This month’s guest blogger is Adrienne Cleverly (MBA ’18)

Addy Cleverly successfully navigated a significant career change during the pandemic. Addy’s self-reinvention is inspiring for those in any career stage who are looking for something new.

I’m from California, where I grew up with a strong connection to the outdoors. That interest had always informed my personal decisions, but I realized that there was a critical need to address carbon emissions and environmental degradation at a much larger scale. I decided to funnel my concern for the environment into creating more sustainable business practices and products, and I explored these topics as a student at Darden.

After graduation, I sought to build my management experience and took a role as a senior associate at JPMorgan Chase & Co., where I gained broad exposure to retail banking operations as part of the rotational Chase Associate Program. From the outset, I knew that I wanted to land in JPMorgan’s small corporate sustainability team, but just as I graduated from rotations and became eligible for a permanent placement, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Like most firms, JPMorgan put its workforce on work-from-home orders while the crisis was assessed. And like most firms, it restricted hiring, which meant my hopes of joining the sustainability team were out. I began to plot a career shift. In the crucible of a global pandemic, I thought intently about the future: When we were finally able to leave our homes, what kind of world did I want to help build? There were big problems that I wanted to solve, and I was not going to let a pandemic interrupt my ambition. I began to design what I wanted my future to look like, and I reached out to Darden Alumni Career Services (ACS) for assistance.

I came to ACS with three objectives:

  1. I wanted to work at the intersection of business and the environment.
  2. I wanted exposure to the operationalization of sustainability targets.
  3. I wanted to be closer to my family in California.

Admittedly, I was asking for a lot — a location change, a functional change and an industry change. Rather than try to tackle all these objectives at the same time, we decided I would go for an incremental approach.

The first thing I changed was location. With work-from-home continuing indefinitely at JPMorgan, I took a big leap, put my possessions in storage and moved cross-country to stay with family in California. This decision was deeply beneficial for my mental health and allowed me to be closer to my support system during a tumultuous time of personal and global change.

Now in California, I tackled the second objective: changing function. I spent several months scouring LinkedIn, cold-emailing leads and networking with Darden alums. I used these conversations to learn more about niches within the sustainability field and understand where I would best fit. I became very bold in my networking — something I had dreaded before Darden — and gleaned many valuable insights from my conversations.

Lastly, I took on the third objective: gearing up for an industry change. From my networking conversations, I realized I’d need to add sustainability-specific skills to my toolkit. I studied for and earned two certificates in climate risk and sustainability targets measurement. These certifications shored up my knowledge and signaled my dedication to potential hiring managers.

Through my studies and networking, I became familiar with the United Nations Environment Programme’s Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), a group that is doing ambitious work to bring structure, direction and thought leadership to the rapidly evolving field of environmental finance. It so happened that they were hiring for a role that leveraged my banking background and sustainability education and would provide me with new growth opportunities. After several rounds of interviews, I was hired as the Communications Lead for the Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA) — a new entity at UNEP FI.

As Communications Lead, I manage all communications and press relations for NZBA and contribute to broader strategic planning and education initiatives. I feel incredibly privileged to work with a passionate, smart team and contribute to a project that is literally changing the world, and I see this role as a great steppingstone into the sustainability field.

Making a complex career change requires so much introspection and perseverance. My advice to alums contemplating a move of their own: Break your goal apart and accomplish each piece as you’re able; to make changes less stressful, do all you can to give yourself ample time and margin; and think deeply about how success is defined for you.