By Jane Kennelly, Director, Frog Recruitment
The dream to change occupations and career directions is regularly expressed by people we interact with. And given the commitment to action is present, this desire for change can become a reality.
Such was the conversation with Emilija Nikolic. I first met Emilija in my early recruiting days circa 1990 when Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ was a hit.
We crossed paths from time to time as Emilija’s HR career evolved and recently when we met up, Emilija advised she was out of HR and into Account Management. I decided this was a career transitions story we needed to hear.
Emilija compared her journey from HR to Account Management to entering Hampton Court Maze which was near where she lived when in London 10 years ago.
“At Hampton Court there is a hedge maze and when you start, the pathway is completely unknown. And there are two ways you can successfully navigate the maze; the follow-your-nose method which is frustrating, leads to numerous dead ends but eventually you get to the end OR the failsafe method where you place your right hand on the right hedge as you enter and if you don’t take it off the right hand hedge wall you’ll find your way out.”
According to Emilija, changing careers is like this maze. “There are plenty of obstacles and dead ends but success comes by following your nose as opposed to taking ‘the easy way out’.”
In Emilija’s opinion, a career counsellor will help you look deep inside and you may end up knowing what you need to do, but if the answer comes too early in the process of changing careers the introspection, mistakes and journey down the wrong part of the maze, that is so valuable, is compromised.
“It’s only through experience that you can decide where to go next. We are used to deciding what to do, making a commitment to action and then getting into it but with career change, you are dealing with identity issues and you need to see whether this new identity is one you are happy with. Some things make your heart sing, others don’t,” she explains.
Emilija calculates it took her 3 years to change direction. It took her much longer because she kept going back to what she knew [HR], rather than jumping in boots and all, which is scary.
It started with an ‘epiphany’ which resulted in enrolling to complete a Masters and not wanting to study HR, she completed a Masters in Arts Management, part time over two years.
Another significant event was the death of a close friend from cancer. It made Emilija think about how important it was to do all the things in life that you want to do. To live the life you truly want.
After a stint as head of HR and then in a flurry of activity, she sold the house, sold the car, quit the job and went travelling for five months. This gave her time to think and decide on several things;
- I don’t want to work on my own without others around me
- I had to start doing some different things
- It’s time to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’
Emilija volunteered as a guide at the Auckland War Memorial Museum which enabled her to express her interest and passion in NZ’s history. This was part of her journey through the maze in trying something new.
As with many career stories of this nature, serendipity also had a part to play. A chance meeting at an HRINZ Conference saw Emilija get involved in a start-up company which included consulting and making presentations with clients. She is extremely grateful to the team who helped her see that she was good at lots of other things, like sales. Emilija realised here, how much she enjoyed the process; she loved the product and loved talking to people about it.
She admits that old habits die hard as she continued to seek out meaty HR roles but the realisation that this was not for her took hold. Emilija had another ‘epiphany’ during an interview for a significant HR role and afterwards realised that was the last time she wanted to apply for HR roles. As a result, Emilija changed tack and applied for Account Management positions.
Which is where we find Emilija right now. She put it this way; “I wanted a great job, a great boss, and a great company and I’ve finally got all three. I had always viewed sales as a dirty word but in reality had no idea about what it was about – but now I get it! It’s about making connections, providing solutions, helping people and companies succeed and above all, not making assumptions.”
Emilija Nikolic works for Inspire Group. She helps companies build the bench strength of their leadership teams through totally tailored learning programmes that focus on blended learning and that follow the 70:20:10 principles. “It’s a privilege to be trusted with organisational conversations and from that develop solutions. I want to help our clients be better at leadership.”
Emilija’s view of leadership is that it is a challenging journey, one we don’t ever stop travelling through so helping companies put learning together that makes this journey the best it can be for leaders is incredibly rewarding.
In summarising the process Emilija doesn’t regret the time it took to get where she is now. “I loved HR and still do and I was good at it. But it was time to see what else was out there. Dart around a bit, go on!”
Emilija’s Handy Hints:
- Unlearn your current identity to learn what you want to do.
- Your current network might not be helpful because they won’t push you into something new – seek people beyond your network.
- Get uncomfortable.
- Epiphanies do happen so listen to them when they do.
- Attend a resilience course. This enables perspective; a calmer and more mindful approach.
- Walk a lot and think.
- Encourage people to start the journey. YOLO so give it a go and keep moving. It takes so much energy to stay stuck!
- Study – which increased the confidence to explore other things.
- Meet cool people – who become part of ‘the network’.
- Anna – who died of cancer.
- Book: ‘Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career’ by Herminia Ibarra.
Rules Of Thumb:
- There are no rules or template.
- No planned path, it is a maze (and even using stilts won’t help!).
- Just get on with it. Stop over-analysing.
- Say yes to situations that make you feel uncomfortable. There is joy along the way.
- Don’t go to a career coach to get the answer. Use a career coach to assist you along the way.
- Play in the chemistry lab of your life.
- Employers remember… people who are changing careers have a huge investment in succeeding so take a chance on them!
If you want to get in touch with Emilija, here’s how: