me to initially work in career services. I was initially hired as a part-time employee, but was quickly promoted to full-time to manage our internship program. I learned through this experience not only my love of program management but also my love of innovating. I don’t stay stagnant; I welcome change. Every semester, I saw something that could be tweaked to further enhance the program. When I first started, our Learning Management System (LMS) was a filing cabinet. The first year, I focused on digitizing and streamlining all contents and communications. Then, I wanted to implement an onboarding procedure for students. Then, I thought that employers and faculty, our other collaborators and stakeholders, should also have a say in this. I’m a creative person, but organization helps me be more creative. I need to compartmentalize to think.
I loved what I was doing but I sought more responsibility. My employer had just launched a new career development course and sought training for new instructors. I really enjoyed being the liaison and working with this more mature population. I enjoyed that I was assisting in setting them up for success, which would then help to set the students up for success…and I wanted to continue that feeling. Instead of working directly with the consumer (student), I wanted to train the employees to serve in their roles in a stronger capacity and continue to deliver amazing products (in this case, teaching).
I knew I wanted something different. After researching and countless informational interviews, I learned about Learning & Development and decided that that would be my next step.
My search was over a year long — 13 interviews and one offer. At a certain point, I had to review my non-negotiables and reduce them. I ended up taking a temp role (meaning no benefits) at The New York Times. I was willing to make that move because I knew that I would gain invaluable exposure to new people, tools, and ways of thinking that would only propel my career — and I was right. Even though I didn’t have benefits or permanence, it was worth it. It was the best risk I ever took.
Really, only good things happened after that. I got a 40% pay raise that would’ve taken me at least another five years in education to make. I was learning, being challenged and supported regularly. I got the best company swag, and I even got to work on the team to select and distribute holiday swag to 20% of our company. Most importantly, I met the coolest and most innovative people that inspired me to be and do better every day.
Yes, there’s still bureaucracy and office politics. Yes, DEI is a work in progress everywhere. Yes, everyone’s experience is different, and there were certainly some who were not privy to as positive of an experience. I still wouldn’t trade it for anything. I learned, I got exposure to new people and ideas, and I found more clarity in who I am and what I want in my career. That in itself is invaluable.
Looking back, here are the keys to my transition.
Crafting my narrative
Being able to talk about myself, the value I bring, the thread between my experiences and my overall story. I focused on what I could control, my narrative and my energy.
Cultivating my network
I cultivated my network consisting of others who have made the transition and/or were interested in helping me. This consisted various forums — like The Pivoter — and utilizing the LinkedIn alumni search function. I even asked anyone if they knew anyone that would be good for me to connect with.
Finding people who supported me
Finding managers who also saw my value and transferable skills, and were willing to work with and invest in me. It’s hard to find good mentors, even harder to find good sponsors, those who advocate for you.
I wish you all the best of luck in your career pivots and job transitions. Don’t give up — the right fit is coming your way, even if it may not look like you thought it would.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Jenn Islam has been in the career development and learning & development space for about six years. She earned her BA in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies from Stony Brook University, and her MS in Students Affairs in Higher Education from Miami University of Ohio. She is currently looking for her next opportunity to further pursue her career interests. Outside of work, she loves to cook new recipes, knit/crochet new patterns (especially for babies & kids), play board games (and win) with her partner, and spend quality time with loved ones. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn and let her know that you came from reading this article.