Anna Sparks has made the most of her career transitions by becoming an international career coach. She started her career in international development as a Peace Corps volunteer, and has since worked for a variety of development agencies. When the office she was working at closed, Anna used her coaching skills to help her 25 coworkers find new jobs. She also viewed this career challenge as a “golden opportunity” to focus on growing her coaching business. Here are her tips on creating a career that works for you.
When you started your career, what were you doing?
I started my career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria. That was my first foray into international development. From Peace Corps I went to work for the US Department of Health and Human Services in Chicago, the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Malawi, the State Department in Costa Rica, and then USAID in Nicaragua. Somewhere along the way I earned my Master’s in Public Administration.
What do you do now?
I am an International Career Coach. I work with people who have international experience and those who need help fitting a unique job (or three or four) or employment gap into their work history.
How did you get from Point A (your first career) to Point B (your current work)?
I loved working in international development and was truly pursuing my international development career as an accompanying expat spouse. However, there were a few things that drove me crazy. First, every time we left one country to move to another for my husband’s position, I had to quit my job no matter how much I wanted to stay. That also meant a period of unemployment – both frustrating personally and when it came time to take a look at our bank accounts. So, I knew this was not the perfect situation, although it was close.
While working in Nicaragua, I got certified as a coach and began seeing clients outside of my regular work hours. When I moved to Ecuador, I took a position at USAID and we found out six months after I started that USAID was going to close its doors in Ecuador and all 25 Ecuadorian staff would be laid off. I immediately asked my boss if I could use my coaching skills to benefit my colleagues and he agreed.
I designed a training program to guide my USAID colleagues through the job search and the transition from one job to another. I gave group presentations and worked one on one with people and I loved every second of it.
When USAID closed and all of us were laid off, I could have gone to another US Government position. However, I was a little bit tired of the bureaucracy and was looking for something where I could be more innovative and creative. We had two years left in Ecuador and I saw it as my golden opportunity to try to make my coaching business work.
What is one thing you wish you had known when you were moving into your new career venture?
That you can’t do it on your own. You need a strong network and a lot of supporters. My husband is especially supportive and never doubts that I will succeed. I also have a network of other coaches that is very important to me.
What is the best part of your job?
Seeing a client succeed. I am equally thrilled when I hear that my client was offered the job they really wanted.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome when transitioning to a new career?
Figuring out how to define myself. Up until that point I had always had a position at the Embassy to clearly define myself. With my own business, I was the only one who could define myself.
How did you overcome this challenge?
Honestly, I tried introducing myself in a few different ways until I found something that felt right to me.
What is the best resource you’ve found in the past year to help you pursue your career goals?
I took a class called Make It Work Online. It was a big investment for me at the time but it forced me to fly through all the business set-up stuff so I could get to the meat of my business.
Anna Sparks is the founder of expat career coaching firm Anna Sparks Coaching. She helps expats around the world find jobs that they love, go back to work after gap, or change careers. If you’re gearing up for a job search and don’t want to worry about a thing, check out Anna’s 28 Days to Your Dream Job program! You’ll get Anna’s expert advice and feedback for perfecting your resume, writing a great cover letter, and preparing for interviews. Plus, she’ll teach you how to network naturally.