This is part of a series of conversations I have with ambitious, purpose-driven professionals who have created fulfilling careers. My goal is to tease out the lessons learned during the ups and downs and twists and turns of their career journey so that you can gain ideas and inspiration on how to design your own fulfilling career.
Hannah is currently the Talent Acquisition & Organizational Development Manager at OpsGenie, a cloud-based incident response platform founded in 2012. But before she found herself growing her career in Human Resources at a fast-growing tech start-up we traced her path back to when she was a freshman in college trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life.
What I love about Hannah's story is that despite not knowing what she wanted to do she had a natural ability to make the best of a challenging moment, figure out a way to learn from it, and ultimately see her way forward despite all the uncertainty. It is no wonder she now finds herself enjoying the fast-paced life at a startup where she is called on to wear many hats and has no idea what next month or next year will look like.
In this conversation, we talk about how she used networking to learn about new opportunities and find each of her jobs and how her desire to help people and do work that matters has been a consistent theme throughout her career.
Q: Let's start from the beginning, where did you go to college?
A: I went to school at James Madison University in Virginia. I'm from Rhode Island and I wanted to get out and experience someplace new. I loved the idea of going somewhere where I didn't know anyone and challenging myself to figure out how to meet new people and navigate a new place.
Q: How did you decide on your college major?
A: I met with my freshman advisor and she asked me what I liked and I said I really like people and I like food. So she went down a list of majors and said I should probably be a Nutrition major. And I thought that sounded good. I can take gym classes and learn about food, great! And that's what I did for the first two years of college until I had to take Human Physiology and Bio Chem. And then I was like hold up, this is not for me.
So I had to scramble to figure out a new major to switch to where I could apply all the credits I had already earned and that would still let me graduate within four years. I landed on Health Communications which is basically all about how doctors communicate with patients and the impact that has on healthcare.
Q: What did your job search look like as a senior in college?
A: When senior year rolled around and I wasn't really sure what I could do with my major. Healthcare seemed interesting but I wasn't sure what I was qualified to do. I also had a bunch of friends who were accounting and finance majors who were all getting job offers from the big companies and I felt the pressure to find something, not knowing that they were all part of the recruiting programs that were specific to that industry.
Needless to say, I applied to over 150 jobs online. To places like Mass General and Harvard for jobs in marketing and project management and I didn't get any responses back. I was getting so discouraged. But I didn't know back then that I shouldn't have been applying for those jobs. I wasn't qualified for those jobs. By the time I graduated I still didn't have a job. I moved back home and continued to apply but still didn't really know what I wanted to do or how to figure it out.
Q: How did you get your first job out of college?
A: A childhood friend of mine who was working at a staffing agency in Boston posted on Facebook that her staffing agency was looking to hire someone to join their company.
At the time I had no idea what a staffing agency was and when I learned that they helped people find jobs I thought that I might be interested in doing that. I love helping people and after my frustrating job search experience, I thought if I could help someone avoid having the same experience that I had then that would be great.
So I went for an interview and got the job. I moved out of my parent's house and moved up to Boston to start my new life. And on the first day, I walk in and sit down in the bullpen with all the other recruiters and by lunchtime I wondered if I had made the right decision. It was essentially a sales job where I had to make a certain number of calls a day and I was just thrown into it with little direction. I'm not a salesperson, I'm not motivated by numbers. But I told myself I had to stick with it and figure it out at least for the immediate future.
Q: What was your biggest learning experience in that first job?
A: Well I tried to quit about four months in. I had actually gotten a job offer at another company and went into my boss's office to give notice and he sat me down and we talked about why I was leaving. I didn't have a good answer for why I was leaving or why this other role was better so he challenged me to really give this job a shot for a few more months and if I still didn't like it then he would personally help me find another one.
I'm a competitive person and I responded to his challenge by really trying hard and giving it my best. I focused less on the transactional nature of the job and focused more on the parts I liked about the job like building relationships and getting to know people. I ended up staying in that role for 2.5 years and I got everything I could out of that role. I became the top rep in the country for my division. I learned how to focus on how to make the best out of this situation and I put aside my larger worries about whether this was the right job for me.
I learned how to be successful at work even though I didn't love it and then I enjoyed my life outside of work. I went to the gym, traveled, spent time with friends. And after 2.5 years I had experience and skills that I could build on. I started networking to figure out what was next for me. I wanted to know how far I could take this recruiting experience.
Q: What did you do differently to find your next job?
A: I really took the time to explore a lot of different opportunities. I didn't want to make the same mistake and end up in a job that I didn't want to do. I learned about campus recruiting through my roommate's boyfriend who worked at EY the big accounting firm.
It was a job where I still got to talk to people and help them find jobs but I was no longer in a bullpen office setting. I'd be on campus and I'd get to wear t-shirts and plan events. It sounded like a much better fit for me.
I learned so much in that role, from planning big events to creating recruiting strategies. I was responsible for recruiting on certain campuses and had some flexibility to be creative about how I wanted to do that.
But eventually, I came up against the fact that I wasn't super passionate about public accounting or working at a large organization. I felt restricted by the rigid corporate structure. And even though I had a great experience and learned so much I didn't feel like I could make the impact that I wanted to make. As one person on a team of a hundred people, it was hard to feel like my individual contributions mattered as much. I wanted to be more creative and innovative in how I did my job and I wasn't able to really do that.
Q: How did you approach making your next career move into tech?
A: I reflected on what my EY experience taught me about what I wanted and didn't want in my next job and what I brought to the table as far as skills and experience. I started networking again and learned so much about what people actually did in their day to day roles.
After a conversation with one of my old friends, she thought start-ups would interest me and she connected me to someone who worked at a venture capital firm in Boston. I thought tech sounded cool and fun. I pictured guys in hoodies, wearing jeans, eating snacks, and riding razor scooters in the office which sounded pretty cool to me. But knowing myself and knowing that I'm a pretty organized person who likes certainty and knowing exactly what I need to do, some friends cautioned me that I'd have to be ok with a lot of ambiguity and very little structure and organization. But overall the environment sounded interesting and being part of a growing team where I could make an impact was a real draw for me.
So I met with the VC and he gave me an overall picture of the startup scene in Boston. He was a great person for me to network with because I was jumping into a brand new industry and I knew I wanted this next role to be a step up from my last position. And I wanted to be in a role where I could create, innovate, and make an impact on a daily basis.
I was actually open to doing something new besides staffing and recruiting but I wasn't sure what other areas of Human Resources would interest me. And through more networking, I got connected to OpsGenie and met with the CFO and VP of Sales. I went in for what I thought was an informational meeting but it actually turned out to be a full-blown interview.
Q: How did you handle the surprise interview?
A: Luckily it turned out fine but I was really confused at the time. They were talking to me about the role and I how I would be a good fit based on what our mutual contact had told them about me but I had no idea what role they were referring to.
But in that first conversation, I could tell that I really liked them and thought they were awesome. They reminded me of some of my past mentors. They were smart and accomplished and have already had past successes. I felt like they knew what they were doing and they wouldn't be part of a risky start-up.
I considered that if I was going to do this whole start-up thing then this would be a great place to do it and see if I like it. And I was going to get to do a lot more than just recruiting. I was going to have to wear a lot of hats and get involved with pretty much whatever they needed me to do.
Q: How has this job met or exceeded your expectations?
A: When I got the job offer I asked my network for their advice. I wanted this job to add to my experience and give me a new set of skills. And that's exactly what this job has done for me. I have gotten to do and learn so much. I feel like I'm making an impact on a day to day basis. With each hire we make we are creating the culture of this company.
And there is so much opportunity for me to grow and make this experience what I want it to be. The leadership here is very supportive and they want me to get the most out of my time here. And knowing that has helped me get comfortable with dealing with the uncertainty of working at a startup.
Q: What does it mean to have a fulfilling career?
A: For me, I've figured out that life and work flexibility is important to me. I'm motivated by experiences and relationships. I'm not motivated by the numbers which is why sales was not the right job for me. I want a job where I can still have a life. And when I'm at work I want to build relationships with my colleagues. I want to enjoy who I work with. I want to support them and have them support me. And this job right now gives me all of that. I'm in charge of my own schedule, we have unlimited vacation time, and that means we are responsible for getting our work done and we don't have anyone watching us punch in and punch out and I love that about this job.
Career Design Lessons
- If you don't know what you want to do the best thing to do is just start doing something and learn what you like and don't like from that experience.
- Networking with friends, family, and colleagues is the best way to not only find a job but to learn about options you would have never considered.
- Having mentors you can rely on to provide guidance and feedback makes it easier to make big career decisions that you are unsure about.
- Be intentional about choosing your next job so that you are adding to your skillset and making yourself more marketable.
Call To Action
- Join the Career Design LinkedIn Group and get access to more great articles and resources to help you design a more fulfilling career.
- If you are interested in learning more about how career coaching can help you create a more fulfilling career schedule a free consultation at MGC Coaching.
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About The Author
Mo Chanmugham, Esq., CPCC is a former entertainment lawyer turned career coach and the founder of MGC Coaching. He helps ambitious professionals who are feeling stuck gain the clarity and confidence they need to create more fulfilling careers. He also serves as the Senior Associate Director of Career Services at New England Law | Boston where he offers his career development expertise to students and alumni.
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