Ever changing, ever thankful!

For Thanksgiving this year we ventured down to Georgia to be with my husband’s family.  I always love this holiday not only because of the comforting food and abundant football, but also because it provides a time to reflect on the blessings of the past year.  The annual gathering of the English Family accentuates how each year brings new and different challenges and experiences.  When the kids were small we talked about daycare, scooter sports and piano lessons.  Now, that our kids and nieces are all young adults, the focus is a bit different. Conversations revealed that the grandparents are reflecting on estate planning, the parents (my generation) are in the college-funding stage, while the “kids” are working on landing a post-college job, figuring out what classes to take or getting into the school of their choice.  In my post-Turkey thoughts I liken the shifting phases to the many stages of the lives and careers of the alumni with whom I work daily.

Recent grads navigating their post-MBA careers often second guess what they are doing and if they are building the foundation for the career they hope to develop.  Some think they need to change jobs to move forward.  Contrary to popular myth, most grads (73% according to our September 2012 alumni survey) stay with their first post-Darden employer for well over two years.  Early career, the key is to excel in whatever you are doing to build a reputation for not only being smart and capable but also being a hard worker who takes the initiative to gets things done.

As one’s career progresses, job demands often expand with the continued quest to produce results and chase the next raise or promotion.  These new demands often parallel a growing desire to expend energy with family or non-work pursuits causing priorities to collide. It helps during this stage to step back and reflect on what YOU, personally, want for your life.  What’s important, what is your life’s purpose, what do you enjoy, where do you want to be in the future and what is it going to take to get there.  Realize that inevitably you will have to make some tradeoffs and it’s best to be deliberate about which road you WANT to take.  Rather than keeping up with the Joneses, why not keep up with your own goals and dreams?

Many graduates dream of being their own boss.  Currently 14% of our alumni report being self- employed – including those who have bought a business, purchased an existing business or franchise and those who are independent service providers or consultants.  Some used their early careers to build a tool kit and reputation to improve their chances of success as entrepreneurs.  Taking advantage of the network of those who have already travelled the road before can help prevent some mistakes – be sure to reach out to fellow alumni using the online Darden Community directory and affinity groups.  Don’t forget to join the University of Virginia Darden School of Business LinkedIn group too.

As you grow, remember that developing a team can be the best way to propel your business and enhance your career.  Tapping that same network can help you find leaders and build a strong team.  Not only using the directories, but also advertising your talent needs on our job board will help you quickly recruit the best MBA s in the market.

We’ve seen many alumni seek a complete new direction late in their careers — some to pursue their passions in the arts, others to utilize their business skills in a more altruistic way, and others to create a schedule allowing more time for golf or other leisurely pleasure.  Planning and preparation can make the late career transition much easier.  Developing a network and a specialty could make you appealing as a candidate for a Board of Directors.  Doing research and/or volunteering to teach a class or two at the local college might later open up an adjunct teaching opportunity.   Leading a fundraising campaign for your favorite non-profit organization could make you a great candidate for a paid leadership position.

Thinking about the experiences and evolving futures of our alumni, I realize that we have much to be thankful for overall.  A large percentage of us are employed in jobs where we are “principled leaders in the world of practical affairs,” contributing to the greater good of society and enjoying our work.  Our recent survey showed that only 3% are unemployed and looking for a job – while that’s still too many, it sure beats the 7% of three years ago.  For those job seekers we know their searches can be long and frustrating, and we at The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services are ready to help with job search strategy, marketing materials (including resumes and LinkedIn profiles) and research.  We are thankful for fellow alumni who are willing to help them in their searches too.  While we may not all share turkey together, we are still blessed to have a large vibrant family to share information and help one another manage our careers.  That is something for which we can all be thankful!

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

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