Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. -Rumi
Stef Milczarek is someone who moves comfortably among a broad range of cultures and styles. In her 13 years as a technology consultant, she gained exposure to a broad range of sectors, from nonprofit to healthcare to retail. But over time, she found herself gravitating towards certain projects more than others, reflecting that, “I realized that the technology work I enjoyed doing the most was with social impact organizations. But as a pure technology consultant, I was only able to do that kind of work part of the time. I wanted social impact to be my full-time work, and decided it was time to make a change.”
In 2019, she left her role at a major consulting firm to join a smaller social enterprise. The switch made sense on paper, but she quickly realized that the reality of the role lacked the technology focus she was looking for. While she had taken a step in the right direction, she found herself once again wrestling with questions like, “How do I figure out where I want to go next? How can I find a role with the right blend of technology and social impact?”
Resuming her search on her own, she landed a series of promising interviews but ultimately felt like she was going in circles. She shared, “I decided it was time to focus my energy on a new job seeking approach, and that’s when I found the MovingWorlds Institute. I needed to come up with a structured plan to develop my skills and network, and the Global Fellowship seemed like an excellent way to do that.”
Building a Sense of Community
Many of the professionals we work with come into the Global Fellowship feeling like the odd person out. When you’re in a work environment that isn’t the right fit, or job searching in isolation, it’s easy to feel like there’s something “wrong with you” for wanting more when everyone around you accepts the status quo.
For Stef, and many other alumni of the program, one of the most valuable aspects of the Fellowship is experiencing it as part of a cohort. Though the professionals in each cohort may appear to have nothing in common on the surface – coming from all different industries, backgrounds, countries, and career stages – they are united by a common goal of using their unique talents for the greater good. In becoming a Global Fellow, Stef shared that “I gained an immediate network of people that I could relate to and connect with about things like skill development, job searching, and social enterprise. We are able to share in each other’s ups and downs. Whether that involves looking for a new job (like I was) or working towards a promotion or starting their own social enterprise – we were all coming from a similar place. Before the Fellowship, I was on my own trying to foster relationships and build connections, which is hard to do in general but even harder during COVID. Having a place to share our challenges, get support working through them, and celebrate wins is something I’ve really appreciated.”
Being surrounded by supportive peers and facilitators also helped Stef re-frame the way she saw herself. She shared that, “[In the kickoff training weekend] we started with assessments like StrengthsFinder and Imperative Purpose, which reinforced in an articulate way what I already knew about myself – that I want to apply my skills at the organizational level to drive transformational change.” That self insight, coupled with the education about leading social impact frameworks and the layout of the social impact space, “helped me better articulate my professional story and position myself for the type of role I was seeking, and communicate the unique value that I can bring to the table within that space.”
Taking a Structured Approach to Career Growth
Being rooted in the supportive community of her cohort gave Stef “the opportunity to pause, take a step back, and shift out of panic mode and into strategic action.” The guided learning journey helped Stef break her broader career change goal into its component parts, and identify which areas it made most sense to focus on. “I got the guidance and structure I needed to figure out what I should be thinking about when it came to professional development, and where I should be focusing my efforts – building a plan for networking, a plan for applying to jobs, and a plan for personal branding. Instead of randomly sending out resumes or reaching out for 1:1s, I was able to plan and measure the actions I was taking within a more organized overarching plan.” With regular touch points across multiple channels, Stef and her cohort were able to keep each other accountable to their plans and encourage each other to reach their individual goals.
Stef’s hard work paid off just a few months into her Fellowship, she re-ignited a conversation with Feeding America where she had previously interviewed but did not get an initial offer. Stef shared, “this time around, I was able to demonstrate my ability to translate between the worlds of business and technology.” As part of the Fellowship, Stef also worked on a social impact project with BiD Network digitizing the investment process for African entrepreneurs with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, which helped her to further expand her industry knowledge. That experience also helped her stand out in her interview – as Stef reflected, “Although the project with BiD Network was just starting out when I got the interview with Feeding America, it allowed me to demonstrate that I was building this CRM skill area directly related to the role. I was able to speak to the pros and cons of different tools during the interview, and have a tangible example of that kind of work to refer back to.”
Starting A New Career on the Right Foot
We’re thrilled to share that Stef was selected as the new Director of Marketing Systems for Feeding America, and that the learnings, support, and network from the Fellowship have continued to impact her work. “I’ve been exposed to a lot of different types of people in my cohort, and I want to make sure that I continue to foster that kind of cross-functional collaboration both outside of and within Feeding America” she shared. “Although I’m part of the tech team, I’m making it a priority to network and reach out to other leaders at Feeding America who are outside the tech area. That is definitely part of the reinforcement of the networking skills I’ve learned in the Institute.”
The insights learned about herself have also helped Stef approach her new role with a different mindset. “I’m particularly strong in the areas of relationship building and influencing, which helps me build connections with teammates, understand their motivations and perspectives, and bring everyone into agreement about a path forward. With this in mind, I spent a lot of my first week with the team I’ll be leading, understanding where people are, what matters to them, the challenges they are facing, and the direction they want to see this shop going. Being able to foster these 1:1 relationships as well as team dynamic has been really critical, and continues to be.”
Reflecting on the experience as a whole, Stef left us with these closing thoughts: “Initially, I considered the Global Fellowship program to be part of my job hunting process. Over the course of the 6-months, however, it’s evolved into something much more all-encompassing for me. While it has definitely cemented important interviewing and job-seeking skills, I consider the MovingWorlds Institute to be part of my overarching professional development. Particularly in the social impact space, professional development is so much more than just finding the right job – it’s building a network of colleagues and experts; it’s continuously learning; it’s looking beyond the immediate industry or sector one might work in at the time. Ultimately, the Global Fellowship has re-ignited my passion for social impact and reinforced how much I enjoy being an active participant in the social impact community. I plan to continue weaving that passion into my new career and beyond, and I look forward to continuing to participate in sustainable professional development opportunities through this global network for years to come.”
Want to keep up with Stef’s social impact journey? Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.
We’re thrilled for Stef and the tremendous opportunity she has to make a difference with her unique blend of talents and strengths. As you can see from her story, the right combination of structure, peer support, and introspection can help turn a dream job into reality. If you’re looking for support making your own career transition, apply to an upcoming Global Fellowship cohort.