Vanessa Chumbley ’22
Connect with Vanessa on LinkedIn
Throughout our year in SI-MBA, we get the opportunity to take part in a myriad of workshops. The content ranges from writing and presentation techniques, to exploring identities and vulnerabilities in the workplace, to gender and leadership. One of our workshop leaders during the fall semester was Nizar Hasan, Senior Director of Operations at Rheaply. Our three sessions with Nizar focused on making career changes as well as habits, mindset, and motivation.
Nizar is no stranger to career changes, having made the leap from engineering to business development, client management, sales, and most recently people and operations management. In order to make this leap, he decided to go back to school and pursue an MBA, a familiar story to our cohort. He also works as a self-employed career coach, using what he has learned from his many successful pivots to help others succeed. These pivots were the basis for his sessions with us, which were insightful and inspiring for a group of MBA students interested in making career changes.
We come to business school to learn the “hard skills” of business – the terminology, finance, strategy, marketing, and so on. However, an essential aspect of the career path that has historically been omitted from business education is how to navigate and align our humanity with our work. Fortunately, I believe things are changing in this regard. Business is beginning to understand that human beings ultimately bring their whole selves to work – and that can be a good thing.
Much of what Nizar spoke with us about was this: in order to build the life we want, we have to start with who we are as human beings, recognize our strengths and values, and understand and reframe our assumptions when needed. Unfortunately, no one else can do this foundational work for us. It is difficult work and would be easier if someone could tell us what is best or what would bring the most fulfillment. However, this inner work needs to be done to find our paths and forge the careers we want.
As Nizar put it, “I think why I offered and came forward with the idea of doing these sessions is because these are things that no one ever talked to me about when I was studying and learning… I think we don’t focus enough on the individual and our emotions and how we process and how we deal with life. I think taking time to understand yourself and build a life that works well for you and who you are is foundational to you bringing your best self to work… These foundational things are important in order for us to do well what is taught to us in the MBA.”
Here are some key takeaways from our sessions with Nizar on how to go about making a successful career change:
Know Your Values and Strengths
“Our values determine the nature of our problems, and the nature of our problems determine the quality of our lives.” – Mark Manson
When embarking on any job search, it is important to understand your core values. Not only will knowing your values differentiate you as a candidate, but it will also help you and potential employers identify if you are a good fit for a role. If you’ve ever been in a job or worked for a company that was misaligned with your values, you know how draining and demoralizing it can be. Having that alignment is necessary for a fulfilling, successful career.
But how to go about finding your core values? There are many resources to choose from. In her book Dare To Lead, Brené Brown provides a long list of values and tasks readers with choosing just two core values. I can tell you from personal experience this is difficult, but possible! If you can’t quite get to two, Nizar recommends keeping it to five or fewer. Here is a shorter list from James Clear, which may help you narrow it down. As they both point out – if everything is a core value, then nothing is.
Similarly, knowing your strengths is vital to successful job search. There are many resources to help with this as well. Nizar recommends the VIA Character Strengths Survey. In our Module 1 Teamwork class, the cohort took the CliftonStrengths Assessment, which is another great resource.
As Nizar shared with us, it’s important to understand how your skills and strengths can be transferrable to find the path of least resistance to your next career. Finding the lowest barrier to entry has to do with having a solid understanding of your values, skills, and strengths and how they can be applied to your next career path. Doing the work to understand these things will allow you to articulate how you can add value to potential employers.
It’s almost cliché at this point, but it is so very true – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. However, networking can be uncomfortable for some. Many people feel like they’re “bothering” people or “asking for something” when they engage in networking, or that they’re just not good at it. This is where re-framing our assumptions comes in.
Thinking about networking in terms of “getting something from someone” is anxiety-inducing and inauthentic. Instead, what if our only goal was to listen and learn? If that’s the case, Nizar shared with us, “there is nothing to be good at” and nothing to ask of people.
Most people love to talk about themselves and are usually more than happy to share what they do and how they got there. Reaching out to someone in a role you find interesting and asking for an informational interview is a great way to network, even if it means sending what Nizar called a “cold message”. He shared with us screenshots of cold messages he has sent and the recipients’ responses. They were all happy to share their experiences and provide insight into their career and current role. Approaching networking from a place of humble inquiry – seeking to understand before being understood – ensures authenticity and will leave a positive impression.
In the session on networking, Nizar left us with these helpful reminders:
- People are kind, and they want to help. Sometimes they’re just busy.
- No one got to where they are without some help.
- Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
- Everyone likes to talk about themselves.
“From a health coaching perspective, you might have a trainer, or a gym coach, or somebody to help you stay fit. And I think sometimes you need the same for your brain.” This was Nizar’s inspiration for seeking a career coach, and ultimately led to his own work as a career coach. “We all go through the same challenges, they just might be presented in different ways. But at the end we’re all connected by these challenges.”
Making a career change is a long and difficult process, and while much of the work must be done individually, so much of our success in navigating a career transition has to do with our connections with others. It’s important to remember we’re not alone in struggling with career changes, and the more we can speak openly with our friends and colleagues and share our learnings and experiences, the more connected we will be.