When I saw an advertisement from my alma mater to join the Career Design Fellowship with Mission Collaborative, I felt that it was a push forward that I needed to make changes in my career.
At the time, I had been a Finance Director for the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) for about two years. When I joined UMGC, I was planning to stay there for at least a few years, invest in my future with the institution and hopefully, in time, progress to roles with greater responsibility. A few months after I started, there were several significant changes in the financial management leadership that led to a widespread restructuring of many of its departments, including Finance. The new leadership decided to take a different approach towards the existing financial structure, processes, and management responsibilities. I felt that this was not the path that I wanted my career to follow and started considering other career possibilities. I was not, however, certain which direction I wanted to take – did I want to work in a different industry? Or another department within UMGC? What changes should I make and what parameters should I set for my new job search?
This is where Career Design Fellowship came in. Usually, I don’t like working in groups and sharing details about my private life. But everyone in my group approached the exercises from an open heart and in a non-judgmental, supportive way. We were all there to figure out things for and about ourselves. Nobody was there to criticize and judge, but rather offer suggestions, bring up ideas and add value to everyone’s search.
Apart from my interactions with the other career explorers in the group, what I most enjoyed about the workshop was the way it was structured and how it provided just the right amount of “homework” to keep us interested and engaged, but not scare us away. We explored our personalities, what we like and dislike in the work environment, what skills and experience we can offer to the employer and what type of work we can excel in. The Fellowship was a great learning experience, very useful on both the professional and personal levels.
The fellowship helped me realize that I wanted to stay in Higher Education but look for an opportunity that would take me back to a traditional higher education institution. Furthermore, it helped me figure out what other workplace-related characteristics I needed in order to be happy at a job. One of them was the choice of working in-person or remotely. Part of my dissatisfaction at the time lied in the remote work setup that UMGC had implemented and maintained for about a year and a half. After figuring out what mattered to me and setting up direction, it was time to do the really hard work. The Fellowship guides you through the job search process, offering options and suggestions as to how to reach out to people, what tone to take and even down to what kind of information to write in your introductory emails. Being an introvert, and not someone who appreciates “cold calls”, it was a challenge for me to reach out to my network. But the more I did it and the more I spoke with people, the easier it became, and new opportunities and ideas seemed to pop up more frequently. I found myself exploring several career paths that I had been thinking about – some related to higher education and some completely new.
While I explored new career possibilities, I spoke to people, asked questions, and asked for introductions. The opportunities that I looked at included finance jobs in Travel and Hotel Management, Higher Education and Management Consulting, and finance-related work in non-profit organizations. I reached out to and spoke to a couple of consultants – one in IT and one in higher education, in order to determine whether consulting culture would be a good fit for me. I connected with someone who worked in the travel industry, and even explored the possibility of a travel agency franchise. Furthermore, I reached out to an ex-colleague who used to work for Red Cross, since I was also interested in non-profit work (other than higher education institutions). I reached out to several LinkedIn contacts and asked if they had any referrals and could connect me to anyone looking to employ in one of my areas of interest. The effort resulted in many conversations, a lot of learning and a few interviews. As my traffic increased on LinkedIn, my profile was shared with more recruiters which led to more interviews. Several recruiters reached out to me and invited me to interview.
All this activity brought recruiters and opportunities to me and from there on I engaged in interviewing. I interviewed for several opportunities that were right up my lane and received a couple of offers. I chose to join Georgetown University as a Senior Finance Director. The job, the institution and the culture were the best fit for me and for my experience. I’ve now been employed with Georgetown for a few months, going into the office, meeting colleagues in-person, building relationships, and looking forward to a long tenure at DC’s top-rated university.
Jelena is a Higher Education finance and administration professional with a proven track record of maximizing performance, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness seeking. Combines creativity, intellect, and leadership skills with exceptional talents in financial management, interpersonal relations, and complex problem solving to quickly adapt to, assess, and improve current situations and future planning. Provides sophisticated analysis and strategies to determine the optimal approach to create win-win situations for organizations, customers, and 3rd parties. Learn more about her on LinkedIn.