Career Exploration Part 3: Phil’s Recent Journey

fish bowlsThe prior two posts (pt 1, pt 2) in this series laid out how to determine motivation, define potential pathways and then make progress.  At the risk of being self-referential, I’ll lay out my own journey over the last 3-4 years to show how I have applied these principles to two different journeys. The first is my current job which I would characterize as a “lateral” move and the other is a start up I am working on that I would put in the “divergent” category.

I find it helps to be specific in giving examples. But as always, please be creative in recognizing these as principles, not rules and apply them as makes sense in your life.

As a reminder, the steps in questions are:

  1. Determine motivation: Why am I seeking change?
  2. Define pathways: What are three “alternate realities”?
  3. Get going!: How do I start?
  4. Make progress: How many bridges do I need to build or cross?
  5. Choose: How do I make quality decisions along the way?
  6. Repeat.

Lateral Move: Assistant Dean

About two years ago, I moved into my current role as Assistant Dean for MBA programs at the Carlson School of Management at the University of MN. In some ways it was an obvious move but in others, not so much.

As context, the Assistant Dean is the leader and chief administrator of our MBA programs; responsible for admissions, student affairs and career services across multiple programs and ~1500 students. So the scope is fairly broad and there is a great deal of industry specific knowledge required. My background is in industry (Ernst & Young/Capgemini, 3M) as well as graduate management education. But my role at Carlson was teaching a very industry-like program, the Carlson Consulting Enterprise. I taught a management curriculum, sourced client projects and led student teams on those projects.

I came back to Carlson with a pre-existing interest in what I would call “fully exploring” the opportunities in higher ed. It wasn’t clear whether this meant more conventional faculty or administration, but I knew I was curious. I also believe it’s important to understand, at least in part, how the entire enterprise works. If you don’t how can you fully understand your own role?

So I built an informal learning map and started trying out new things at the school level. (I would note that nearly all of these activities fell outside my formal job description.) A few examples include:

– Taking on teaching a conventional undergraduate class, MGMT 1001, Introduction to Contemporary Management for 3 years. I had to figure out to engage ~50 freshman for 3 hours a week without boring them to tears. I learned a great deal that fed back into my other responsibilities, built some fun and enduring relationships with a different student population and in my current role, have a better understanding of the challenges faculty face. I also did well enough to gain some recognition for my teaching, which helped reputationally on other fronts.

– Leading a global experience for Part Time MBAs in China. IBUS 5171 Global Business Practicum in Southern China, is a project based class. My year, we worked with Lenovo on a sourcing study. Because I had worked in China with 3M, I was a natural fit. It went well and I led a different type of program and one that is a signature part of one of the programs I now lead.

– Working on curriculum. A key to any program is defining and managing the curriculum. I took a role on our MBA Faculty committee and got to weigh in, but more importantly learn about, the overall curriculum for each of our programs.

– Supporting building a stronger team. The process of building search committees at Carlson usually involves multiple people with experience in the function in question, but from outside the department in question. So I was invited to participate on search committees for the Career Center, Development, Corporate Relations, Executive Education and others over 3-4 years. This helped the school (I think), but it also helped me better understand these areas.

– Projects. Given my consulting background and the program I led, I had the opportunity to identify potential needs for further study within the school. Examples include major studies around online teaching, admissions strategy and alumni relations strategy. All of which weigh heavily in my day job to this day.

So by the time the opportunity to apply for my current position came up, I had been working towards it for 4-5 years. I was able to demonstrate enough industry knowledge to be seen as relevant and was able to answer nuanced questions about specific areas of the program with some degree of competence.

Then came the decision of whether to take the position when offered. If you are interested, I have detailed my decision making process in more detail than is probably interesting here: http://www.phils-career-blog.com/2012/07/phil-career-decision/

North Loop Careers - Final-01Divergent Experiment: North Loop Careers

Many of us have what I’ve labeled “divergent” interests. Here I’ll walk through the explore>test>build construct in my last post and how it related to my current divergence, North Loop Careers.

One of my passions has historically been career development. Probably not a shock to anyone who knows me or has read this blog on and off. My “day jobs” have included a good deal of advising and coaching. I enjoy it and find I have a voice that resonates with some given my mix of industry experience, consulting and teaching.

Put that passion together with the combo platter of poor prospects many undergraduates face as they graduate and ever increasing student debt burdens and I have gradually ramped up a company now branded North Loop Careers. The idea began to percolate a few years ago. Carlson School undergraduates have GREAT career service, but there isn’t another student group within a 5 state region that has even close to their level of support coupled with opportunity. This combination of high touch coaching, integrated thoughtful programming, a required career class etc. is highly valuable and contributes to our consistently high placement and starting salaries.

So the question occurred to me: why can’t that be available to others?

The point of this post is testing out moves and building bridges (not the evolution of my strategy, which I may cover in a separate post). This was a classic entrepreneurial idea. I was (and am) not prepared to leave a rewarding day job. I also wasn’t sure where to take it and how to resource it. So what to do?

First, I had to EXPLORE and determine whether there was a market. I didn’t have a ton of personal time, so I had to outsource some smart leg work. Enter super-star then Carlson student now Deloitte consultant Lisa Clinton to help. (See her hip blog here.) She helped lay out the number of students in MN and was able to some initial interviews with career centers and undergraduates. A lesson here is what can you get done quickly by leveraging other resources. You don’t have to be, nor in my opinion do you want to be “all in” too early on speculation.

Another important element of exploration for me was to find a partner who was both equally committed to our mission and who had the time and drive to be more committed to driving operational aspects of the business. Carleen Kerttula is a longtime friend and colleague who has been a joy to work with. She was the third (and final) potential partner I connected with. The first two were perfect in their own ways, but lacked the time and commitment it was going to take. Carleen had both.

Next we had to TEST the concept. We did this in stages. The first was interviewing and talking with parents. They expressed exasperation and frustration with their kids’ plight. There was also a willingness to pay a premium to get them the help they needed.

And finally we had to BUILD enough infrastructure to launch a credible offering while still testing our offering. We launched an LLC, got our tax ID, hired an accountant, developed a website etc. We remain focused on doing this in a disciplined way and have a minimal capital investment so far. We strive to adhere to Lean Startup principles.

North Loop is currently taking customers. We have 10 in a pilot phase and are ramping up.

I hope that helps as an example. Life is messy, so there isn’t a “formula” to drive the change you’d like to see in your career or life. But there are practices that sure increase your odds of finding the opportunities that inspire and excite you. But those opportunities won’t find you on their own.

It’s amazing how the more your practice, the luckier you get…

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