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Making the Most of Your Situation: From Waitress to Executive Director

By now, many of you know that I love the power of LinkedIn and this week's blog contributor is a testament to that. Back in 2020, Samantha and I connected through the platform via a hashtag, #youngprofessionals. From there, we became friends and almost a year later, here we are. As it turns out, we have many connections after all and I'm thrilled to have her as a YoPro Know contributor. Enjoy her piece on the wild career path she has been on since graduation.


Have you ever done everything you feel like you are supposed to do, just to fall short of your life’s goals? Hi, my name is Samantha, and this has happened to me time and time again.

I graduated college a year early, before my fiancé. As a first generation college graduate, my parents and I were SO proud, and I promptly began my Master’s of Public Administration. I decided on this program because of my aspirations to work in a local or state government. It didn’t take me long to realize that at the ripe age of 21, I was the youngest in my program’s cohort. My peers were hoping to advance in their career, whereas I was looking to start mine.

My last semester before graduation I researched, applied, interviewed, and was overlooked, for countless positions. Again, again, and again. Because I was newly married, I couldn’t afford to sit around and hope that one would stick, so I began waiting tables at a local Italian restaurant. During that time I was working nearly 40 hours a week. After graduation, my luck remained the same: a continuous cycle of feeling like I would never catch a break. The reason why? My age. While I had the educational requirements for the jobs I would apply for, I lacked the experience. When I altered my search for entry level jobs, I was faced with another obstacle: over-qualification.

I readjusted my focus to search for opportunities that would provide the skills I needed in this ideal career. This led me to pursue an opportunity in management with a retail company. My interests positioned me in a way where I was ready to undertake human resource responsibilities. For this reason, upper management allowed me to interview, hire, and train new employees, as well as develop community service initiatives. It wasn’t what I desired, but it helped me establish skills transferable into a career I envisioned.

It wasn’t what I desired, but it helped me establish skills transferable into a career I envisioned.

I never stopped searching. I knew that another option was out there, so the cycle continued. It was interesting; I knew I had an impressive background, with valuable internships and leadership roles, but no one was willing to take a chance on a girl with minimal professional experience.

It didn’t take long until a professional recruiting agency reached out. I was tired of the customer service industry. I mean, for the first 2 years of my marriage, I worked opposite schedules with my new husband. Thus, I laid out my terms, and I was specific. Soon thereafter, the company found a corporate opportunity that met every one of my non-negotiables. During my interview, I was told I would be bored, but I took a chance and they hired me. It only took 3 months until I was promoted. I continuously asked questions, advocated for myself, and developed my professional skills. The company boasted online about community initiatives, yet this office was lacking them, so I brought them back. Knowing that my passions to serve others needed to be fulfilled, we raised awareness for American Heart Month, collected school supplies, and a donation — 11 inches of my own hair donated to "Children With Hair Loss" during childhood cancer awareness month. But still, I searched. I wasn’t truly fulfilled, and was underutilized amongst my team. The atmosphere was welcoming, the people were kind, but just as they warned me in my interview, I was bored.

Just as I thought there was no end to the cycle, I received a call and the first words were, “How can we get you to come work for us?” What a change! I was in control of my next opportunity for the first time. A South Carolina based nonprofit organization was on the search for an energetic Executive Director, and my friend recommended me for the opening. The competition was steep, but the board of directors were a fan of my tenacity and passion for empowering others. So at the age of 25 I became the Executive Director of The Advanced Institute for Development and Learning in Greenville, SC. My husband, my dogs, and I moved hours away from where we called home, and we haven’t looked back.

Here I am, nearly a year as an Executive Director, and I’m proud to say it’s been that long since I’ve opened LinkedIn to check what other opportunities were available.

By finding a job that aligned with my personal and professional values, I found career happiness and contentment. Every step in my journey to this opportunity was important. I grew as a young adult and as a professional all while cultivating experiences that would benefit me long term.

I grew as a young adult and as a professional all while cultivating experiences that would benefit me long term.

One of my favorite quotes to sum up any advice I could give a young professional is from legend Dolly Parton, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

Connect with the author here: Samantha Zimmerschied

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