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Overcome Career Challenges

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I have recently moved to a new place and am finding it difficult to find my place and figure out what comes next for me. I know everyone’s journey is different and it seems like every time I turn around my journey changes. Some people look at my resume and see unorganized chaos but that is not the case at all. Everything I do is in an effort to find where I fit. Some run off to college knowing exactly what they want to do with their life, others know what they want or will be doing by the time they graduate; and then there are people like me, who thought they knew exactly what they would doing and be able to find the perfect job that they would be at forever! So why does it look like I am in a river of chaos?


School First

I thought that by gaining my education first I would be able to step into a good starting point but that was not the right approach. If I had an opportunity to do it again I would have made more of an effort to gain experience while I was pursuing my education. By taking the small steps while studying I could have “burned the candle from both ends.”

What Employers Look For

When an employer is looking for new candidates they are looking for someone with both education and experience. The reality is that nothing can replace experience but education also shows your dedication to learning and seeking new skill building opportunities. Recruiters and employers look for individuals who have real world knowledge of the vacancies they have. In some cases a candidate with little education may gain favor over a candidate with an extensive education because the candidate has “real world experience.”

How to Gain Experience

To gain real world experience while pursuing an education does not require an individual to be a full-time student and hold a full-time job. Use those intern and part-time opportunities and work in your field in any way possible; even distantly. For example, I studied nonprofit management and leadership; if I would have worked in a nonprofit, even as a secretary, I would have been able to more successfully entered the market because I would have had “some” nonprofit WORK experience under my belt. If you are a student, consider part-time work; you will never regret it.

Overcome Career Challenge: No “Real World Experience”

The chances that you really do not have experience in an area that your are passionate about are probably slim. Many students graduate and end up working in a field outside their studies, like me! I got where I am because I was creative in my approach. I studied nonprofit management and leadership and earned a Ph.D. <–looks good on paper right? You would not believe the number of people who recommended that I delete the Ph.D. title from resume so that I could gain access into A work environment. I kept my head up and my title in place! Look at every option and get creative.

Get to Work


I struggled to find work because I was “over-qualified” and “under-qualified” at the same time so I turned to freelancing. In the beginning I took every assignment that I could to build my experience in the platform I was using. Once I built up my quality score I started concentrating on projects that were more specific to my desired career field. I took on grant writing projects, business plan development, and anything that had to do with the nonprofit sector.

Contract Work

After more than three years of working freelance I was able to gain a contract position (like freelance) for a marketing agency doing market research. How did that happen right? WELL a Ph.D. requires you to learn and do research and every job really requires research. Grant writers must research the market to understand what competition is out there, what those competitors are doing, if those efforts are better than organization the grant writer works for, and how to showcase the organization’s efforts; some serious research efforts. A similar process is used in business plan development; before a business plan can be written the writer has to have a clear understanding of the existing market. Starting any job, the employee has to research the job requirements, get to know the organization, and gain a clear understanding of what his or her responsibilities are.

New Work

I was able to work as a market researcher for two years but when we relocated to St. Louis I had to start over. It felt like I tried EVERYTHING I applied for little jobs, big job, went back to freelancing, and FINALLY after three months of applying I found work as a business analyst. My current position is a small portion of what I did as a market researcher but still allows me to continue to build my research/analysis skills so that I can continue down a solid career path. My hope is to gain full-time permanent employment within a year; it might be here…or not. The key is to stay positive and keep your eyes open.

Career Challenges to Overcome

I felt like I could have gotten where I am a lot faster if I would have avoided a few things:

1. Research what you want to do.

I loved the volunteer work that I was doing so much that I forgot to really research and discover the level of difficulty to gain access to employment within the nonprofit sector. Many corporate employees in the nonprofit sector were first successful in the for-profit sector. Those individuals took their talents they learned in the for-profit sector and applied them in the nonprofit world.

2. Getting frustrated over not getting what I wanted.

I was so concentrated on gaining access to the nonprofit sector I did not consider the for-profit sector in the beginning. If I would have taken a position in the for-profit world utilizing my skills I had gained in my educational journey I may have been able to gain access to the nonprofit sector in a more timely manner.

3. Never get comfortable.

Every job or project that I have taken on I loved because I wanted to contribute. I never took on a job that I had no desire to take on and I stayed away from position that I felt would clash on my resume. The problem was that I always got comfortable in my projects and thought I would be able to figure out a way to stay…so, when time was up or the project was done I fell back into the rut of NOW WHAT…

I am optimistic of what my future holds and I hope that some of these tips can help others. What comes next for me may be unknown but I hope you find what comes next for you!

Dr. S.

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