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Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Year in Review: My challenges, learnings, and successes

June 2, 2011

 It has been just over a year after finishing undergrad; I can’t believe it. What a rollercoaster of a journey, and here I am on the other side 12 months later. I’ve learned a lot, and I think there are many of you out there who can relate to my thoughts and experiences. While this is a deeply personal story, I’m sharing it because I think it can help people, namely young adults like me. I hope you find something useful out of it... 

I returned from my big euro-trip last August thinking, “Alright, time to find a job now. I went to businesses school, I’m a pretty smart kid, finding a job in business for social change shouldn’t be too difficult, right?”  


It didn’t take me very long to realize the brick wall I was up against. It didn’t matter that I had gone to business school and that I was incredibly passionate and driven. As a new entrant into the workforce, new grads face one of most challenging and defeating barriers to achieving career success in our society. We are bred to strive for success; we are raised to believe that with hard work, great education and some good-old student debt, we’re going to fly. 

But new grads are stuck in a really funny spot, because even though we are intelligent and motivated, we don’t have the ‘3-5 years of experience’, and no one wants to spend the money training us- at least not in this economic climate. So how are we supposed to get anywhere if no one is willing to take us on initially? How is this system fair? 

Graduating from a school like Ivey brings a ton of pressure and anxiety with it. If you aren’t going for the more mainstream careers (finance, marketing, accounting, consulting), you have a mountain to climb. I started business school knowing I wanted to use business tools to drive social and environmental change – that has been my vision all along. I never wanted one of those mainstream jobs, and it was a very isolating and scary feeling. Whereas most of my peers had recruiters coming to them, I literally had to start from scratch. 

September came quickly and after a few weeks of effort I started to feel really frustrated. I sent emails, made some phone calls, spent time on applications – I heard nothing in return. I started to let myself believe I wasn’t smart enough, which is a slippery slope to fall down. Please, don’t ever let yourself think that way. And as a side note, a few weeks of emails and cover letters isn’t the way to find yourself a job – but we’ll get to that a little bit later. 

After an interview with a company that ended up taking an MBA grad instead of me, one of my interviewers recommended I check out Ashoka. I’d never heard of Ashoka before, and while they weren’t hiring, it seemed their volunteers gained a lot of value out of the experience. 

Volunteer?” I thought, “I can’t volunteer. I need money, I need a job. I’m a business grad for god sakes!” 

After a few weeks of thinking this way, I checked out the Ashoka website and knew right away I needed to become a part of the organization. So I put my ego aside and committed to volunteering for a few months. I realized that if I’m going to get anywhere with my niche career vision and passion, I’m going to have learn more about it and build a network (Lesson 1!). Unfortunately, we are in an unfair system that takes advantage of new graduates, but until someone figures out a way to change it, you need to work within the system to get what you want. 

Ashoka, with social entrepreneurship at its core, was my answer. 

The Ashoka staff welcomed me with open arms and very quickly became like family. I was doing interesting work, was valued by the team, and felt stimulated every day – I was heading in the right direction. 

After a few weeks, I met with an individual who is now a great mentor of mine. He is one of those “must-know” people in my field. Lesson 2: find the right people to get advice from. I happen to work in the same office space as him, so I got pretty lucky. I asked for some career guidance, and he gave me the best piece of advice that I believe has gotten me to where I am 8 months later:
“Read. Read as much as you can – 3 hours a day. And write. Start a blog. Don’t do it for anyone but yourself. Don’t think about anybody reading it. Write about what interests you and you will learn in the process. Do this for 1 year straight, and trust me, you will get your dream job.”


  1. Jillian - you displayed such vulnerability and courage in sharing your experiences. When you articulate what you believe, the right people follow. We follow people who believe what we believe.

    I believe!! :) In you and in your incredible experiences. The ones you have created for yourself with the help of many.

    My best,
    Stephen Shedletzky

  2. You are so inspirational!

  3. Jill ... Your email didn't work ... No day but today to write me: