By Alphonse Niyitegeka
Did you know it can take a decade to reach a career you’re passionate about and start impacting the lives of people?
Some people land their ideal career as soon as they are done with their studies. Others spend a couple of years before finding their dream job. If you are still unsure about your career path, don't panic. Rather, it is just a matter of time. Continue to work and learn and good things will come your way. These points were underscored in my conversation with Jennifer LaFountain.
Most people seem to be unsure about what they want their career to be during their undergraduate studies. This was the case for Jennifer.
“After graduating from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) with my undergraduate degree in 2004, I did not have a plan for what I wanted to do," she said. "I thought that I wanted to be a lawyer. But I didn’t have a plan for going to law school. It took me almost a decade to figure out what I wanted to do."
Instead of going to law school, she took an entry-level job at Liberty Mutual Insurance, where she was in charge of handling environmental claims. With the variety of responsibilities, she learned a lot about customer service, time management, problem-solving, and so forth. These are not exactly the skills she thought she would learn at an insurance company.
After working on various projects with different experts, she gained new perspectives on how to create the best environment for employees so they in turn can provide the finest experience for customers. In response, she designed new approaches to completely satisfy customers by teaching employees how to show empathy and be compassionate towards the customers.
She kept pushing forward and working hard to begin the career that she had become passionate about. Day by day, her zeal for learning new things and facing new challenges made her creative and innovative. As a result, she ended up creating the strongest channels on how to serve customers with empathy.
Discovering her passion and potential led to a job opportunity at SNHU.
“It was the best decision of my life. The work that I do at Southern New Hampshire is exactly what I dreamed of doing,” she said.
She plays an important role at Southern New Hampshire, helping create a positive work environment that enables employees to be their best selves and help students as much as possible.
At first, she served as an Associate Director Talent Engagement & Inclusion. In this position, she was in charge of the Employee Engagement Council and the cross-functional team charged with consulting and implementing university-wide solutions and interventions for enterprise-wide engagement priorities. She also served as project lead with a cross-functional working group charged with designing and distributing frameworks and policies. She continued to invest in her own education at SNHU, earning a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership in 2011 and a Master of Science in Operations and Project Management in 2017.
In her current job, she spends lots of time in meetings, trying to understand what people need to achieve different project goals. Based on these discussions, she tries to work out solutions that are in the best interests of all parties. She designs and rolls out onboarding programs for new employees and speaks regularly to her colleagues on how to best improve the work environment.
Currently, Jennifer is the Director of Talent Engagement and Inclusion where she leads the program, Shine Recognition. This program focuses on creating and nurturing a culture of appreciation and recognition. She also works as an adjunct faculty member, helping students learn critical business skills. As a result, the students learn how to solve problems and make proper business decisions. She teaches students how to use design thinking and develop an action plan with specific goals towards post-collegiate life and their career.
Jennifer’s mission is not to stop rather do everything she can to help others. She also serves as a mentor to SNHU students who are part of the Global Education Movement initiative.
“My experience mentoring with GEM has invigorated my desire to continue to volunteer and give back,” she said.
It was fascinating to speak with Jennifer. Below are key lessons from our conversation that can serve as inspiration for others.
● Learn to receive feedback. You will receive different answers during your life and career. “I have applied and been rejected over and over again and felt hopeless. But the reality is, everything is temporary and your situation will change,” she said.
● Appreciate education. “The value of education is incalculable,” she said. Education can set you up to have a new, better life. Education is something everyone should have and value.
● Be your authentic self. Always be yourself and use your strengths, skills and knowledge to get the work done. You can always count on yourself, even when others may try and bring you down.
● Grow your emotional intelligence. You need to become a problem solver through reading and understanding people. Learn as much as you can by reading articles and books, listening to podcasts, and taking more courses. They will pass the time while teaching you new things from others with different perspectives.
I am passionate about communication. I am interested in it because I like to serve people.
My first key takeaway from my conversation with Jennifer is that patience matters. Throughout the interview, Jennifer highlighted how she spent over 10 years waiting for her ideal opportunity. I must remember that good things come with time and dedication.
It is also very important for me to be where I can learn and grow. It requires taking chances and trying new things. Even if you don’t like them, I will learn something in the process.
“If you are working where you are not getting opportunities that are helping you grow, then don't stick it out. Life is too short, find something else,” she said.
Another key point relates to being resilient! Humiliation and discouragement are part of career journeys, but we can’t give up. Despite several rejections, Jennifer kept pushing forward and finally made it. I want to apply this spirit in my career and I look forward to reaching my goals one day, whenever that may be.
Alphonse Niyitegeka is a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a degree in communications. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.
Learn more about Jennifer LaFountain on her LinkedIn profile. Jennifer is a volunteer with Global Mentorship Initiative (GMI), a non-profit organization that provides guidance and business skills to underserved college students. We thank GMI for their support in sharing with their volunteers the opportunity to be interviewed by SNHU GEM students who are taking part in the Interview an Innovator program.