HR @ Your Service: Unexpected career trajectories


One of the best things about working at MIT is the opportunity for career advancement. Some people have several jobs in their tenure here, while others have several careers. Just consider Diana Hughes, who started at MIT eight years ago with "no intention of staying more than a year," she says.

Hughes is a prime example of someone who worked hard, took advantage of MIT's resources and benefited from excellent managing and mentoring along the way. Her first job was a one-year position in the Reference Publications Office. She was referred by an MIT colleague, who, as so many of us do, recommended MIT as a great place to work. Her job as communications assistant got extended another six months and during this time, Hughes "went to every session HR had" on career planning. She attended workshops on interviewing skills, on writing resumes, on learning about her Myers-Briggs type. She worked closely with what was formerly the Workforce and Career Planning Office, now called Career and Talent Management, and found a new position as communications coordinator for the HR Payroll Project.

"I had a small nervous breakdown when I first started," jokes Hughes, referring to the vastness of this project and the experience of reporting to new people with different work styles. But she continues: "Being uncomfortable is sometimes a good thing." Her manager at the time, Alyce Johnson, recognized her discomfort and asked her how she likes to learn. This mentoring made a huge difference and she ended up staying on the project for four years. During this project she became communications and project manager for Jerry Grochow, vice president of IS&T. "Working directly for a VP was a great experience as I continued to build my skills," remembers Hughes. "Jerry was incredibly supportive," providing opportunities for her to grow and use her learning on the job. She ended up getting promoted to special assistant.

The experience was clearly win-win, as Grochow remarks, "Diana is just the type of person we are looking for on MIT administrative staff: energetic, organized, gets along with people, interested in career advancement by both taking academic subjects and gaining practical experience. I was pleased to be able to work with her on strategies for personal development while keeping her here at MIT."

Indeed, Hughes' ability to apply what she learned from her professional development courses is every trainer's success story. For example, Hughes took a facilitation course and then used her new knowledge in work meetings. By working with colleagues such as Johnson, who is the manager in organization and employee development (OED), Hughes learned about a whole new field and realized that she had a natural affinity for it. This exposure led Hughes to pursue a master's degree in OED, and, after three years, Hughes graduated on May 17. Even better, she landed a job at Lincoln Lab as IT transformation lead. "This is a huge job, and I'm grateful for the network I've built up back on campus as I start to build a bridge between IS&T and HR colleagues here."

Hughes' career trajectory took her to unexpected places and she took advantage of those places. Her career advice is to take the time to figure out what you really want to do. In addition, find a mentor to help you navigate the scene and who believes in you. As she says, "Alyce believed in me before I believed in myself." Finally, recognize that you are really in control of your own career--but realize that there are plenty of people and resources to help you along the way.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 21, 2008 (download PDF).


Topics: Administration, Campus services, Staff

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