Updated: Jan 23, 2021
Sky Clark started her career in global news, working both independently as a journalist and as a researcher for international newspapers in China. While pursuing a master’s degree in Global Studies in Japan, she also freelanced as a trilingual
translator, working in Mandarin, Japanese and English with media outlets including the BBC, Nippon Television Networks, and Al Jazeera.
Her work on award-winning series as a researcher at the Washington Post China Bureau had her reporting on high-impact issues such as censorship and oppression of ethnic minorities in China. She also worked on sensitive areas under heavy government surveillance, including post-revolution Egypt, Taiwan on the cusp of electing its first female president and abandoned hydro plant-turned Bitcoin mines in China.
What was meant to be a brief visit to Seattle after graduation in 2018 turned into a much longer commitment: marriage. While waiting for the adjustment of status to come through, she wanted to start a new career while leveraging her rich research background and valuable language translation skills. She joined The Swing Shift’s Spring 2019 Career Catalyst cohort, and recently landed a role at FiveBy Solutions as a risk intelligence analyst.
Q [The Swing Shift]: You have an incredibly rich background in reporting and translation skills. How did they help you land the risk intelligence analyst role?
A [Sky Clark]: It just so happens that the company had an opening for a Mandarin-speaking analyst. While I did not know much about trade compliance, I do have plenty of experience doing open-source research. I have always enjoyed the research part of journalism. I like dealing with facts and getting to the bottom of things. In a way this role is a great fit for me. There is a bit of a learning curve to be sure, as I am venturing into a specialized area, but at the end of the day it is about digging deeper, being able to separate noise from useful intelligence that informs decisions, and that part I already know how to do. So far, I am enjoying my new role and my new team very much.
Q: How was the job-hunting experience? How did you eventually find this role?
A: In July 2019, shortly after I finished the Career Catalyst, I reached out to someone from my cohort and told her I was looking for volunteering opportunities. All I wanted at the time was to keep myself busy, make myself useful, be more involved in the community that I now call home, and hopefully gain some more recent experience. Through her introduction, I got involved in organizing a fundraising event for the Equality Effect, an NGO dedicated to helping women and girls who are victims of sexual abuse. I met a group of amazing people volunteering their time and resources to help the cause.
It just so happens that my current boss was also involved in that project. We chatted a little bit about what his company does and my background. He mentioned that they might have an opening soon for a Mandarin-speaking researcher and I said I would totally be interested. I didn’t hear back for a while, but during that time I had received my work authorization document and had sent out dozens of resumes that led to nowhere – some rejections and mostly just silence. A couple of months later we met again at the fundraiser and he asked if I was still interested. And it all fell into place. I did a ton of preparation before the interviews and it certainly paid off. I feel extremely fortunate and I am deeply grateful to all the people I have met along this journey.
Q: What were your biggest challenges during this time and how did you overcome them?
A: Quite a bit of the challenge for me was psychological. I was dealing with an identity crisis if you will. When I graduated in 2008, I had a job offer in Japan and I was planning to go back. But…I ended up getting married and staying here. It was a big change. I was living up north with my in-laws, and didn’t have any social circles of my own. I missed my family, my friends back home, and my professional connections. At the time I legally couldn’t work and didn’t know when I would be allowed to, or if I could even find work. I didn’t know what was out there and what would be possible for me. This was a very difficult time since being independent has always been important to me.
The challenge was equally practical: how to navigate the labor market in a new country, a new environment? How do I translate my experience into something marketable, into a new role that ideally would offer more financial security than journalism? English was an advantage in the labor market back home, but not here. I wanted to learn new skills and was willing to put in the effort, but without knowing which direction to take, I was at a loss. I know that networking is important but it’s something I’ve always struggled with.
I knew I had to do something, and that my biggest obstacle would be a lack of contacts. I started looking for events and workshops that interested me and could potentially be useful. If nothing else, just to feel more connected to this new city. In January 2019, by chance I saw an event hosted by The Swing Shift called, “Back to Work: For International Women.” It was just what I needed. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone, that there are so many women out there in a similar situation and that there is hope. It was also great to learn about all the resources out there such as The Swing Shift. So, while waiting for my work authorization document, I signed up for the Career Catalyst program because I wanted to do something useful with my time and be prepared when the time came for me to find work.
Q: You came through the Career Catalyst program. What elements helped you move your career forward?
A: The biggest “reward” of the program is inspiration and motivation. It’s empowering to be surrounded by all the brilliant women, who are each strong, talented, and ambitious in their own ways. It is a supportive and encouraging community. And then there’s Nancy and Sarah who are always there for us, championing for us. Just being in a community like this makes you feel less isolated, and that makes a big difference.
Another huge takeaway for me was learning how to be unapologetic about who I am and what I want. One theme that kept resurfacing in the program was finding that value alignment. An example of this was in my original pitch that I was practicing I was looking to pivot to content strategy/public relations because it seemed the most logical and feasible shift. Even though deep down I never felt completely comfortable with it. One of the catalyst guest speakers pressed me on that. Eventually through this exchange I realized I have always known what I wanted to do, which was research. Of course, I immediately followed it up with “but I’m not sure if there’re many opportunities here” and ALL the excuses. I really learned to recognize when something didn’t feel right and to push through when I found myself trying to talk myself out of something.
The program also provided a lot of practical tips, such as addressing the gap, practicing your pitch, writing resumes and salary negotiation. When I got my offer, I took out the notes on negotiation and used them to prep for it. I received a slight increase and successfully negotiated my salary for the first time!
Q: What advice would you give others who have relocated and are looking to make that next career move?
A: Many of my fellow career catalyst alumni have mentioned “trust the process”, and I couldn't agree more. I didn’t do a ton of networking, but it still started with me reaching out and connecting with others in a way that was authentic to me (volunteering). So, if traditional networking doesn’t come naturally to you, that’s okay. There are other ways to connect whether for opportunities, introductions, advice, inspiration, or just emotional support. Surrounding yourself with a supportive community around you is really important, and don’t try to change the “gravity problems,” like they say in design thinking. Take stock of what you offer and go from there. Be honest with what you want, and be prepared. Structuring your own narrative especially regarding the career gap and the pivot is especially important. Hone your pitch and practice it as often as possible.