A Look Back at Career Leaps

How we built a virtual retreat to help professionals and students become better at building and navigating careers.

Victor Saad

Founder

For the past three months, nearly every Thursday at 1pm, a small group of Ei teammates have been meeting in a quiet corner of Zoom. We set aside the hour to discuss new ideas and workshops that could further Ei’s mission, even during COVID. No idea is too crazy. It’s one of my favorite meetings of the week. Here’s a recap of one of those wild ideas that took flight:

It was Mid-June…

We were talking about how fast jobs and careers were changing. All of us at Ei knew someone close to us whose career had been gravely affected by COVID. Some of our friends lost their jobs, while others were facing serious anxiety about what might happen if the economy continued to sink. And others were realizing there’s been something tugging at them for years, calling them to move in a different career direction, and wondering if this should be their time.

Rather than facing these days alone and overwhelmed, we wondered if we could create a learning experience that would help individuals gain new skills and work with a supportive community.

What can we build?

We started with the basics: what do participants need to know, feel, and do to navigate these choppy waters better? We listed a series of topics ranging from how to assess personal values and beliefs, to how to build a portfolio and resume, to how to design or redesign a career.

We have loads of content answering these exact questions from programs we’ve designed like Stanford Design Summer, the Ei Fellowship, UC Berkeley Experience Lab, and an array of workplace learning programs. We wondered if we could put some of those elements together to create a positive community learning experience.

Not Just a Workshop…

Since we wanted to challenge people to actually create meaningful deliverables (ie: portfolio, resume, Linkedin, etc), we knew this couldn’t just happen in a day. So we decided to try a retreat. I, for one, miss summer camps and retreats. And we were all curious if we could create a similar type of feel in the virtual realm. People could attend from anywhere in the world and we could create moments of connection, work, and reflection — all packed into one week.

Mixing Everything Together

We’ve seen a lot of things work over the years, but remote learning on this level is new territory. So we decided to try several things together:

  • Live Workshops
  • Small Group Coaching
  • Peer Review Sessions
  • 24/7 Group Slack Channel
  • Morning “memos” with inspiration and reminders
  • Digital & physical products that we’ve created (What’s Worth Doing, Leap Kit, Brand Deck)
  • And a couple of surprises

Outcomes

23 Leapers joined us from around the world ranging in age from 21 to 60 years old. 39% were searching for work and 52% were making a transition or growing in their roles.

From Wednesday, July 8th – Wednesday July 15th, participants…

  • Recreated their resumes and LinkedIn profiles
  • Created a professional website for the first time (or updated their existing portfolio site to point toward where they want to go next)
  • Identified a career-related leap to pursue after the retreat. These ranged from…
    • Building a website to launch their freelancing work
    • Interviewing one person/week to start building a professional network in a new field of interest
    • Creating the rough outline of a business plan
  • Developed more clarity about where they want to go professionally, and more confidence about how to get there.

What We Learned

It was encouraging to see every part of the program rated at 4.4 / 5 or above. The most valuable components were the live workshops and the instructor-led coaching sessions. And the elements people enjoyed included:

  • “…the structured, actionable steps to create the career portfolio assets I need with helpful peer feedback.”
  • “…the coaching sessions and peer sessions helped with momentum.”
  • “…the combo of one-on-one coaching support and group feedback.”
  • “…personalized feedback on my resume from Hayley!” (our superstar Recruiter in Residence)
  • “…I loved all the little surprises y’all left for us throughout the retreat. So sweet!”

As you might imagine, we still have space to improve. The digital tools were challenging for many and we needed to spend more time bringing people up to speed. Another major note of feedback was the length of the retreat. Seven days felt too short. There was a lot of content to deliver and a lot of projects to complete — scaffolding the projects a bit more to help participants really make it through each step will be part of our next iteration. But we also don’t want to lose that sense of urgency that drives people to ship their work.

What’s Next?

Career Leaps was just a Thursday idea in mid-June. By mid-July, we had combined and redesigned our curriculum, created our first-ever virtual retreat, and launched a new micro site/event page. 23 Career Leapers logged over 1,700 minutes of coaching calls, wrote 75K+ words in updating their professional profiles, and are each making progress on a career leap to advance their learning and development. We’re now planning our next open class and even testing this program inside companies. Click here to learn more and add your name to the waitlist.

Thanks for reading and being part of this journey.

posted by

Victor Saad

Founder

I’m an author, educator, and community builder living in Chicago. I started Experience Institute, an organization helping college students and career professionals learn and grow through short-term, real-world experiences.

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