More career journeys

Business 023Three of the four C&K Careers senior managers are women

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Check out Katren, Louise and Sarah's career journey to management:

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Katren - Head of commercial services

As you were growing up and going through school what were your career dreams?

My very first career aspiration was when I was 4 years old – I said that I wanted to be a ‘manager’. This is because my father was a manager. One day he took me into his office. It was amazing to me. A secretary had a tin of toffees on her desk and gave me one, there was a vending machine with hot chocolate in plastic cups, (high tech in the mid 1960s), but the thing that really swung it for me was that I was allowed to draw with felt pens on an overhead projector so my pictures shone on the wall. I thought if this is management I want it!

However, in primary school I was seduced by a feature in a comic that I read weekly and wanted to be an air hostess (now cabin crew) as I thought it would be glamorous and also great to travel all over the world.

Did these change as you went through school?

In high school I had lots of ideas – law, languages, librarianship – but really I was thinking much more about the subjects that I enjoyed rather than an end goal. I took French, English and history A levels and then applied to do Italian and history of art at university - probably (mostly) because I would get to live in Italy for a year – fully funded! However, I completely messed up my A levels and didn’t get the grades that I needed, so I had to take a year out and reassess what I could do.

I went to a Careers Office in Exeter and did an aptitude/personality test done on paper using a pencil, so it could be sent off to be marked by a computer! The results indicated that I might be good at organising and giving advice so law, librarianship and careers adviser would be good options for me.

By this time I had been working part-time on Saturdays and full-time in the school holidays since I was 13. I worked in a newsagents, a clothes shop, a gift shop, pubs, and a factory. I knew that I really enjoyed meeting the public but did not want an in-depth professional relationship with people. I also knew that I wanted a job where the public that I worked with were generally happy – so probably not social work.

What route did you take to achieve your career in terms of qualifications?

I decided to apply for a vocational degree – librarianship – in Leeds. I absolutely loved moving to the north of England so when I finished my degree I knew I wanted to stay in Leeds. I took the first job I was offered working for Leeds City Council as an education advice worker, giving career and learning advice. I stayed in that role for three years and then moved down to London to work as an assistant librarian in an adult education college. After I got married my husband and I moved back up to Yorkshire where I went to work for Bradford College, part-time, organising adult education classes. I left that job when I had my first child.

What route did you progress through in terms of jobs and experience?

When I went back to work a year later, after maternity leave, it was as an information officer for an education advice service for adults in Bradford. I worked there, for three days a week, for 10 years, before applying to work as an information specialist at C&K Careers, where I eventually became a team manager. After eight years in that job I was appointed as head of business development for C&K Careers – so I actually achieved my very first career dream of becoming a manager.

What did you learn along the way?

During my working life I have never stopped learning – from other people, from informal, non-accredited and accredited programmes. I have level 3 qualifications in information & advice, and in training; level 5 qualifications in assessment and in management; a degree in librarianship and a post-graduate certificate in modernising the public sector. I have done numerous courses on things that I am interested in – sewing, Spanish, psychology, counselling (didn’t enjoy that one!!).

I have never really ‘planned’ my career. However, I have done courses that I have really enjoyed, which have given me the background, confidence and qualifications to apply for jobs that I have enjoyed. There have been aspects of all my roles that have been hard and not so much fun but you just have to get on with it! There are also many things that I have enjoyed in every job I have ever done.

Do you have any advice for people starting their career journey or making career decisions?

My advice for anyone starting out is to get as much experience as you can – volunteer, try to get work experience and part-time work, try different things because it is impossible to know until you try something – you also get to meet all sorts of people you would not do otherwise, which is a massive benefit. Secondly – don’t panic. If things don’t go as expected (such as exam results), pause, take a deep breath and reassess. Above all, if you need help ask for it.

My advice for people who have started a new role is that I have found it can take about two years to become really confident in a role. At first everything is new to you and a bit overwhelming. Don’t panic, it will become easier and eventually you will become expert.

Now, where did I put those marker pens and toffees…

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Louise – Head of delivery services

As you were growing up and going through school what were your career dreams?

I really dreamt of being a professional rider – three day eventer - I had horses and competed.

Did these change as you went through school?

Kind of – I toyed with teaching but never got my maths O level! Diplomat, solicitor/barrister, bilingual translator/interpreter for the UN, and lots of periods where I really had no idea!

What route did you take to achieve your career in terms of qualifications?

I took my O levels and A levels (grades weren’t great) and went through Clearing to Hull University and studied a degree in languages. Then I started a different qualification in European logistics - I was considering running a haulage/logistics business, took some counselling courses and then eventually undertook a post grad qualification in careers guidance, plus some management qualifications.

What route did you progress through in terms of jobs and experience?

Several! I worked in part-time jobs from 16 – waitressing, I was rubbish; pubs, again hopeless; had a job on the trains pushing the drinks/food trolley, I worked abroad in factories to pay off my overdraft and throughout college and university I worked as a sales assistant in branches of Edinburgh Woollen Mill, a mystery shopper for a national garage and a bilingual secretary abroad. Fast forward to my roles in this company:
- support worker to a blind careers assistant
- careers assistant
- trainee careers adviser
- careers adviser in schools/colleges
- several middle management jobs
- senior manager.

What did you learn along the way?

Lots! Importance of listening to customers to find out what they wanted – to then make sure they felt like they had a good service. Compromise. That people are amazing, unique and all very different with interesting perspectives and ideas. There is no right way to do something. Not to fear ‘failure’ - it’s much better than not doing something in the first place. To not be controlling/or a perfectionist.

Do you have any advice for people starting their career journey or career decisions?

Don’t worry if you don’t have firm plans/goals, sometimes set plans can even make you blinkered and not open to the opportunities all around you. Plus loads of jobs you will end up doing probably don’t even exist yet. Keep an open mind, take risks – things always work out even if it isn’t how you expected. Never burn your bridges, you don’t know who you will meet again in the working world and how they may support you. Don’t fear … FEAR because everyone feels fear (fear of failure/fear of public speaking/fear of getting something wrong …). Accept it and find a good mentor to talk you through it. Be proactive and value yourself – don’t wait for others to notice you/value you.

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Sarah – Head of business services

As you were growing up and going through school what were your career dreams?

I had no idea what I wanted to be whilst at and when leaving school, although I knew I absolutely did not want to do anything in the social care industry. In the early 1970s the careers advice we were given was very sparse. I was particularly good at sport and mused over whether this was something I could pursue or working in a library as I was an avid book reader. I went to a police academy interview and did two days work experience in the science lab at Rowntree Mackintosh confectionery and finally decided on some form of science-related career.

What route did you take to achieve your career in terms of qualifications?

I took all three applied science and maths A levels, plus art and archaeology part-time both at Dewsbury College in the first two years of starting work and started a BSc Hons in Linear Maths at university. I have studied, almost by accident, because it never came naturally to me, just about every aspect of law: contract and procurement, land law, town planning, negligence and employment law in order to do each of my career roles successfully.

What route did you progress through in terms of jobs and experience?

Whilst studying, I had a two year part-time job in a large family owned sports store. I was offered a full-time job as a lab technician at Rowntree Mackintosh but my parents convinced me to take a job with the local council and I started as a junior legal conveyancer, studying part-time for two years at Calderdale College. I moved into highway development control and town planning dealing with planning applications that had a highway implication, diversions or closures of rights of way and the basics of main drainage. I studied a two year HND in Highway Development and discovered surveying, something that would shape my career forever. I was outdoors almost every day in the freezing cold, constantly wet and they didn’t make women-sized yellow jackets in the 1980s but I absolutely loved it!.

I started a job in the asset management department of a local council, surveying council owned land sites for development potential, liaising with housing developers and town planners. I studied for seven years to be a chartered surveyor, while bringing up a small child - finding the time to study was an understatement! During this time I transferred into the housing department as a project manager dealing with housing regeneration, demolition and new build. I learnt how to build a wall, make concrete and carry out basic plumbing and was always up ladders on the roof.

I never actually practised as a chartered surveyor. Immediately after completing my RICS qualification I used credits to piggyback on to a part-time BSc Hons in Project Management at Leeds University.
I took up a job with a Greater Manchester Council managing their project management and continuous improvement department, managing building related contracts and 13 staff including site agents, clerk of works, surveyors and architectural technicians. Along with having a full-time job, I lectured for two years part-time at Oldham Building College for students undertaking the CIMA modules in internal audit and project management.

Aged 41, I took a two year part-time executive management role with a South Yorkshire council. I started to study for my two year part-time MBA, which I completed three months after being made Head of Business Development, then 18 months later: Head of Property Investment and Deputy Chief Executive of a Leeds housing regeneration company. I was responsible for around 50 staff. Working days were long, and I was on a rota for any council housing emergency including liaising with emergency services for the Leeds city centre flood of 2005, a major gas leak or where there was an unexplained death in a council flat. When the company merged with another, I took the opportunity to review my work-life balance and took up the role of Head of Corporate Performance with C&K Careers in 2009, doing among other things, the contract and lease negotiations I always enjoyed.

What did you learn along the way?

Managing construction projects are relatively easy compared to managing staff but, listening, having patience and empathy go a long way. Learning a new job or a new task is always daunting but approach it realistically and always build in extra time if you can. You never, ever stop learning and part-time study whilst working needs commitment. If you are planning a professional career, qualifications always count.

Do you have any advice for people starting their career journey or career decisions?

Always have a plan B, you might not get that job or that career that you’ve set your mind on – it’s hard and disappointing but you have to be resilient. Get interview experience to practice if you are nervous.
If you have the chance to speak to someone who is in the role that you are interested in, get them to explain what a typical week looks like. Or even better get some work experience.

If you are practically minded, remember: if you aspire to eventually move into a management position, the practical side of the job diminishes because you will be expected to delegate this to others and you will spend more time behind a desk. You will be very, very lucky to have the same career for life, so expect to make changes and move in a different direction as you mature and learn new experiences. Pick the right job or career that you believe is right for you, that you have a passion for or have an interest in.

 

Page updated March 2019

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