Sunday, January 25, 2015

My 'Career Itch' story by Kiri Stejko

Kiri Stejko, Director, Career Itch

One of our great friends here at mums@work is Kiri Stejko. As a HR expert and a specialist in recruitment and talent management she is the executive director of Talented Woman (our sister company) and mum to a cheeky, curly haired one year old. We're very excited for Kiri as she's also just launched her own company - Career Itch - a six week holistic coaching program guided by 3 key experts - a career coach, a mindfulness expert and a personal trainer.

Here's Kiri's personal 'career itch' story...

Realising that my career has spanned twenty years to date takes me by surprise. Twenty years!! It feels like yesterday I was studying psychology at university thinking I didn’t have enough life experience to be of real value helping people. But what would I do if I didn’t become a Psychologist?

I worked in hospitality for a while and saved until I had enough to travel overseas. I hoped to become enlightened whilst doing something exotic and crazy like skydiving over the Swiss Alps. In reality, I created a credit card debt and returned to hospitality to pay it off. Hospitality meant working with great people, in a lively environment, with youthful late night hours. I wondered if I could make a career of it. I imagined having my own restaurant one day. I was offered a job as “Functions Manager” at a fine dining establishment and was thrilled. It was retracted the week before I was due to start. I was blind-sighted and at a complete loss.

I asked some friends what they were doing. One kindly got me an interview with a recruitment agency and was successfully offered the job. The industry is people oriented and in the realm of psychology, therefore was definitely of interest. There was opportunity to use psychometric testing in recruitment processes. I was enthusiastic about the possibilities that lay ahead.

I learned a lot about recruitment, sales, corporate employers and how people feel when they are looking for a job. I worked with some excellent people, had some fantastic managers and also experienced a horrible boss. I had a Career itch after about 2 years. It was another year or so before I left. I’m sure it was evident to management well before then that my heart wasn’t in it. My mind was often elsewhere and I lacked motivation. I partied after work and hangovers enhanced the following morning’s resistance at going to work. I was glad to eventually leave.

I was determined that my next job would be one I had chosen, rather than it choosing me. Interviewing people, I saw desperation in the eyes of many, hope in all and always the same disappointment with delivery of rejection news. I wanted to help people realise that not every job is right for them and they should assess the employer in the same way the employer assesses them. I believe that interviewing is a two way street.

To practice what I preached and be able to choose my next long-term employer, I took a temporary job allowing more time for the long-term job search. I didn’t want financial pressure to force me into a decision. After months of interviewing and temping, going through highs and lows and confidence blows, I finally landed a job I truly wanted. It was with a global corporation as a member of the internal HR team, setting up an in-house recruitment function. I was beside myself with excitement. There were times I thought no one was ever going to give me a chance without the internal experience all these types of jobs required. I needed the experience, but how could I get it if no one would give me a chance? Finally someone saw my passion, determination and motivation.

I loved that job. I was impressed by the leaders, my colleagues and the company culture. I enjoyed my day-to-day work – learning, growing and progressing. I found my feet there. For the first time, I felt I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to work my way up the ladder of a global corporation and become a senior leader in HR. I was in the perfect place to do it, with supportive Managers and lots of development opportunities. I just had to keep working hard and give it my all.

A few years down the track, a friend pointed out I had not much time left to travel to London on a work visa (they aren’t given to Australians over 30 years old). Despite loving my job, I wanted global work experience. I thought this could be my only chance to get that. If I didn’t do it now, would I regret it when I was older? This question went around in my mind… and wouldn’t go away. That told me what I needed to know.

When I resigned from that job, my boss was taken aback. I was progressing well, on track for promotion and whilst supportive of any choice I made, I was strongly encouraged to reconsider my decision. I hadn’t made it lightly, so there was no going back. I was confident that if I was doing well then, I could succeed elsewhere too.

Keeping that level of confidence in a new country, culture and company was important. The perspective I gained from working outside Australia was empowering. At the induction in my first job in London, there was a presentation with a map showing the world presence for that company. I was shocked to see that Australia was left off the map. I guess there was no room on the powerpoint slide. I didn’t have the guts to ask if they had anyone in Australia – my comfort with extroversion wasn’t strong then and still isn’t, but I’m learning.

I worked two yearly contracts (restricted by the visa) and when asked to stay on in my second role with a sponsorship visa, my instinct told me it was time to go home. Not a Career Itch, more an unsettled feeling that I missed home too much. When I returned to Australia, I took a short-term contract. Six months later I was in Hong Kong meeting a potential new boss and considering an HK based role. I was scared at the prospect of moving overseas again. However, being offered a permanent role in Hong Kong was also exciting and I had a big decision to make. I stared out at a crowd of people foreign to me and felt fear. I didn’t know anyone, knew very little about Chinese culture, didn’t speak the language. Why would I do this? Did I want to do this? Could I do this?

The “could I” question was the one that got me. So much courage was required to make the decision to take that job. It was a step up in my career and the challenge made it appealing. Part of me fought against it and another part of me asked that question: Will I regret it later in life if I turn down this opportunity? I knew I would. I don’t want to live life with regrets. So I moved to Hong Kong. Little did I know I was about to experience a huge Career itch.

I missed my comfort zone. I missed family, friends, speaking English and being easily understood. I missed working in the same time zone as my team (I covered 14 countries in this role and my team was mostly virtual spanning 20+ locations). I missed everyday casual conversation. I learned Mandarin which was useful on trips to Singapore and mainland China, but not at all useful in Hong Kong. I had underestimated the personal challenges associated with feeling lonely, isolated and overwhelmed at work.

I became depressed. I recall walking along a busy Hong Kong street crying endless quiet tears. I wore sunglasses despite the overcast day. I wasn’t sobbing. I was strangely calm, but flat. Nothing felt right. I didn’t want to be in Hong Kong, I didn’t want my big job. I questioned whether I could even succeed. I retreated into myself and obsessed over whether I could admit defeat and go home. I’d been in Hong Kong for 2 months.

I decided to confide in my manager who was not surprised and said I wasn’t performing to expectations. Apparently it was obvious I wasn’t doing well (I thought I was hiding my personal crisis successfully) and she consequently gave me “permission” to quit. She understood the enormity of the decision. She removed my anxiety of letting down the company. She knew that I had to resolve my career itch or I would never succeed. I was distracted, demotivated and desperate. In that state of mind, I was useful to no one.

As soon as I had permission to quit, I desperately wanted to succeed. I had to muster all the confidence and courage I could to give this opportunity my best shot. I sought therapy, revisited my motivation and set clear goals for myself. I set a timeframe and decided if the Career itch remained present in 3 months, I would also give myself permission to leave.

The change of mindset enabled me to pick myself out of the pit of despair and enjoy another three years in Hong Kong. I had survived my biggest Career Itch to date and came out the other side stronger, happier, more successful, more experienced and more confident than ever.

There has been several more years in my career since then and I continue to learn and grow with each new experience. The rest of the story can be shared in another blog. But with this story, the lessons I have learned when dealing with a career itch, are these;
  • Your network is always going to be a great source for career moves. Stay in touch with people you respect and connect with.
  • When your instinct tells you that you’re not in the right job, pay attention and trust your gut. Act on that instinct.
  • Be clear in your goals – plan your next step and take control of your career. It’s up to you to steer yourself somewhere you want to go.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away from a great job to achieve a personal life goal. Be confident about what you want and can achieve in your career, and don’t forget about your life goals along the way.
  • Be courageous when offered something that feels bigger than you’re ready for. If someone sees the potential in you, you have the ability to succeed.
  • Don’t give up when you feel overwhelmed by a difficult situation. If it is impacting on your career, take action or you risk damaging yourself and your employer. Be honest with yourself and either pick yourself up, or move onto something else.
For more info about the Career Itch Program tap here.

By: Kiri Stejko
Source: Career Itch

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