Making a Career Change

After serving as an officer in the Air Force for 21 years, Doug Dickerson decided to change his career path by seeking an MBA. In the military, his responsibilities included logistics and political work for defense, but as he neared the end of the Global Executive MBA program, he was unsure of his next move.
"As I got closer and closer to graduation in 2009, I became less and less certain about what I wanted to do in my second career," Dickerson said. "I thought I knew, but the more I examined companies and careers, the more uncertain I felt."

To alleviate his uncertainty, Dickerson sought help from Fuqua's Career Management Center (CMC). Doug worked with Lisa Schwartz, Associate Director, Cross Continent, EMBA and Alumni, to clarify his list of priorities to position himself for satisfaction in both his career and his personal life.

"In the military, I spent a lot of time deployed," Dickerson said. "So for me, the biggest thing I wanted was to improve my time with my family. I wanted to be present and influence my kids' lives positively, and thus enrich my own life. Lisa helped me determine what would get me there—a job with a flexible schedule, limited travel and a tolerable amount of stress. Additionally, I wanted a job where I was helping people and serving a greater cause."

With that goal in mind, Dickerson tailored his resume to promote his leadership and highlight his experience managing resources—key skills he gained from his military career.

"It is hard for individuals to pinpoint their transferable skills," Schwartz said. "So in the CMC, we work with Fuqua students and alumni to rebrand themselves in a way that communicates their value and interests. We create a connection between their strengths, skills and experience with different roles across different industries and organizations."

Schwartz assisted Dickerson in establishing a target list of companies to pursue. Rather than just looking at open jobs, she encouraged him to seek roles and organizations that were the best fit - regardless of available positions. This research led to an additional set of desired characteristics focused on company culture and organizational structure. 

"When reviewing priorities, we ultimately determined I would find job satisfaction in the nonprofit sector," Dickerson said. "Lisa taught me to reframe my career story so I would be appealing to nonprofits committed to social impact. There is a huge difference when you're writing a resume or presenting yourself for this type of career versus a corporate career."

With the help of the CMC and the reach of the Fuqua network, it took Dickerson about six weeks to land a position that matched his priorities. Currently, he is State Director at AARP in a position with great potential for upward promotion and the ability to branch into other sectors. 

"Most veterans struggle to find a new career, sometimes for two to three years," Dickerson said. "I know people in similar situations who are still unemployed. I attribute my success to my education and the fact that I got great coaching from the CMC. I've found a career path that I am happy with, and I have the flexibility to continue to grow."

Schwartz noted that Dickerson's uncertainty surrounding his second career is common among Fuqua students and alumni seeking help from the CMC.

"Launching a job search - especially if someone never has before or if it has been a while - can be particularly stressful," Schwartz said. "So we start with the basics-where they are, their priorities, where they want to be and how they will get there."

Though it took Dickerson only six weeks to find a position that was right for him, Schwartz said the average job search can last 3-6 months, and longer if someone is changing function, industry or both. Schwartz sets this expectation to mitigate frustration when coaching students and alumni who are seeking new opportunities.

"After we help alumni put a job search strategy in place, we still support them," Schwartz said. "Sometimes we'll set checkpoints for accountability. Other times, all people need is someone encouraging them."

Once an alumnus lands an offer for a new opportunity, the CMC provides assistance with salary negotiation and other nuances of accepting an offer.

"Once someone has settled into their new position," Schwartz said. "I always ask, 'What are you going to do next?' Career management is an ongoing process and alumni should continue to build their networks, learn new skills, keep an eye on the competition and be prepared for new opportunities, since the need to transition can be unexpected."
In addition to individual coaching, the CMC offers a number of other tools for career management. The careers portion of the alumni website contains links to a job posting board , recordings of Fuqua's bi-monthly online career workshops, and outside resources that are available to alumni for free or at a reduced cost .

"The number one tool alumni have is the Fuqua network," Schwartz said. "The CMC encourages alumni to reach out to one another to build relationships regardless of whether they are in a job search or not. Regional alumni events and virtual interactions on platforms like LinkedIn can be extremely effective ways for alumni to connect, share their personal brands, value propositions and thought leadership."

"I got a great MBA from a great school with great faculty," Dickerson said. "I had a wonderful time in classes and built my network, but the CMC helped me find true satisfaction in my career post-graduation. Fuqua has the total package with this resource, and my investment in my education has positioned me to pursue my career goals."