Picture this: A young, ambitious graduate accounting student at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) trying to craft a career off checklists and achievements. The proverbial type A millennial who thought they would float through life just checking off the boxes on “the list.” My type A personality convinced me that if I didn’t abide by “the list,” my career would get derailed on some less successful path and life would be over.
Working at an independent school was not on “the list,” nor was it on my career bingo card for that matter, but I always loved the idea of marrying mission with accounting. While finishing my graduate degree at MTSU, I applied for and was accepted to the business office associate internship at University School of Nashville (USN), an annual internship program that was offered up until the pandemic.
I found the business office team to be terrific and the work rewarding. Personally, I attended public school from first grade all the way through college, and that was all I knew. The idea of working at an independent school was slightly intimidating to this kid from southeast Davidson County. Nevertheless, I walked into the building, head held high each day, ready to learn whatever my team was willing to teach.
At the end of my internship at USN, I remember Teresa Standard, who still serves as USN’s CFO today, sitting me down and saying, “This is going to be the best job you ever had.” In the back of my mind, I knew she was right, but I felt an instinctual pull toward something new and uncharted. Even before the internship had started, I had already accepted a full-time job at a Big Four accounting firm in Nashville, and I decided to stick with that plan — and check off a box on my list.
After two years at the firm and five years working in economic development finance at another local nonprofit, I got a call from a close friend that the assistant controller position at USN was opening up. The opportunity came at just the right time. My father had passed away unexpectedly, and I was completely burnt out at my job. I needed a fresh start. So I submitted an application, interviewed and accepted the position. Five months later, I was offered a promotion to controller.
Rejoining the business office team at USN has been one of the best decisions for my career. As I get settled into my new role, it is not lost on me that “the list” kept me focused on my goals during the early stages of my career, but taking risks and coloring outside of the lines will propel my career forward in the long run.
For business officers looking to build talent at their schools, here are a few key takeaways from my experience:
- Expand the horizon of your candidate pool. Cast the net far and wide to attract talent that might be outside the norm. And when they come, support them.
- Create opportunities for young career professionals to learn from you. USN’s internship for young business majors was incredible. Similar programs can open the funnel in our industry and serve as a launching pad for the next generation of independent school leaders. Let’s build the pipeline!
- If you are the young talent, find ways to contribute to the office and make a lasting impression on your team. If you decide to take a different opportunity, keep the relationship with your coworkers strong. You never know when you could boomerang.
- Finally, whatever your career stage, don’t be limited to “the list.” Your next career move may not be on your radar yet and likely doesn’t have a check box beside it.