Saturday, March 22, 2014

Job Sacrifices and Opportunities as a Darden Partner

Congratulations, Round 2 Darden admits and partners! Wahoo-wa!
After a much-too-long hiatus, I want to post to welcome you all as well as to cover a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and probably at the top of many potential partners' minds.

Darden's Flagler court, February 2013
One of the biggest challenges in relocating to Charlottesville as a Darden partner is finding a job. And of course you want to find a position that is interesting, rewarding, pays well, has good benefits, and won't totally derail your career track. This is tough. This is tough anywhere, but it is especially tough when you're coming to the decently-sized-but-not-enormous Charlottesville area and you'll be staying for what is probably a finite and relatively short amount of time (un
less you're hoping to stick around, as we are).

The first place to start looking is with the Darden Partners Association (DPA)-- get in touch with the Job Resources Chair, who is now the lovely Amber Hanson as I have stepped down. You can reach her at The DPA maintains an internal job board and information on other job resources for partners. The Job Resources Chair also keeps tabs on what partners work where in town, and can help connect incoming partners looking for jobs with current partners that work at places of interest.

Maybe you will find something just right-- something that fits all the criteria above. But it's very possible that you won't-- maybe the opportunities that crop up aren't in your field, or the pay is far lower than what you had before. Maybe they would be a career sidestep or even a step down. You might keep looking for jobs and networking your butt off, but it becomes clear that whatever job you would take would involve some career sacrifices.

Then the question becomes-- is it worth it to leave what I have? 

Of course the answer is different for everyone. It depends on how much you like your current job, whether you foresee returning to your current location after Darden, how much you want to be involved at Darden while your partner is here, and how well you can afford a pay change if that would be part of the equation.

For me, it has DEFINITELY been worth the sacrifices I  have made, and I know many other partners who feel the same way. That doesn't mean it's for everyone, but being willing to take cuts in some places has provided opportunities I couldn't have foreseen. I'll share my story as an illustration of how things can go wrong but end up very right!

My job search was a heinous one. I have a master's degree in Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice from the Fashion Institute of Technology, and I worked as a Museum Collections Manager at historic houses in Washington, DC and taught courses as an adjunct professor at Marymount University in Arlington, VA. It took me a long time to find the jobs I had, and I had just finally settled into my first full-time gig for a few months when Andrew was accepted at Darden. I knew I wanted to join him in Cville and be a part of his community-- I'll be honest, I'm a pretty needy spouse, and we were thinking hard about starting a family. I had, however, worked extremely hard to stay in my field of study and had been able to find employment there against all odds, which was something I wasn't going to throw away lightly. Not to mention the fact that I liked my job! I thought long and hard but I knew that I would never again have the opportunity to to be a part of the Darden community in this way. So I started looking for museum jobs in the Cville area.

Months went by, and I pursued whatever leads I had, networked till I was blue in the face, worked with UVa Alumni Career Services every week, connected with the DPA Job Resources Chair, and applied to whatever I found. There was one job that ALMOST came through and I lost it to an internal applicant at the last minute. I cried hard over that one. My resume and cover letters were stellar and I was talking to all the right people; the opportunities were just not there-- and when they were, they didn't work out. It finally became clear to me that I was going to have to look for something outside my field. That realization was a blow, but at that point I was desperate to get to Cville. In the meantime, Andrew started school at Darden, and I kept working at my good job in DC. I missed him, and the hour-long commute that we had shared and that I was now doing alone began to really wear on me. We talked over FaceTime after he had Learning Team every night. It was tough.

Eventually, I began to look into development positions, a tactic that had been recommended to me by a number of people (if museums are hiring, it's generally in development, and it became apparent that I had plenty of transferable skills applicable to fundraising). Through a networking connection suggested to me by someone at UVa Alumni Career Services, I became aware of a position at a medical research nonprofit-- totally outside my field-- but I applied, and she made a call for me. After two interviews, I was hired, and by February I headed down to Charlottesville, ready to dive into the Darden partner lifestyle!

I was disappointed to leave my field after having worked so hard to stay in it. I was afraid that I'd never be able to return to museum work if I wanted to, and sad that my hard-earned skills might "go to waste." I'll freely admit that there are days when I miss working in a museum, teaching, and researching, and I find it a little funny that most people at my current job only have a vague idea of my "real" area of specialty. It was also harder to learn the ropes at my new position than I had anticipated-- I particularly struggled with the complicated phone system, and dissolved into tears one day after hanging up on someone important (to my credit, I was newly pregnant at the time, so everything was emotional)!

But my new job ended up being a huge blessing in many ways. I have been deepening certain skills that I had begun to develop in my museum work, and learning many new ones. I know that experience with fundraising will always be an asset to me, and I have had the opportunity to learn from some of the best through my connections at my current position. I work in a great office with smart, fun, engaged co-workers, and my supervisors have been encouraging and flexible with me, especially considering my pregnancy and now the Little One and all the unpredictability that comes with her. It's hard to imagine another company being as supportive. Plus, the commute, hours, and pay have been great, and I even have an office with a window and a space-heater (THAT never happens in a historic house museum)!

My story isn't unique. While every Darden partner has a different job journey, I have heard from a number of friends that the new positions they've found in Charlottesville have provided opportunities for change and growth  in ways they didn't anticipate. And for me, the greatest reward is getting to be on-site and participating in Darden activities. I've made some lifelong friends and so enjoy getting to be immersed in the experience with my husband and the LO.

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