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How I Went From VP in Corporate Finance to Teaching English in Russia
Written by: Kristine Bolt
Last Updated: December 22, 2020
There’s nothing like a job hunt to make you feel absolutely worthless. It’s as if your skills and years of experience mean absolutely nothing, especially when you’re changing industries. I had what I thought was a healthy level of confidence in my employability before three years ago but, boy, the job hunt humbled me.
Let me paint you a picture to help you understand why my job hunt decimated my already shattered ego. About four years ago, the financial corporation at which I was a vice president made me redundant. Several months later, after much soul searching, I decided to change my career path and get into international development because I wanted to work at something that would enable me to travel extensively and serve people at the same time.
Once I made that decision, it took me a frustrating six months of applying for every remotely appropriate position that I could find just to land a volunteer position with a small NGO in Indonesia. I took that position for a few reasons: I was desperate to feel productive and like I was helping someone; I was desperate to start my life of real travel instead of only vacation travel; and I needed to gain “experience in the field,” which is a requirement for most international development jobs.
I spent ten unforgettable months in Indonesia, halfway through which I obtained my TEFL certification (that's a story for another day). Thankfully, my work with the NGO during those ten months included teaching English to underprivileged children, which helped me gain teaching experience for my résumé.
About two months before my departure from Indonesia, I started taking concentrated stabs at job hunting in international development again, stupidly thinking that my almost one year of experience in the field with a tiny NGO would make me less invisible to the hiring people in that industry. Oh, how wrong I was. Still, I told myself that once I got back to Jamaica, relaxed for a bit then buckled down to start looking for a job again, one would come without too much difficulty.
Within a week of landing in Jamaica, I restarted my job hunt in earnest. Over the next two weeks I applied for fourteen jobs in international development. Only one of those organizations even bothered responding to me, and it was a rejection. I started getting an inkling that my piddling one year of field experience meant just as little as my zero years previously had.
After a total of three weeks of searching, I paused the hunt and started thinking about my approach. I felt like I was wildly firing at an invisible target, hoping that one of my shots would hit something...anything. My contemplation lead me to realize that it was highly improbable that I would land a decent job in a timely manner with this harum scarum approach, so I decided that I needed to change my strategy, but change it to what?
I mulled things over for a while then finally decided that the likelihood of me landing an international development job was next to nil (I know, this light bulb should have gone off months earlier, right?). The field is extremely difficult to get into because it’s so closed – they basically only want to hire people who already have a tonne of international development experience or under-thirties who have some type of international development degree. My corporate experience, rich as it is, meant less than nothing to them. So at last I decided to accept the rejections and implied rejections that I was getting all over the place and abandon that particular track.
Where did that leave me? Well, my criteria for happiness and fulfillment at this point in my life are pretty simple: travel and earn enough money to be reasonably comfortable, while serving people in a meaningful way. Then another light bulb went off and I remembered that I have a perfectly good TEFL certification in my job hunting tool box. It finally occurred to me that I should put it to good use. I know, how could I have forgotten about that? What can I say? When I'm locked onto a goal, I tend to become blinkered. I’m working on that.
In any case, I figured that I’m from a country that speaks English as its native language, I have a tonne of corporate working experience that speaks to a high level of professionalism, and I also have experience actually teaching English as a foreign language in a foreign country. Some lucky language school would snap me up quick and fast, right?
Wrong. I applied for ten teaching jobs before I even landed an interview. Interestingly, most of my TEFL applications, like my international development ones, went unacknowledged, as if they never existed.
Finally, after a few anxiety-riddled weeks, I managed to land two interviews, one of which resulted in a job offer in Chile. I seriously considered this offer because nothing else was working out for me. However, I didn’t really want the job because the pay was so low that I would have to hustle to make ends meet. Nothing against hustling but I'm at a point in my life where I have no desire to work a crazy number of hours each week in order to keep a roof over my head and food in my stomach. I decided to hold off the Chile people for a few days so I could see how my other applications would pan out.
Suddenly, things started turning around a little bit for She Who Was Unwanted, because I scored an interview for a position in which I was really interested. I thought the interview went well and figured that I had the job in the bag, but they emailed me on the morning of my birthday to say that I was rejected basically because they didn’t think my classroom skills would be good enough for their school.
Ouch! That stung and I was disappointed because, although I had tried not to get too far ahead of the process, I could already see myself there. Still, it was my birthday and I had no intention of spending it feeling like the ugly girl at the party so I decided to ignore the entire situation until the next day. Once I stopped ignoring it though, my feelings of worthlessness tried to choke me into dejection. But I'm a strong woman and growing stronger every day, so I pushed away those bad feelings and stood firm in my faith that God was up to something good that I just didn't know about yet.
By this point, I had accepted the Chile job offer but I hadn’t started making concrete plans to go there; it just didn't feel right. So I decided to go back to the job boards and look for new job postings. I found only one that interested me – my current job in Yakutsk, Russia – and I applied for it. The minute I saw that posting, I wanted that job with a fierceness that surprised me. It felt as if the job was mine and that Yakutia was where I should be. It wasn't because of any long-held dream that I had of going there; I didn't even know that a place called Yakutia existed before I saw that job posting. But I just knew some place deep inside me that it was where I ought to be. Still, the process sent me back to figuratively biting my nails. I mean, I knew this was my job but the school probably didn't know that yet.
About two weeks after I submitted my application, and still with Chile uncomfortably simmering on the back burner, I woke up to find an email from the Yakutsk school requesting an interview with me. A few days later, they interviewed me by Skype, which included me conducting a mock lesson. Afterwards, I felt really good about the interview and felt even more that this job was mine. However, having been burned before and not being sure if the school and I were on the same page, I tried not to get ahead of myself.
Exactly one more uncertainty-filled week after that interview, they offered me the position and I, after much screaming, jumping around, clapping, and prayers of gratitude, promptly accepted.
In all, I applied for twenty-four jobs over the course of the eight weeks of my job hunt once I got back to Jamaica. I know that this sounds like a cakewalk compared to what some people go through to find a job, but my battered ego had suffered greatly after being rejected through redundancy then again by the international development industry. There wasn't much left of it by the time my I landed my job in Yakutsk. In fact, it was kind of a pulverized mess.
If you're changing careers or even if you're looking for your first job you may find, like I did, that the job hunt can be a very humbling experience. This is not necessarily a bad thing because humbling experiences keep us...well, humble. Still, keep the faith and don’t let the experience break you; the job that is just right for you is out there! Keep being persistent in searching for it. Even if you have to take a desperation or gap-fill gig or two before you find your dream job, never give up! Because life is so sweet when you're doing what you're meant to do.
A citizen of Jamaica who holds a Master's Degree in engineering from UC Berkeley, Kristine literally traveled halfway around the world to teach English in Siberia, Russia after earning her TEFL certification online from International TEFL Academy. As an ITA Alumni Ambassador, Kristine has shared her perspectives on a variety of TEFL-related issues to help others with their transition of moving abroad to teach English overseas.
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