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A Social-Impact Success Story | Jennifer Lazar Schiamberg

Idealist Guest

A shot of a wide road in the middle of nowhere.

Many successful career relaunchers—mid-career professionals looking to rejoin the workforce after a significant career break—consider volunteerism and nonprofit work to be a part of their relaunch journey. Working or volunteering in the social-impact space is an excellent opportunity for relaunchers to refamiliarize themselves with the ways of the workplace, bulk up their resume with fresh experience, and potentially find a full-time profession in the nonprofit sector.

Relauncher Jennifer Lazar Schiamberg, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Events at The Sohn Conference Foundation, recently shared her thoughts on her relaunch journey in the social-impact space with our friends at iRelaunch.

After years of volunteering for her children’s preschool, Jennifer Lazar Schiamberg’s kids were moving on to elementary school and it seemed like the right time for her to find a new outlet. After networking and holding a number of informational interviews, a friend from her children’s preschool suggested a part-time freelance position at a nonprofit. Although she was overqualified for the position, it was a perfect opportunity to sharpen her skills after being out of the workforce for so long.

Eager to apply her advertising experience, Jennifer helped promote the organization’s brand and create a global identity. The Board of Directors took notice, and the freelance job became a permanent position with a title change to match her qualifications. Here’s her story:

How difficult was the choice to leave your advertising career on Madison Avenue to care for your children?

After maternity leave, I was worried that I would be “throwing it all away” if I didn’t quickly return to work. But after a full year back at my job, it became clear to me what I was giving up by being away from my son every day and it seemed impossible for me to be the best mother, wife, friend, and career woman all at the same time.

I felt torn, but ultimately decided that being a stay-at-home mother—during the early childhood years—was a gift of time. I was never going to get these first years, moments, and milestones back. Not a single day goes by that I regret that decision.

What inspired you to try to relaunch your career? What was the first step you took to get started?

I loved having so much quality time with my kids, but when my youngest started kindergarten, I felt a huge void. I desperately missed the satisfaction of achieving goals—and earning that bi-monthly paycheck! Though I had found personal satisfaction through volunteering, it did not replace the need for my own personal accomplishments that were not an extension of my children.

As a first step, I started looking at freelance jobs at advertising agencies as a way to transition back to work. But the ad world was not as forgiving about my employment gap as I had hoped, so I had to quickly figure out how to address my more than seven years out of the corporate workforce. I found the answer reading iRelaunch blogs!

Carol Fishman Cohen recommended moving the volunteer work from the bottom of my resume to the top. I didn’t think it would make any difference, but lo and behold, doors began to open and I started getting interviews.

What motivated you to enter the world of nonprofits?

While I was at home with my kids, I spent my free time volunteering for a few nonprofits close to my heart, including the 92Y and the Lulu & Leo Fund. I found the work incredibly meaningful and rewarding. I was also inspired by people motivated to make a change or be part of a movement.

Volunteerism opened me up to new networking opportunities and professional contacts in the field. Since many nonprofits need to hire temporary positions in fundraising cycles, seeking a nonprofit job seemed like a good way to try out some new roles to see where my skill set would be most useful.

How did you know that The Sohn Conference Foundation was the right fit for you?

Truthfully, I had no idea! I was originally hired in a temporary role focused on New York event support. But I was ambitious and looking for opportunities to make my mark, and growth within the organization provided a road to defining a new role for myself. I had to think like an entrepreneur and create real value for the organization in order to be hired as a full-time employee. Since then, I have been promoted to Director, Strategic Initiatives and Events, which is an exciting opportunity to generate more fundraising dollars for the Foundation.

How has your family responded to you being back at work?

My family has been supportive but it has been a big transition. As a re-launcher, I felt the need to overcompensate for my time out of the workforce. I found myself taking on extra responsibility and projects to make a greater impact at the Foundation. But ultimately, working nonstop was unsustainable for me and for the Foundation. This past year, I have had to put greater emphasis on creating a work-life balance. The personal time to unplug has been extremely helpful in achieving balance and confidence.

Are there things you did during your time away in anticipation of rejoining the workforce?

Yes, I left the industry during the social and digital boom so staying abreast of industry trends was critical to maintaining a competitive edge while interviewing. I trained myself on digital and social platforms with tutorials and videos on YouTube. I subscribed to newsletters and forums and followed influencers to stay in the loop. Former colleagues and friends served as mentors and cheerleaders during my job search. I was able to ask them questions without judgment and discuss the internet of things and the intersection of technology and business today.

What was your first day back at work like?

I was really pumped on my first day back at work. I was working remotely, but I still got dressed in my “work clothes” and waited by the phone and computer to receive instruction on what to do. I waited for hours, which felt like an eternity, and finally picked up the phone to call my boss to tell her “I am available, please give me an assignment!”

I quickly learned that there was no set of instructions for this job or hand-holding along the way. If you are working freelance or remote, where nobody actually sees you, you need to make yourself seen by being proactive and be actively involved in the conversations that are happening virtually. Once I was able to jump into the online workflow, I was able to find my stride and feel like a part of the team.

Now that you’ve been back at work for 3 years, what is your favorite piece of advice you would offer to a relauncher looking to restart their career?

Say “yes”! Say yes to every opportunity, even if you are unsure about the assignment or if it is out of your comfort zone. You have no idea where yes will lead you. I said yes to Sohn because I thought it was a great opportunity to learn at an organization that truly makes a difference. This opportunity later became the most important and most highly visible role in my career development.

About Jennifer Lazar Schiamberg and The Sohn Conference Foundation:

Jennifer Lazar Schiamberg is the Director of Strategic Initiatives and Events at The Sohn Conference Foundation. The Sohn Conference Foundation is dedicated to the treatment and cure of pediatric cancer and other childhood diseases. The Foundation supports cutting-edge medical research, state-of-the-art research equipment, and innovative programs to ensure children with cancer survive and thrive. The Foundation calls the world’s most successful investors to offer their expertise—these investors give their time and inspire large audiences and followers in the name of the Foundation’s cause. The flagship Sohn Investment Conference takes place annually in New York City. The Foundation has expanded its investment forums to include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, Geneva, India, London, Monaco, San Francisco and Tel Aviv.

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