Connecting the Dots on a Winding Path

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By Chrissy James
Career Exploration Coach
GW Center for Career Services

I found my career path through a mixture of self-assessment and the leveraging of transferable skills found through myriad experiences. It took almost a decade, but I did it, through trial and error and a lot of work. During my undergraduate career, I focused on being an academic first and an athlete second. I did not take advantage of the resources available (read: career services), chose majors I was most interested in (Behavioral Sciences and Spanish), went abroad to Spain, and took classes in the true style of the liberal arts education (i.e. in everything), without much thought about how it would all fit into the long-term possibilities for my career. Strategic thinking is not my strength, but more on that later. Through networking, I worked a few internships in the field of child advocacy and as the amazingly strong, passionate women I met in the field had been to law school, I thought I should go to law school, too.

After college, I continued on the same meandering path, bouncing around in a number of different temporary positions, having connected to a temp-to-perm hiring firm in Boston, which gave me the time and flexibility to study for that dreaded LSAT test. From completing reception duties, to transcribing voicemails, and other administrative positions as needed, I was exposed to a wide variety of companies, from large, corporate law firms, to small, informal sales teams. One company, at which I performed office management tasks for a few months, was a global management consulting firm called Vantage Partners that specialized in relationship management for businesses (hey, that actually has something to do with my major after all!). I quickly canned the idea of law school because I found through the journey of taking the LSAT that analytical thinking was not a strength nor an interest, nor could I envision a worthy path at the end of the tunnel. Nine years, four positions – including marketing, corporate education, business development research and analysis work – and two coasts later (all at the same firm), I still found myself struggling. You see where this is heading, right? I spent a lot of time without a plan, amassing experience without much intention. So what did I do about it? I changed my approach.

I enlisted the help of a career coach, who helped me learn more about myself, unpack my interests, strengths and values, and identify the skills that I had acquired in my meandering path. For the first time in my career, I was intentional about what I wanted. I took the Strong Interest Inventory (main themes: Social, Artistic, Realistic) and did the research on the occupations that ranked highly on my scales (Career Coach was one of those!), intentionally developed my strengths (positivity, adaptability, empathy) and I put in the time to engage with what interested me in different roles. I conducted countless informational interviews and learned the power of networking. I explored my previous experiences and extrapolated important transferable skills for which employers are looking. For example, I became a strong writer while crafting the 100+ (give or take) papers for my major in college and came to appreciate the preparation of the liberal arts education. I learned the value of teamwork and collaboration while on my field hockey team. When I studied abroad, I learned how to be comfortable in the unknown, and how to be adaptable in times when I did not always have a full command of the language. I learned the importance of passion, of adding value, and feeling good about the work I was doing from my internships. I learned how to be a professional, how to build important relationships within a firm and how to leverage those relationships into opportunities for advancement.

In the end, I went to graduate school, earned my master’s in Higher Education, and INTENTIONALLY applied my skills, strengths, interests AND values to a field of which I am very passionate. I built relationships, earned my way through a Graduate Assistantship, to a full time position, and presently, as the wheel has come full-circle, as a Career Coach here at GW. Sometimes it takes a little bit to find the plan, but with work, a bit of coaching, and perseverance, it will happen. The moral of my story: the path can be winding, but with some attention, the dots along the path can be connected.  If any part of my story resonates with you, come see us at the Center for Career Services. Even if it doesn’t, we are here when you are ready.

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