Careers in Full Bloom : Successful Alumni Transitions

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Ahh, spring in Charlottesville!  The flowers are abloom, students have reappeared on the benches in Flagler Courtyard and, as the trees re-leaf, everything has come back to life … after a cold, relentless winter.  Spring has also brought a fresh start for many of my alumni clients all over the world!  Let me share the stories of some of the successful transitions that our fellow Dardenites completed over the last several weeks.

Christian (MBA ’12) had been doing Real Estate work in Belgium since graduation.  When he called me in January, he said he had quit his job to make time to look for more strategic work that fit his strengths and interests.  He worked on his resume, his LinkedIn profile, we talked about the value of developing a target list of employers and we discussed the process of networking.   We also talked (via Skype) about an opportunity that was a bit out of the scope of his objective and I connected him with an alumnus who might provide deeper perspective on the industry he was considering.  Just two months later, on the first day of spring (!), he wrote to tell me “I have accepted a job offer. I will be part of the Management Consultancy division that provides strategic consulting to all the banks/businesses of the [company] in 20 countries. It’s a very interesting job and I am really happy about it!”  His hard work and diligence paid off!

Simultaneously, I was meeting with another alumnus, Taylor*,  who also decided to quit his  job to make time to find a more satisfying job closer to family.  I don’t usually recommend this “quitting” strategy, but in some cases there is no other way to get out of a demanding and unfulfilling job.  Taylor wanted to to get closer to family – looking to move to a different city with a company that represented a better fit for him.    Because he had a clear focus and he was seeking work in the same industry and function,  Taylor was able to put together a pretty compelling story and resume which we reviewed over the phone and via email.  He researched his target market and set out to network.  Amazingly, he landed in less than two months, just in time for the Cherry Blossoms in DC!

It’s not always that quick.  In fact, more senior roles typically require longer searches.  There aren’t as many appropriate opportunities available and the competition is stiff.  Alumnus Paul (MBA ’86) had done such a great job, he made himself obsolete as CFO job with a small food business.  When we first spoke back in August of 2013, he was considering several possible routes:  Interim CFO roles, CFO of another small company, FP&A director for a larger company or even a role with a franchise company or a private equity firm.  We talked through his marketing plan, worked on his resume revision and developed a job search plan. I showed him LinkedIn and how to use it for research.   Over the next eight months, Paul uncovered numerous opportunities through his diligent networking and his relationships with executive recruiters.  He prepared for several interviews – a couple for which I was able to suggest Darden alumni with connections to the company so he could learn more before his visits.   His own industry contacts were extremely helpful too.  I enjoyed our conversations and each time he had an interview I anxiously awaited the outcome.  So, I was thrilled to learn that his first day as CFO with a growing specialty food company was on April 5th!

There have been several other landings including the 2009 grad who successfully landed  a finance position with a portfolio company of a Private Equity firm after working for the same bank since college graduation and a 2011 grad in Mexico City with whom I Skyped eight times during his three month job search.  The latter made a successful transition from consulting to the energy industry with a brand name firm.  He was a diligent networker “All the work is now giving lots of results,” he wrote as he described the three options from which he had to choose.

Perhaps the most gratifying news I had this spring was when Charles (MBA’12) reported that he was staying in the organization he’s been with since graduation.  We started working on his potential transition back in the fall.  Although he enjoyed the job he was doing and believed in the organization, he was under-employed, having taken a job to be in the same city where his wife was finishing her schooling. While he had performed well and his boss had indicated how happy he was with his work, Charles did not think there was a chance for promotion.  We discussed his priorities and constraints as well as the possibilities. He set his job search in motion, but also set the stage for serious conversations with his boss.  As those conversations ensued, Charles and I discussed what he needed to make him happy to get his career on track.  On March 26 (7 months after our first call), Charles wrote “It’s official!… I’m in a better place than I ever imagined I could pull off – that mythical solid income together with a great work-life balance while doing work that I really enjoy.”  Ahh… that is like springtime in Charlottesville, just perfect!

I hope you can learn from these successful transitions.  Know that the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services is here to help you through whatever career challenge you face.  Set up an appointment at alumnicareerservices@darden.virginia.edu.  Happy Spring!

Connie Dato English (MBA ’91), Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business  

*not his real name

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