Advisory Services, General

Getting to Know Darden Alumni Career Services Executive Director and Coach Jen Coleman

By Sallie Lesemann-
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Jen Coleman (pictured here on the Colorado Trail in San Juan National Forest, Colorado) has served as executive director for Alumni Career Services since the fall of 2015. Prior to joining Darden, she was assistant dean at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business Career Center. Jen received her undergraduate degree from Tufts University and her MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. She also spent nine years in equity sales and trading with Goldman Sachs.

You are a career switcher – how and why did you make the switch?

After business school, I joined Goldman Sachs in equity sales and trading. Going into that career, I thought it was everything I had ever wanted. It was fast paced and challenging. I was surrounded by smart and savvy colleagues. Every day was different. I was very well compensated. And at the time, I felt like I was doing something important; I felt proud of my accomplishments. I’ll never forget when early in my career one of my managers and mentors at Goldman told me, “To be good at this job, you have to love stocks. You have to love talking about the markets, thinking about the markets and investing in the markets.”

At the time, that did seem exciting and genuinely interesting to me. Over the course of 10 years, however, the truth was revealed. I didn’t care at all about stocks. My boss had been 100% right. I could do the job, but it became a slog. And when things weren’t going well, I didn’t have a genuine interest that kept me grounded. To boot, my entire life — where I lived, the people I spent time with — was all tied up in this world. I felt I had truly lost my way. My 10th year on Wall Street was dedicated to finding my new path, which I did by examining what I DID like about my work and what I could take forward. I figured out what I wanted my life to look like and, most importantly, I took some significant risks.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making a career switch?

First, know that career switching isn’t easy, and it requires sacrifices. Dramatic career switches require time and homework at the very least. They can often also, but not necessarily, require additional educational investment, relocation and compensation adjustments. Second, and most importantly, done right, career switching can be unbelievably rewarding and worth any amount of sacrifice. Life is too short to be unhappy.

All this being said, there are a lot of people looking for change that are not interested in (or cannot execute) a complete life overhaul. Small changes can be meaningful and impactful, and we work with many clients on these types of small changes.

What do you find the most rewarding about coaching Darden alumni?

Having been through many career changes in the last 25 years, I know how important it is to have advisers and sounding boards in your corner. There is nothing more rewarding to me than helping a Darden alumna feel more energized about a job search, more confident in a compensation negotiation or more positive about what is possible. I strive for outcomes such as these in every engagement.

What hiring trends have you seen in the last year?

The market has been H.O.T.! Our clients are landing faster and more easily than I’ve seen in years. There are certain exceptions to this, of course — for example, asset management. With a continued shift toward passive management and shrinking margins, hiring in the asset management industry has been lackluster, and people with seats tend to stay in them.

What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

I’m late to the party on this one, but if you haven’t read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, it is a must. The riveting true story of Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, is a case I’m sure will be studied in MBA ethics classes for years to come.

What do you do when you’re not coaching?

When I am not coaching, I am typically on a bicycle. I am an avid cyclist who subscribes to the rule that the number of bikes you need is n+1, n being the number of bikes you have. Mountain biking is my favorite, so a little less rain in Virginia in 2019 would be nice!