Mission: Possible

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Erica Soultanian recalls being asked that question countless times starting at a very young age. “The problem is,” Erica told me, “no one ever gives you direction on how to figure that out.”

“Most of education is a treadmill,” said Grant Schroll. “You get on the treadmill as a kid, you start running faster and faster, and you have a few arbitrary checkpoints along the way. But at no point does anybody teach you how to navigate when you’re running in the real world, without a fixed path, and with somebody else controlling the speed.”

Mission Collaborative co-founders, Grant Schroll and Erica Soultanian.

Mission Collaborative co-founders, Grant Schroll and Erica Soultanian.

Erica and Grant are the co-founders of Mission Collaborative, and we sat down recently at MakeOffices - Logan Exchange to talk about why they want to help people who are still struggling with what they want to do when they “grow up.”

The pair met at a Startup Weekend DC event in March 2017. Both pitched ideas that were selected among the final 10 teams for the hack-a-thon style event, and a mutual respect and admiration was formed. When they ran into each other at a similar Net Impact pitch competition a few weeks later, they decided to work together. Naturally, they won the event.

“I was looking for a co-founder for Mission Collaborative, and after Startup Weekend and Net Impact, I thought to myself, ‘Erica strikes me as somebody I could work with,’” Grant said.  When Grant pitched her on the idea for Mission Collaborative, it immediately resonated with Erica, who had recently moved from New York City to DC in the midst of a difficult career transition.

“Before coming to DC, I was living in New York doing securities litigation. After about a year of doing that, I realized ‘Damn, I hate my job, and I have no idea what I want to do next.’ It was a pretty lonely and emotional time in my life. Not liking my job invaded all aspects of my life - social, relationships, and personal well-being.”

Once Erica agreed to help build Mission Collaborative, they began interviewing dozens of career-changers. Soon, a common thread began to emerge - lots of people were feeling just like Erica had felt. “What it sounded like people really wanted was a community environment where they had other people motivating them, holding them accountable, and helping them see things differently,” Grant told me. They became determined to build that community.

“At its core, Mission Collaborative is about helping adults design careers that they love. We do that through in-person workshops on weeknights and weekends. We are all about bringing people together and forming a community for career change in DC,” Erica explained.

For Grant, the driving force behind building Mission Collaborative is to address the fact that people are disengaged in the workforce, citing “abysmal” statistics from Gallup. “Two-thirds of American workers say that they are feeling checked-out, disengaged, and unfulfilled doing their jobs. That affects people on a personal level, but also has consequences for our society as a whole. That’s a whole lot of untapped potential in my view.”

Combine that with the pace of innovation and new technology around the world, and Grant predicts that “lots and lots of folks are going to have to make significant career changes in the near future. Not just young people, but also more senior-level people.” Through Mission Collaborative, he hopes to be a part of the solution for these career changers.

Mission Collaborative offers a free Career Change 101 event weekly on Tuesday or Wednesday nights, and two programs that dive deeper into helping people envision and pursue the career of their dreams. All three events center around a “4-step career design process” they’ve created and already shared with almost 600 Washingtonians since they started holding public workshops in August last year.

Career changers participate in an activity at a Career Change 101 event.

Career changers participate in an activity at a Career Change 101 event.

“A lot of people just think that making a career change is about designing the perfect resume, browsing through job descriptions, and submitting online applications,” said Erica. “The problem with that is the individual doesn’t give much thought into what they want out of their career and what they want to contribute to the world.” For that reason, Mission Collaborative has people begin the process with reflection. Workshop attendees take inventory of their strengths and what they want to contribute to the world. With that information, individuals can craft a personal mission statement for their career.

After reflection, a Mission Collaborative community member is encouraged to define the logistics of their career, including where they want to live, and how much they want to make, and then test out jobs by doing two-to-three week projects in their prospective new field. Finally, the career changer can launch their new career with a strong sense of purpose and a tangible piece of work to share with new potential employers. “Doing these four steps puts a professional in the 90th percentile of applicants, because most people don’t do this,” said Erica.

For people who have no idea what they want to do when they grow up, but know that they hate their current job, the Career Pivot Fellowship will take you in-depth through the first three steps. If you do have a good idea of what you want to do next, but could use a few pointers on how to execute the career shift, the Job Search Accelerator will help you with that process. All of Mission Collaborative’s upcoming events and workshops can be found here.

Looking into the crystal ball, Erica told me that she’s excited to begin working with employers, and enable their community members to access three-to-four week projects for companies that they can complete during nights and weekends. This would give employees a chance to test drive an employer and vice versa. Erica anticipates that this will lead to more equitable hiring based on merit and fit, rather than the credentials an individual put on their resume.

In the next two or three years, Grant wants to expand Mission Collaborative to other cities through the vast co-working space network that has been growing in recent years. “We can become the human capital growth engine that fuels growth-stage companies. We bring career changers into a co-working space like Logan Exchange, match them with great companies, and build out a more effective talent pipeline that is more in line with what people want for themselves.”

Longer-term, Grant envisions working with younger people and teaching them how to navigate their career path. Frustrated with the current state of higher education, he expects that Mission Collaborative could build an alternative to traditional college and universities. “A lot of the people we work with now have, unfortunately, lost a lot of time already. If we could teach what we’re doing at Mission Collaborative to 18, 19, 20-year-olds, and make it a compelling college alternative, that to me, is a vision worth fighting for.”

For those of us who are still struggling with the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question, we can be glad that Mission Collaborative is pursuing that vision.


Learn more about Mission Collaborative by visiting www.missioncollaborative.com

Washingtonian on a mission to help people get the most out of life in the nation’s capital.